The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 2, 2011

Love, reverence for Kuwait-bound guardsmen

NEW ULM — The politicians gave promises, the officers gave advice and the families of the 70 or so Minnesota National Guard soldiers who were honored in a deployment ceremony Saturday in New Ulm gave their love.

Actually, there was love, or at least reverence, from just about everyone.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the soldiers ought to “be treated with the respect they so richly deserve” regardless of the political popularity of their mission.

New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman said, “I think each one of these troops can see the support they have in New Ulm.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, speaking as much to the families as to the troops, said, “You don’t need to be told the cost of freedom.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Eustice said there’s a robust support network for families, but perhaps not a culture to support it.

“We in the military have raised our families to believe you shouldn’t ask for (help), for some reason,” he said.

The soldiers of the New Ulm-based battery (called the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery) are one of five units deploying to Kuwait with the 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery unit.

Of that 460-soldier battalion, 50 soldiers are from New Ulm or Mankato while the rest are from 176 other cities in eight states.

The battalion will be based in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with the mission of assisting in the drawdown of troops from Iraq, called Operation New Dawn.

For some battalion troops, that will mean convoy protection in Iraq.

The soldiers at Saturday’s event, though, have been assigned to the headquarters to provide support. They may have “artillery” in their battalion name, but have been trained to be medics, mechanics, administrators and on-base security.

Nine-year Guardswoman Spc. Brooke Diekmann of Fairmont will work with vehicle maintenance, issuing work orders and doing other on-base office work.

As it is for more than two-thirds of the battalion, this is her first deployment. She’s a bit nervous, saying the reality of the deployment “hit home today.”

But “Fairmont has been amazing” and her family is very proud, making it easier.

Pfc. David Angell of Maple Grove, a medic, will be leaving his 6-month-old daughter and 5-year-old son for the yearlong deployment. His wife, Kristen Angell, is counting on the support of her mother-in-law and as well as the support groups in her area.

The families do not consider their loved ones to be in a safe zone just because their deployment is in Kuwait and not Iraq or Afghanistan, public affairs officer Maj. Paul Rickert said.

“Kuwait is still an active theater.”

The battalion will depart for training in Wisconsin on May 22nd and return in May 2012 or so, Rickert said.

This is the same unit (as part of the 34th Infantry Division “Red Bulls”) that helped “surge” troop levels in Iraq, returning in Aug. 2007 after an extended deployment that gave them the longest combat tour of any unit in Iraq.

Now, about four years later, they will help assist in the troop drawdown.

Because of that long tour, the unit was given an extra year or so between deployments, said Cpt. Dwight Lahti, battery commander.

Brig. Gen. David Elicerio, commander of the 34th infantry division, had some advice for officers like Lahti.

“Please be wise in what you ask of (your soldiers),” he said. “I also ask you to be careful, because they will do it.”

Walz, who had led this battalion during his time with the National Guard, promised the country’s financial straits would not “short-change” the troops. Afterward, he clarified that the promise referred to training, equipment and benefits on this mission, not about military spending in general.

Klobuchar said Operation New Dawn and the drawdown is popular in Congress.

The Mankato-based company of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry will also deploy with the 34th Infantry Division.

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