MONTEVIDEO -"What good is a parade if there aren't people along the streets cheering you along the way?"
Those words belong to Adjutant General Larry Shellito, commander of the Minnesota National Guard, who was among those who joined Friday evening to cheer the more than 550 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery in Montevideo. Billed as a welcome home and change of command ceremony, Gov. and First Lady Tim and Mary Pawlenty, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson were among those who joined for the salute to the troops.
The ceremony -- followed by a family barbecue and dance with live music by Johnny Holm -- marked the final integration event for the area soldiers from units headquartered in Montevideo with armories in Appleton, Olivia, Morris, Ortonville and Madison. They were applauded for a successful 12-month mission in Kuwait and Iraq. Based at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, the troops provided convoy security to deliver supplies to bases throughout Iraq. They completed 591 combat missions and covered more than 1.9 million miles without accident or injury before their return home in late March.
Their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Scott St. Sauver, is moving on to become post commander at Camp Ripley.
St. Sauver turned over the battalion colors and command to Lt. Col. Lowell Kruse, a native of Revillo, S.D. The new commander is a familiar face with this battalion. He served for 15 of his 22 years with the National Guard in the 1-151.
"I'm damned proud and pleased to take over the best battalion in the Minnesota National Guard," said the new commander. He said the battalion's next mission is to take on new M777 howitzers.
Pawlenty, Klobuchar and Peterson took turns thanking and congratulating the soldiers for their service, and the families and communities that supported them.
Shellito told the troops their biggest mission was yet ahead: Moving on with the experience they've gained. "Respect the potential you have and exploit it to the max," he said.