| Iraq War left mark on Minn. National Guard members, families
ST PAUL, Minn -- The Iraq War, which started 10 years ago today, left a lasting imprint on the men and women who served and on their families
One Minnesotan who served in the war, 31-year-old guardsman 1st Lt Jesse Pope, arrived in Baghdad on Halloween in 2004
To calm his nerves, the St Paul native turned the music in his Humvee up full-blast as the convoy entered the city for the first time
"I'm 23-years old I'm wearing a bunch of body armor and driving into Baghdad Iraq and listening to Outkast 'Bombs Over Baghdad,' like I'm out for a joyride in my Pontiac Firebird with my buddy," Pope said "It was very surreal That was almost like the Superbowl of my deployment"
Pope's company was one of the first Minnesota National Guard units to go to Iraq in the early days of the conflict In fact, Minnesota's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division has been one of the most deployed units since the September 11, 2001 attacks
He was based near the Baghdad airport on a road that became notorious for insurgent attacks His feeling of invincibility was soon shattered when he climbed a wall to secure a surveillance camera
"I hear something whiz by me," he remembered
It was a sniper shot
"The fraction of a second between hearing that sound and then hearing the report from the rifle was confusion for me That is what it sounds like when somebody just misses hitting you in the face," he said
After that first attack, Pope made it through his almost two-year tour safely Others did not At least 113 people with Minnesota ties have died in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
Despite coming home to a job, it still took months for Pope to adjust to civilian life Even now, he feels the war's effects
"When I walk down the street and I'm by myself, I look at what people are doing," Pope said "I feel like I'm kind of always surveying the scene a little bit more than what I used to do in my normal life"
TROUBLES AT HOME
Pope is one of thousands of Minnesotans living with recent memories of combat There are almost 48,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in Minnesota The state Department of Veterans Affairs says that's around 13 percent of the state's total veteran population
Many of these men and women served overseas more than once
The guard's Maj Aaron Krenz said the separation of deployment was tough on Minnesota military families
"You're leaving your spouse, you're leaving your kids and a lot changes in a year's time," Krenz said "You're leaving your employer Just being gone and leaving your family to do everything that you were a part of"
But the reunion can be even more stressful than the separation
Many service members come home with physical and psychological injuries sustained in combat that can lead to mental health problems down the road Research also shows it's often difficult for veterans to find their place in the family again, as so many roles and relationships have shifted during their absence
"Many service members and their families struggled and unfortunately some of them either ended up in divorce, their homes were foreclosed on," Krenz said "Things got out of control a lot quicker than we all expected"
A NEW APPROACH IN MINNESOTA
And that need led to a reintegration initiative that's revolutionized how soldiers come home In 2005, the Minnesota National Guard launched a mandatory program they call Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
It's designed to connect veterans and their families with resources to stabilize health, relationships and finances The program begins even before soldiers leave US soil, to prepare them and their families for what's to come
In previous conflicts military veterans returned home to little, if any, support at all And while there is no hard data on the program, guard officials say Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has been successful Other states have expressed interest in launching similar programs
Minneapolis attorney and military veteran Brock Hunter said that while the Minnesota National Guard has made great strides, even more help is needed He said the demand for services to assist the rising number of soldiers coming back with undiagnosed combat trauma is growing
"We still, 40 years after Vietnam, have hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans across the country who are chronically incarcerated, homeless and addicted and I think we can do a lot better job this time around," Hunter said "I think we already are doing a lot better job this time around"
To help support today's returning veterans, Hunter said, the federal government will need to spend more money, something he anticipates could become more politicized as the war in Afghanistan also winds down and more service members return home
by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
March 19, 2013
Litchfield and Local Veteran Honor Gen. John Vessey at Armory Open House
Posted: 2017-03-10 08:50 AM
LITCHFIELD, Minn. -Bruce Cottington, a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea, donated a bronze bust of Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr. to the Litchfield National Guard unit during the armory's public open house event March 4. Cottington, a Litchfield resident, commands the Minnesota Chapter of the Veterans of Underage Military Service. VUMS members enlisted in the military prior to the minimum age requirement in order to serve their country during WWII. Cottington received the bust from Vessey, a fellow VUMS member. Both enlisted in the military at the age of 16.
The highlight of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion open house was the unveiling of the sculpture. The unit was very supportive when Cottington proposed donating the sculpture. The Litchfield community has always been very supportive of the National Guard over the years, so the open house was a chance to say 'thanks' to their neighbors. "This was a great opportunity to honor Bruce and to honor Gen. Vessey," said B Co., 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, Capt. Seth Goreham. Bravo Company also has a tight relationship with the local American Legion and VFW. Many Litchfield citizens are former members of Bravo Company, or the unit's predecessors A Co, 682nd Engineer Battalion, and the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Camp Ripley welcomes new command sergeant major
Posted: 2017-03-08 03:29 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The garrison command team of Camp Ripley, family, friends and colleagues from the Minnesota National Guard attended a Change of Responsibility ceremony between Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Worden and Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Erickson, March 5, 2017, at Camp Ripley.
The ceremony was an official "passing of the sword" from one senior noncommissioned officer to the next and assumption of the duties and responsibilities that go along with the position of Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
As with many military ceremonies those in attendance welcomed Erickson as a new member of the team and bid farewell, recognized and thanked Worden for his service.
Norwegian youth recognized for response to vehicle accident
Posted: 2017-02-22 09:59 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Norwegian youths Stian Dahl and Haavard Engen received the Camp Ripley Garrison Commander's coin from Col. Scott St Sauver February 19, 2017, in recognition for reacting to a vehicle accident they witnessed earlier that week.
As part of the U.S.-Norway Reciprocal Troop Exchange, Norwegian youths ages 19-20 are matched up with a host family in order to spend an evening experiencing American culture. In most situations the "Buddy Weekend" as it's called allows the youths to go shopping, attend events and have home-cook meals along with their host family.
"We are able to match up youth members with families all over the state," said Staff Sgt. Tim Krouth, Buddy Weekend organizer. "Lots of the families have hosted one or two of our Norwegian friends for several years in a row now, it a great way to relax and see some of Minnesota."
To the top of the mountain and back, NOREX 44 members embrace the Norwegian winter
Posted: 2017-02-21 01:25 PM
HALTDALEN, Norway - After two days at a base camp near Haltdalen, Norway, Minnesota National Guardsmen participating in the 44th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange were ready for the most challenging aspect of their four-day field training exercise - a ski march up the mountain.
It was Day three of the FTX, meaning members of the 44th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange had slowly adjusted to surviving and thriving while living in a winter environment and also honed their skills on cross country skills well enough to begin a climb that would take nearly three hours.
"Our goal was to get you to know how to use the winter, see how the Norwegians use the winter, and how we survive the winter so we can conduct combat," said Vidar Aune, one of several members of Home Guard 12 guiding the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen during their training here. "By getting the experience living outside in the snow, you manage to survive it and handle it quite well."