Local soldiers ready for deployment to Iraq
FORT HOOD, TEXAS -- Their training completed and goodbyes said to families, nearly 560 soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery of the Minnesota National Guard are preparing for deployment to Iraq in the upcoming days.
Six weeks of intensive training at Fort Hood, Texas, including 36 days of line-of-fire training, have prepared the troops well, and morale remains strong, according to the battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Scott St. Sauver.
"Overall, it's very, very good,'' said St. Sauver during a teleconference with Minnesota news reporters on Friday morning. He pointed out that 39 soldiers recently re-enlisted for three- and six-year tours knowing they were to be deployed.
St. Sauver said the soldiers have been training to provide "long haul'' convoy security. They will be based in Kuwait, but provide convoy security to deliver supplies to bases throughout both northern and southern Iraq. Their mission will also include bringing back some U.S. military equipment as U.S. forces begin their withdrawal from Iraq, according to St. Sauver.
The commander doesn't expect their Guardsmen's mission will change as U.S. troops leave the country, but he said they are trained for any possible changes in their roles.
This is the second mission in Iraq for the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, and the second deployment for 140 of the soldiers. Unlike the first mission in 2004-2005, the battalion will be deployed as a single unit and remain under one command, according to St. Sauver.
The soldiers returned to Fort Hood on Thursday night after enjoying a four-day pass prior to their deployment.
Iraq has seen some violent flare-ups in the last few weeks, but overall the security situation there has been described as relatively stable.
"I don't anticipate anything more than what it is today,'' said St. Sauver of his expectations for hostile actions.
Working in three-person teams, the soldiers will be using heavy-armored vehicles, including mine-resistant ambush vehicles and armored Humvees to deliver the supplies. The missions will take the soldiers away from their base at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, for days at a time, but St. Sauver said they will spend their nights at U.S. bases in Iraq while on convoy duty.
St. Sauver said he hopes that people back home continue to remember and support the troops while they are deployed. The troops are scheduled to return to Minnesota in April.
The 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery is headquartered in Montevideo and includes soldiers assigned to armories in the communities of Olivia, Appleton, Madison, Morris, Ortonville, and Marshall.
There are currently 2,070 Minnesota National Guard troops deployed overseas, according to Major Patricia Baker with the Guard's public affairs office.