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Minnesota National Guard
Troop surge disappoints some local leaders

President Bush's announcement last Wednesday to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq did not come as a surprise to some However, the announcement that Minnesota National Guard's First Brigade Combat Team would have their stay extended did

The 2,600 Minnesota Soldiers, who were scheduled to return home in less than three months, will have 165 days added to their stay in Iraq, with an expected return now set for July or August By that time, the First Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division will have been deployed for two years

Following the announcement, several local and national leaders spoke out about their disappointment with the decision Minnesota Gov Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Sen Amy Klobuchar, several members of Congress and several military commanders expressed their opposition to the extension

Minnesota's adjutant general Larry Shellito said in a press conference this past Thursday that the announcement was unexpected However, he went on to say that he was more concerned about the condition of the families at home than the troops stationed in Iraq

First Lt Matthew Dick, who served nine months in Afghanistan with the 34th Military Police Company out of Rosemont and currently trains with Monticello's National Guard unit, agreed with Shellito

"I think it absolutely affects the families more than it does the Soldier, because the Soldier has something day in and day out that he has to distract him from the extension They have something to occupy their thoughts," Dick said "For the families, I think it is much harder for them, because they are still left at home without their loved ones"

Dick said he experienced a similar extension during his time in Afghanistan His unit was initially scheduled to serve for six months, but the mission was extended to nine He said the initial shock of being extended was a difficult pill to swallow, but he said his unit continued with its mission "We were extended very similar to what happened to the BCT," Dick said "Do you get upset? Yes The initial reaction is you're upset and you're frustrated, but at the same time, that is not going to change anything You are still going to be extended, and you still have a job to do"

Dick also said if his unit was called up to serve again, it would be ready

"Certainly, it made us think that we may be called to go," he said "But we are all prepared for that possibility We are ready to answer the call, if it comes"

However, Cpt Patricia Baker, a public affairs officer for the Minnesota National Guard who deals with future operations, said there was no word as of this past Friday that any more Minnesota National Guard troops would be called to duty other than the units already scheduled for deployment

So far, that means Monticello's 257th Military Police Company, (previously the 216th Air Defense Artillery) which returned home in March 2005, will remain in Minnesota

Units already scheduled for deployment include air wings in both Duluth and St Paul

But while it appears no more Minnesota National Guard troops or families would be impacted by the surge, Baker, reflecting earlier sentiments made by Shellito, said the call for the extension was both unexpected and a letdown

"We are disappointed We were all gearing up for and planning for this March return," she said "The Soldiers in the First BCT had a redeployment window marked on their calendars, and they were marking off the days Some of them had as few as 60 days left before they were coming home, some of them 80, but those were X's on the calendar, and now you have to flip pages to get to that day that you have circled where you are planning to go home"

Reintegration academies, similar to the one conducted in Monticello in September, continued their scheduled start time, with the first one occurring this past weekend, but Baker said they will be altered to deal with the new reality

Baker said the sessions will focus more on support and outreach functions, and she said they will also step up outreach at the 11 family assistance centers in the state The centers provide assistance for military families who find themselves in trouble dealing with monetary or other issues

The sessions were scheduled to occur every weekend in January, February and March up until the unit's return home, but the recent announcement has challenged the Minnesota National Guard to alter its plans not only in dealing with the families but the Soldiers, as well

"The very morning that the president was going to make his announcement, the brigade commander sent us an e-mail here at headquarters stating that he had zero indication of an extension and he had received nothing from higher headquarters about even the possibility of an extension," she said "This truly was an unfortunate surprise"

Baker said they have received feedback from Soldiers within the unit currently stationed in Iraq, and she said the general theme has been one of overwhelming disappointment

"We had a staff sergeant e-mail us here at headquarters and say, to quote him, 'That this is disappointing, but at the very end of the game, when you are about to go into overtime, you take a drink of water, you put your helmet back on and you get back into the fight,' " she said "We are disappointed, but we are going to continue to serve"

Baker said she expects to hear a slightly different response from families at the reintegration sessions

"It is going to be about more about 'how can the guard help me additionally with this additional burden,' " she said

So far, no explanation has been given for the exact operational reasons behind the extension, and Baker said the unit has not received any new orders The only definitive piece of information Baker said they have received is that the brigade mission has been extended for up to 125 days

That said, Baker said an explanation, although late, is expected

"That is an expectation for the combat commander on the ground, that you are extended and here is your mission," she said "Hopefully, it will be unchanged At this time we have no reason to suspect it would be changed, but we don't know that yet"

By Chad Eldred, Monticello Times

Source: www.monticellotimes.com

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