| MPR News Primer: Minnesota National Guard at war
April 16, 2012 St. Paul, Minn. — Nearly 3,000 Minnesota National Guard soldiers return home this month after serving a year in Afghanistan and Kuwait. After ten years of regular deployments, Minnesota Guard troops will largely be home by May. What's happened to Minnesota's citizen-soldier force in the decade? What happens next?
Minnesota National Guard - the basics
The Guard is a force of citizen-soldiers the governor can mobilize in peacetime to help during floods and other disasters. The federal government calls on the Guard in war time to fight and support military operations overseas. Minnesota's force traces its origins to the Pioneer Guard militia formed in 1856, before statehood. It's served in every major American conflict since then.
More than 25,000 Minnesota guardsmen have been deployed around the globe during the War on Terror that began with the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
There are nearly 14,000 in the state Guard currently, including 11,000 soldiers and 2,000 airmen. They typically train a weekend per month and a two-week stretch during the year. For their service, they earn pay and benefits that vary with rank and duty status. An active duty specialist/corporal in the National Guard earns between $1,915 and $2,326 a month.
What did Minnesota's Guard do overseas?
Minnesota Guard units served around the world the past 10 years, but their largest roles came in Iraq and Afghanistan where guardsmen have fought in combat and provided combat support.
The Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division -- the Red Bulls -- holds the record for the longest serving unit in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Seventeen Minnesota guardsmen have died in a combat zone since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. All but one died in Iraq, where 79 earned Purple Heart medals from combat injuries through 2011.
What happens when guardsmen return?
When they return, Minnesota guardsmen go through a basic routine:
"As our Minnesota National Guard soldiers arrive at the demobilization sites, they will undergo medical and dental examinations, attend briefings on federal and state benefits, conduct equipment turn-in and complete administrative documentation," Army Maj. Gerald D. Halloran said in early April.
"Once they complete these tasks, we'll send them home to Minnesota on chartered flights to Minneapolis.
The final travel includes a bus ride to their respective armories."
Beyond the bus ride, though, some guardsmen face plenty of physical and emotional challenges as they return.
MPR News reporter Tom Robertson wrote two years ago about the challenge of some Minnesota guardsmen returning home from war, highlighting the struggles of Greg Roberts, a former Minnesota National Guard staff sergeant trying to reclaim his civilian life.
"It's something I did not anticipate...coming home and having it be a more difficult experience than actually being deployed," Roberts said. "I was pretty much emotionally dead and I still deal with that now."
Mental health problems are a constant worry as soldiers return from combat operations.
"The Minnesota National Guard began tracking suicide data in 2007. Since then, 24 citizen soldiers have taken their own lives. That's the most of any state," writes MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire.
Guard officials note that while concerning, two-thirds of the soldiers who committed suicide had never deployed and so their suicides are not the result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Only two of the 24 suicides occurred among active duty soldiers, Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, adjutant general of Minnesota, told lawmakers in December.
Nash also told lawmakers that 34 soldiers sought help in a program for those who may be at risk of suicide.
What kind of job market awaits Minnesota service people as they return?
Not great. While the situation is better now than in the depths of the reception, it's still a challenge for military members to find work.
"The Guard says about 19 percent of its 2,700 members will face unemployment when they get back from Kuwait in May," MPR News reporter Elizabeth Baier writes. Unemployment rates for Minnesota veterans are more than three times the state's overall unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, she adds.
Part of the challenge is to convince employers that guardsmen can transition easily from military service back into civilian life.
It's a stigma that can be difficult for soldiers to overcome.
However, there are increasing efforts to help veterans return to the workplace, including new employer tax incentives.
Colleges and universities are also doing a lot to accommodate a crush of veterans seeking degrees after their service. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system had 10,644 veterans and service members enrolled in 2011, up 57 percent from 2008. Minneapolis Community and Technical College saw its enrollment of service members nearly double between 2008 and 2010.
What happens to the Guard when deployments end?
"Now the fighting is over so we're going back into that train mode, which is the life of an army unit," the Red Bulls' Col. Eric Kerska told MPR News in January.
"We'll just continue to train, continue to manage the bases and the brigade will be much better trained by the time we get home."
682nd Engineer Battalion receives community send-off
Posted: 2015-10-09 01:25 PM
WILLMAR, Minn. - The sea of red in the Willmar High School gym Thursday was more than a show of support for the Willmar High Cardinals. Families and friends of the 682nd Engineer Battalion, wearing red unit t-shirts to Remember Everyone Deployed, gathered to send off the Willmar-based Minnesota National Guard unit prior to their departure for a deployment to Kuwait.
The more than 150 Soldiers from the 682nd's Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Forward Support Company will travel to Fort Bliss, Texas, for additional training prior to departing for Kuwait in November. The unit will be responsible for managing engineer sustainment operations across the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
"We'll be deploying with horizontal engineers and vertical engineers so we can build across the ground or we can build upwards," said Capt. Michael Lovas, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "It really depends on what mission is given to us. We'll be flexible to those needs and as engineers we can adapt to whatever mission or projects necessary."
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.