They came in their Sunday best, brought the kids, laid down their five bucks, gobbled up as many hot cakes and sausages as they pleased, and had the conversations people have at a small-town pancake breakfast — church, the first day of school, the old days.

But this one was a little different. It wasn’t a fund-raiser for boy scouts or the Kiwanis club. Instead, it was for the wives and children and mothers and fathers of the men who, in a few weeks, will leave for Iraq.

The National Guard unit that includes many members from southern Minnesota — 50 from St. Peter alone — received orders recently that they were heading to Iraq. They leave in mid-September for six months of training. After that, they head over.

“Most of these guys are in supply or maintenance. And ammunition haulers,” said Bob Dimmel, chairman of the St. Peter National Guard site’s Family Readiness Group. “That’s a scary thought in Iraq.”

Proceeds from the pancake and sausage breakfast go to the Family Readiness Group. The group lends financial support to families of Guard members in times of need. They also help coordinate letter writing, support groups and help organize children’s activities.

Ann Neary, whose husband James is a Guard member, said the show of support from the community has been good, but she’s still a little bit in panic mode.

Families have routines, and Neary says hers is not different. She’s used to James being gone for the Guard-mandated two weeks per year, but two weeks is a lot different than 18 months.

“You’ve just got to suck it up and go forward,” she said, “or you’re just going to go crazy.”

The couple have a 6-year-old daughter who already is speaking out against her father’s coming departure.

“She’s already saying things like, ‘I don’t like President Bush,’” Neary said. “And I asked her why and she said, ‘He’s making my daddy go to war.’”

Around town, St. Peter residents say, people are showing support.

Dimmel, a retired member of the Guard who made several trips overseas, said many are expressing dissatisfaction for the war, but are still supporting the troops. One woman even came to the pancake breakfast and, after saying she didn’t want to eat and didn’t support the war effort, she said she supported the troops and gave $10 to the readiness group.

Guard member David Twait said he can feel the community’s support.

“For as early as it is, I didn’t think there’d be this many people,” he said, looking around at the growing breakfast crowd. “They’re saying thank you for serving the country, thank you for doing your job.”

Carl and Janet Basballe of St. Peter came to show their support for the military effort, and a good way to support the families.

Janet said she can relate to the women who, within weeks, will be running their families solo.

“It’s going to be very difficult for them,” she said. “The stress of knowing (their loved one is) in harm’s way.”

John Jenson, a Vietnam veteran who remembers well the cost of war, said he also feels sympathy for the families. Fundraisers such as the pancake breakfast are important, he said, because a community needs to take care of its residents.

“It has to be such a hardship on them,” he said, “because they don’t get much money.”

With 2,600 soldiers from Minnesota, the deployment of the 4,000 1st Brigade is expected to be the state Guard's largest foreign deployment since World War II and includes units from 33 communities statewide.

About 1,400 troops from other states are part of the brigade and are also part of the deployment. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 8,000 Minnesota National Guard troops have served on active duty in more than 30 countries.

About 1,350 of the Guard's 12,800 soldiers are now mobilized overseas, so the latest mobilization is a major increase in the state’s stake in the Iraq war.

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