| 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 National Guard and central Minnesota communities honor Memorial Day together
Posted: 2015-05-22 11:44 AM
CAMP RIPLEY - Garrison staff of Camp Ripley and other members of the Minnesota National Guard will take part in events this weekend honoring those who died in service to the United States.
"As members of the local community, we are honored to participate in Memorial Day events," said Lt. Col. Chad Sackett, deputy garrison commander at Camp Ripley. "It is right and fitting that we recognize and honor the service and sacrifice of those who died in service to our nation."
Minnesota National Guard members are speaking at events throughout the Memorial Day weekend. For those interested in attending a Memorial Day ceremony, here are a few of the listings for central Minnesota:
Fort Hood shooting victim's family receives posthumous Purple Heart medal
Posted: 2015-05-22 08:00 AM
ST. PAUL, Minn. - More than five years after Pfc. Kham See Xiong lost his life in a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, the Xiong family received his Purple Heart in a Ceremony during Hmong American Day in St. Paul, Minn.
"Kham was an American Solider, a Hmong-American who raised his right hand and swore to defend the constitution of the United States, a Hero," said keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Kent D. Savre, Fort Leonard Wood commanding general. Savre served as commander of the 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood during the attack.
Four hundred members of the Hmong and St. Paul community crowded into the Harriet Island Pavilion as rain fell, May 14, 2015, to witness the Purple Heart Ceremony.
148th Fighter Wing Excels at Combat Hammer
Posted: 2015-05-21 03:44 PM
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah - Approximately 180 Airmen and Block 50 F-16's from the 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. participated in an exercise known as Combat Hammer while at Hill AFB, Utah in early May 2015. Combat Hammer is a Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) that evaluates weapon systems in their entirety.
While the exercise was about a week long for most 148FW Airmen, it was quite a bit longer for those Airmen actually building the bombs and missiles. "Typically, we are one of the first assets to show up at a deployment," said 2nd Lt. Mylii Pukema, 148FW Munitions Officer. "We show up about a week before most everyone else, so we can build up the weapons and have them ready when the jets arrive."
"It's a common misconception that weapons come already built," said Pukema. "Different weapons have different levels of configuration that have to happen. It can be a lot of detail that goes into configuring a weapon or it can be relatively simple, it just depends on the mission."
148FW Munition's Airmen were evaluated from the time the weapon came out of the box. How they practiced safety and followed tech data during the building of the weapon were key components to the evaluation process.
Red Bulls Welcome New Command Sergeant Major
Posted: 2015-05-17 10:38 AM
ROSEMOUNT, Minn. - Soldiers and family members of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division gathered at the division headquarters Sunday, May 17, 2015 to witness the change of responsibility of the Division command sergeant major.
"We are here to say thank you and farewell to Command Sgt. Maj. Joel Arnold and welcome Command Sgt. Maj. John Lepowsky as the new command sergeant major of the 34th Infantry Division," said Brig. Gen. Benjamin Corell, assistant division commander of maneuver.
According to General Baron Friedrich von Steuben, inspector general of the Continental Army in 1779, "The choice of non-commissioned officers is an object of greatest importance: The order and discipline of a regiment depends so much on their behavior, that too much care cannot be taken in preferring none to that trust but those who by their merit and good conduct are entitled to it."