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Guard leaders praise Willmar area's support of troops

Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 2
Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, center, visits Wednesday with Joe Brenner, left, and Annette Kuyper during a noon meeting at the Willmar Armory. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

WILLMAR -- The Willmar area is known around the state for the support it shows to military families and for the way it honors fallen soldiers, Minnesota National Guard officials said Wednesday afternoon.

Adjutant General Richard C. Nash, State Chaplain John Morris and other Guard officials were in Willmar to meet with local government, education and business officials as well as organizations that assist military families.

They met Wednesday morning with the local group HomeFront Connections and many of its members stayed for a luncheon to hear Nash speak. The meetings were held at the Willmar Armory, home base of the 682nd Engineering Battalion.

Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, the director of public affairs for the Minnesota National Guard, said Nash has been traveling around the state since he was chosen in November. He has visited units that have men and women deployed overseas and is also visiting battalion headquarters.

Nash told the luncheon that after he met with them, HomeFront Connections "became my gold standard in terms of how communities support their citizen soldiers."

The group assists families of deployed members of the National Guard and active duty military from the area. People from 500 communities around Minnesota will be deploying in May, he said.

The Guard has been trying to develop more Yellow Ribbon communities around the state. Willmar was designated a Yellow Ribbon City last fall.

HomeFront Connections coordinates businesses, individuals and organizations to provide support for the families of deployed National Guard and active duty personnel.

"We have deployed men and women, obviously, but we've also deployed families," Nash said.

Conrad Bostron, a member of HomeFront Connections, said the group's meeting with Nash and the others was very productive.

"He took his time, he was very sincere and down-to-earth," he said. "I foresee a very good relationship under his command."

The group's work helps protect the troops overseas by easing some of their worry about their families, Nash said.

"They can focus on the mission, and on their buddy," he said. "An organization like this helps the commanders out there."

Nash also assured those at the meeting that the state's support for its military families has not changed with a new governor. He said Gov. Mark Dayton, who took office in January, is "all in on this" and shares the commitment expressed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his wife, Mary.

Before the luncheon, Nash and Morris talked about Willmar's commitment to its military members and their families.

"You have an extraordinary community," Morris said, adding that Willmar and the surrounding area was "pretty famous" for the way it takes care of families and the way it honors soldiers who have died.

"People would be amazed if they knew how good these soldiers are," Morris said. "Willmar produces those kinds of people."

Morris said that support needs to be part of a comprehensive system that provides assistance to members of the military who return from a deployment and need to continue their education or find a job.

Nash, who has served nearly 39 years in the military, said he sees "a real passion" to serve their state and country from those currently serving in the Minnesota National Guard.

"They get better and better every year," he said.

In addition to the federal role of deploying troops overseas, the National Guard has a state role to assist in flood protection, Nash said.

In that capacity, Nash and Dayton have traveled to flood-threatened communities this spring to help with emergency response planning.

A number of Guard members are deployed overseas, "but we still have more than 12,000 airmen and soldiers available," Nash said. "Within four hours, we can be anyplace in the state."

To illustrate that point, supplies for a possible flood deployment lined one wall, packed and ready to go.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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