Promise of a Minn. spring reaches local troops in Kuwait
MONTEVIDEO -- Temperatures are now topping 100 degrees in western Kuwait, but it is the fresh air and cool breezes of spring in Minnesota on the minds of the 560 soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard's 1st Battalion 151st Field Artillery.
Their impending return to families and springtime in Minnesota is the constant topic for conversation among the soldiers during off-duty hours, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Erik Arne. He spoke by phone Friday from Camp Buehring in Kuwait.
Troops with the units based in Montevideo, Appleton, Olivia, Madison, Morris, Ortonville and Marshall are just a matter of a few weeks from completing their deployment and returning to Fort McCoy, Wis., and then their homes.
As welcome as the first signs of spring are here was the arrival starting in February of troops from the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Florida Army National Guard. They will be taking over the duties of the Minnesota troops.
The Florida soldiers began arriving in bands and are now in country in full force.
The Minnesota troops are based at Camp Buehring and Camp Victory, both in Kuwait. They are providing security for convoys delivering supplies to U.S. bases throughout much of Iraq. The Florida troops are now accompanying their Minnesota counterparts on those missions, Arne said.
He said the transition appears to be going well and is on schedule, if not ahead.
The anticipation of returning home has not gotten in the way of goal number one. The soldiers remain concentrated on bringing every one home safely, according to Arne.
He said the local soldiers have covered more than 1.8 million truck miles since the start of their deployment with a perfect safety record. They are likely to complete their 600th convoy mission before they transfer duties to their Florida replacements.
The new arrivals will have a lot to match. Arne said the Minnesotans were recently recognized for a 99 percent readiness record, testimony to both vehicle maintenance and troop preparedness for missions.
The Minnesota troops also won attention for being the first to embrace the new security policy that allows Iraqi civilian traffic to continue flowing when the convoy is on the move.
This represents the second deployment to Iraq for the local units. Many of those now serving -- including Arne -- were part of the first deployment in 2004 and 2005. Most of the troops served as military police, often in and around Baghdad.
"Things have changed'' in Iraq, according to Arne. The insurgent action the troops encountered during their first deployment has decreased tremendously, Arne said.
One thing hasn't changed. The generosity and support from people back home has been incredible, Arne said. He said there were times when they ran out of room for all of the goodies and care packages, but don't worry: "It's all been consumed, no doubt about it,'' he said.
The troops are expected back in Minnesota sometime in April, and dates and locations for welcome back events will be announced.