| Minnesota National Guard prepares its largest ever deployment
The head of Minnesota National Guard says the state's largest troop deployment since World War II will take place next year. More than 2,000 Minnesota citizen Soldiers will ship out to the Persian Gulf with most headed for Iraq. Since the 9-11 attacks and ensuing war on terrorism, more than 3,200 Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers have been called up for full-time service. Almost 2/3rds of the troops ended up in Iraq. Others have taken up duties in countries from Afghanistan to Honduras and at US military bases, and airports here at home. Guard troops say Department of Defense efforts to keep them better informed and to provide more support for their families, are helping to ease the strain of their war-time service.
St. Paul, Minn. - Until this year, much of the news from the Minnesota National Guard was about part-time troops being called up for full-time duty. At ceremonies throughout Minnesota politicians wished citizen Soldiers well as they parted with their families and friends, many of them headed for combat zones.
In recent months some of the same armories and airports where tearful good-byes were said in 2002, 2003 and 2004, have been places of jubilant homecomings.
But soon the armories will once again be sending off Soldiers. Right now, 2700 Minnesota National Guard Troops are on alert, awaiting orders.
Minnesota National Guard commander Major General Larry Shellito says those orders will come in what he'll describe only as the "near term." He says the troops will deploy next year.
"'05 is kind of a lot of people coming back home but shortly here we'll be having a lot of ceremonies deploying a lot more Soldiers," Shellito says, "In fact it will be our largest deployment yet."
General Shellito says the Soldiers will be all be supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Some will be in places such as Kuwait, but Shellito says most will end up in Iraq. He says it will be the first combat-zone experience for almost all of the troops.
"The vast majority will have either been in Bosnia or Kosovo if they're been anywhere," Shellito says, "Keep in mind, we've recruiting a significant number of new Soldiers also so for a good number of them also it will be first-timers."
The troops on alert now have known about the upcoming deployment for weeks and likely will not be in Iraq for months. That's a lot more time to make arrangements for leaving home than was given the first wave of Minnesota Guard troops sent to Iraq.
"I got called up at 4:00 on, I think it was a Tuesday evening, and had to report the next morning," says Dan Henry who's a 1st Sgt. with the Minnesota Army National Guard. "That's how much notice we got."
In his civilian life Henry is in charge of maintaining the facilities at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. He remembers well the afternoon more than 2 1/2 years ago when he learned he would become a full-time Soldier in the war on terrorism starting immediately. Less than a week after getting the call up order, Henry and nearly 140 other members of 142nd engineering battalion were on their way to Colorado and then off to Iraq.
"I look back on it now and it doesn't seem possible but we made it happen," Says Henry. "And you know there was a lot of families that were in the same situation"
And addition to getting himself ready, Henry had to help make arrangements for two of his daughters who were also deployed with him.
Since the 142nd was sent to Iraq, many more Minnesota troops have followed. In all, nearly 2000 part time Minnesota Soldiers, which is almost 10 percent of the state's Army National Guard force.
Three Minnesota Guard members have been killed in Iraq.
Henry will soon retire from the Guard, making another deployment unlikely for him. He says for other guard Soldiers, the uncertainty about deployments is difficult but something he says the military is trying to address.
"I met with Senator Coleman and General Shellito from the State of Minnesota shortly after I go back," Henry says. "And that's one thing that the Guard is doing is they're asking these troops that are coming back what concerns they have and that's what I brought up is that I think with the National Guard we need more parameters of exactly what we can expect -- how often we might be deployed, for what the length of the deployments are those type of questions and they're getting us some answers. I think that it's finally starting to work through and they are trying to address some of those issues."
Back at headquarters General Shellito says it's in the Guard's best interest to get straight forward deployment information to troops as early as possible.
"What's happening is they are trying to answer the most common complaint that initially occurred and that was predictability," Shellito says. "We're working very, very hard to predict and as soon as we know something both on a national and a state level, we get that information out as quickly as possible. We just have to be careful that, you know, it's not rumor but that it is based on solid, best known facts at that time."
Guard call-up policy is complicated and the Department of Defense can change the rules at will. Generally troops are required to complete up to 24 months of deployment for every five years of service. If they're needed beyond that, they're asked to volunteer for missions. If not enough Soldiers with the required skills step forward, they can be ordered to service.
Shellito says far the voluntary mechanism has been working well and he doesn't foresee having to increase mandatory deployments.
"I don't anticipate that at all. In fact as we've met, and I talked to the commanders, and really without exception they are impressed with the responses they have received from the Soldiers stepping forward to go," Shellito says.
Soon Tom Murray, who works for the University of Minnesota's Office of Information Technology, says he'll be shipping out to Iraq for what he expects will be an 18-month deployment.
He's been in the Guard for 9 years and has volunteered for numerous missions. Preparing to leave now, he says, is much easier than it used to be.
"I think it's changed a lot," Murray says. "They have given us for instance maybe a three or four-year timeline that you know these opportunities are coming up. They don't necessarily say it's going to be from this time to this time but they say okay well we're in the grab bag and if they pick our number then we're it."
Murray also says there is a lot more support now for the families of Soldiers sent away, everything from counseling to help with basics such as home repair.
For decades Minnesota National Guard troops had no expectation of being sent into war zones. Officials say they now tell recruits to count on deployments. And, despite that, Minnesota continues to lead the in nation in Guard recruiting.
by Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota Guard leaders inducted into Court of Honor
Posted: 2015-10-07 11:02 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Seven retired members of the Minnesota National Guard were recognized before their fellow service members as they were inducted into the Court of Honor, Oct. 4, 2015, at Camp Ripley.
"It is our pleasure to have the opportunity to recognize these select leaders who have served our communities, state and nation with distinction," said Col. John Kolb, chief of staff for Joint Force Headquarters.
The Memorialization Board selects individuals for their service to the Minnesota National Guard as well as continued service to their communities. The board reviews the nominations received and forwards their recommendations to the Minnesota Adjutant General for approval. These inductees join the names of more than 300 others, since 1933, who have demonstrated their unwavering dedication, loyalty and distinguished service to the Minnesota National Guard.
Willmar National Guard Unit Set To Deploy
Posted: 2015-10-05 11:04 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2015
More than 150 Soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard's Willmar-based 682nd Engineer Battalion will deploy for an eleven-month mobilization in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
"The deploying Soldiers of the 682nd Engineer Battalion are eager to begin the deployment to Kuwait. This will be the first deployment for two-thirds of the unit, they are ready to create their own deployment experience," said Lt. Col. Keith Ferdon, battalion commander.
"Our battalion will be part of Task Force Wild in Kuwait. As a Minnesota hockey fan that is pretty cool. Our battalion has the mission of managing engineer sustainment operations throughout the Middle East, meaning we manage road and building infrastructure maintenance for coalition forces," said Ferdon.
Minnesota combat medic training center named for famous WWII nurse
Posted: 2015-10-05 09:26 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The Minnesota National Guard on Sunday dedicated its new combat medical training center in honor of Brainerd-native and famous WWII nurse Hortense McKay. She is the first female soldier to have a building named for her at Camp Ripley.
The Medical Simulation Training Center, which opened in May of 2014, specializes in training soldiers how to treat wartime wounded. It caters both to soldiers whose main role is being a combat medic (called "68Ws" in Army parlance) and to regular frontline soldiers looking to learn rudimentary lifesaving skills. Eventually, staff hope to train 2,500 people a year in the art of repairing bodies broken by combat.
Like the rest of Camp Ripley, the MSTC puts soldiers through the most stressful testing simulation possible. Strobe lights and loudspeakers recreate the distracting stimuli of combat, and the mannequins soldiers operate on display gruesome wounds that spew blood.
Last 133rd Airlift Wing Vietnam-Era Veteran Retires
Posted: 2015-09-30 01:56 PM
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Master Sgt. Michael Stephen Phillips, the last Vietnam-era veteran to actively serve in the 133rd Airlift Wing, was honored for his 35 years of service at a retirement ceremony at the 133rd's dining facility, Aug. 23, 2015.
An 18-year-old Phillips first joined the active-duty Air Force on Sep. 18, 1973, as a security police specialist and was stationed at the 148th Fighter Wing (when it was still an active duty base) in Duluth. Following a seven-year break in service after his initial four-year enlistment ended, Phillips' wife saw an ad on television for a special program in the National Guard, prompting his return to service.
"Back then they had what was called the Try-1 program for prior active duty members to join the Guard. It allowed you to sign up for a year and see if you liked it," said Phillips. "If it didn't work out, you could get out, and if it did ... well, I ended up staying for another 31 years!"