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Minnesota National Guard
Community says thanks: Gov. Pawlenty, U.S. Rep. Peterson among officials speaking at celebration

A dozen adjectives describe Minnesota National Guard troops who returned home after extended duty from Iraq - heroes, courage, strength, dedication, valor, patriotism, duty, honor Gov Tim Pawlenty, however, wants to add one more that describes the troops and their families - generous

Everyone in the room gives of himself, Pawlenty said Saturday as about 600 people crowded into Bemidji State's Memorial Hall for a homecoming celebration for the Bemidji-based Able Company that saw 16 months of active duty in Iraq

The two-hour celebration included a number of speakers, including US Rep Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, and awards to supportive local groups and businesses and to the troops themselves. The troops, spending 22 months on active duty in training or in Iraq, are with Bemidji-based Able Company, part of the Minnesota Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 136th Combined Arms Battalion, 34th Infantry Division, a division known as Red Bull

Maj. Gen. Rick Erlandson, commander of the 34th Infantry Division, said the local troops set the standard for National Guard duty in Iraq for all who follow them

The generous includes both the 60 or so returning troops from the local unit and their families, Pawlenty said, as being generous describes their sacrifices with most gone from home more than 22 months

"What's the most generous thing you've ever done with your life,"� the Republican governor said he once was told as a way to judge generosity "In other words, what do you have that you're willing to give away to somebody else that may make their life or our world a better place?"�

The troops and family have given of their time, their skills, received some money, made some friendships, he said, but ultimately what one does with it is an indicator, he said

"Are you willing to give what you got for a cause or a circumstance that is different from, bigger than, better than just our individual circumstance?"� Pawlenty asked

The troops honored Saturday were willing to serve 22 months this time, perhaps six years in total for Guard duty, with the only request that "I will go, if you need me,"� he said

Pawlenty quoted from Isaiah 6, where God says, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"� and Isaiah responded, "Here am I, send me!"�

The troops didn't get to say, "Send me, unless it's inconvenient,"� Pawlenty said, or unless a new son or daughter is born, or unless it's an inconvenient time for work, or unless it will be too hard on the Soldier's wife or husband or significant other, or unless it will make mom worry a lot

"They just have to salute and go,"� he said "It's an extraordinary, extraordinary act of generosity"

Minnesota is a great state, not for its politicians, but "because it's a state filled with really great people,"� he said, listing off high national rankings for the number of volunteers, in charitable giving and in church attendance

"When we've had the big catastrophes in Minnesota in the last weeks, what we saw was horrible tragedies but we also saw the goodness of Minnesota shining through,"� Pawlenty said, referring to the Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 and southeast Minnesota floods that killed seven

"People who didn't run away from the danger but ran toward it to help,"� he said, including EMTs, volunteer firefighters, first responders, police offices, ambulance drivers, Good Samaritan citizens

"We are grateful for who you are and what you've done,"� Pawlenty said of the Company A troops, noting that the burden has been heavy on them and their families, and that both served with equal measure in answering the question of what they were willing to give to another

"We can't give back the 22 months that you've given, but "� you gave the people of Iraq an opportunity for something better,"� he said

Pawlenty also noted that those who died had also given "the ultimate measure of generosity and sacrifice in laying down their lives"

"The state of Minnesota and people across the state do not forget what you've done and are grateful, and will keep you in their thoughts and prayers,"� he said of Able Company "We appreciate every minute of every day that you were gone"

Peterson said Congress, the president and the nation are behind the troops, and that a pledge to help them continues as they transition back into civilian life, including better benefits

"Thank you "� for the tremendous job that you did,"� he said "You made a big difference for the people in Iraq "� You made a huge difference"

Military superiors in Iraq constantly told Peterson in congressional briefings that the Minnesota National Guard units set the standard, he said "You guys should be proud of the job that you did"

Peterson said he also welcomed returning troops in Detroit Lakes, and noted that a caravan led troops Saturday from the Armory to Memorial Hall The numbers of people lining the streets "tells you something about what the people of this country think about the job you did"

He also thanked the community for its support of the troops, especially businesses who went without staff that were deployed to Iraq He also thanked Pawlenty and the Legislature for their support of veterans, and a reintegration program that is setting a national standard

"As an old staff sergeant in the National Guard, I say welcome home and Hoo-Ah!,"� Peterson shouted to a return shout from the troops

While in Iraq, the Soldiers of Able Company were one of two infantry companies in the 2-136th Infantry Battalion that conducted daily patrols and base security during their 16-month combat tour While deployed, they were stationed near Taqaddum, Iraq, and conducted joint missions with co-located US Marine units in the al Anbar province

Erlandson said the way they conducted those patrols and security will set an Army standard

"You as a community need to understand what these great Soldiers accomplished in 16 months in Iraq,"� he said "Those great Soldiers, your great citizens, set the standard for security operations, for combat patrol operations and base security operations The set the standard for the entire Army"

The troops' courage, self-sacrifice and conduct on missions 24/7 "truly set the standard for all who are going to follow them to Iraq"

Training and experience made the difference, he said, adding that the current troops set a new Red Bull record of serving more than 480 continuous days of combat, a record that starts with the Civil War It's also a record for any unit now serving in Iraq

"But the important thing is how they did their mission,"� Erlandson said "It is absolutely unprecedented across the Army"

The troops have made a difference, he added, "for the Iraqi people "� In the end, it will be up to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government to make a choice "� but you gave the people of Iraq the opportunity for something better"

Also speaking was Brigade Command Sgt Maj Doug Julin, a Bemidji native, who told the troops to tell their story

"You did an excellent job - tell your story," said Julin, a 30-year career Soldier holding the highest non-commissioned rank in the brigade "Tell your story, you have your own story to tell There will be a time and place to tell your story, but tell your story"

While in Iraq, Julin was responsible for 5,000 enlisted troops in seven battalions, he said "It's not over yet, there's along ways to go There's a lot of things to fix, a lot of things to change"

He pointed to Junior ROTC teens, calling them the future leaders who must be supported by the community and veterans

"This brigade set a standard over there that was not accomplished with the exception of each one of these Soldiers sitting here,"� Julin said They are role models for those who follow

Of the 5,000 troops he worked with, casualty rates were low, he said "It was based on experience, knowledge and training and dedication of each one of these Soldiers sitting right here"

The Bemidji Community Band opened the ceremony with patriotic music, and the crowd rose to its feet with a concluding song, "God Bless America,"� sung by 10-year-old Libby Nelson

Pawlenty stayed after the ceremony to chat with troops, and shake their hands as they left the auditorium

Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer
Published Sunday, August 26, 2007

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