UPDATE: Guard troops, families honored at deployment ceremony
By Sue Dieter
Supporters filled the Morris Area Elementary School gymnasium Saturday for a send-off for local troops being deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Some 560 soldiers with the Minnesota Army National Guard's 1st Battalion 151st Artillery are being deployed to the Middle East. The soldiers are deploying from units in Montevideo, Olivia, Appleton, Marshall, Madison, Morris and Ortonville.
The event, lasting about 45 minutes, was filled with words of support and encouragement for the soldiers, their families, employers and communities.
The program featured remarks by Major General Larry Shellito, Minnesota's Adjutant General, First Lady Mary Pawlenty, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Charlie Battery Commander Capt. David Johannson.
Shellito noted that he stood in Morris four years ago for a similar ceremony.
"There's a special significance here in the fact that you honor Jason, David and Jesse in your memories. Never forget that this is serious business."
Shellito was referring to 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, Staff Sgt. David Day and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, who were killed Feb. 21, 2005 when an improvised explosive device detonated during their deployment in Baghdad.
Shellito told the soldiers that their mission is very similar to what was performed before.
"I need and expect all of you to take care of each other. You are your brother's keeper. And you may have to use what I call the 18-inch difference. Sometimes, your battle buddy may need a pat on the back and some encouragement to keep going and keep doing things. And hopefully not, but if you're normal, you will need a kick in the lower 18 inches to make sure you are doing the things that will save your life, or not render you unable to protect your buddy in that most important time of need."
Shellito explained that the deployment ceremony symbolizes the separation of the command and control of the National Guard from the governor to the president of the United States to serve as part of the active element.
Shellito praised Gov. Pawlenty for his ongoing support of the Guard and their families.
"He is getting a lot of honors for being the governor, but he's never gotten the most important thing in our eyes, that he is the commander-in-chief of the Minnesota National Guard."
Gov. Pawlenty spoke about the importance of the soldier's mission, saying that freedom of religion, freedom from tyranny in government, freedom to express ourselves are not just words on papers written long ago.
"They are values and principals and foundational not just to who we are and what we believe, but why our country is successful."
Pawlenty told the soldiers that the saying, 'freedom isn't free,' is true, but he added that "not everybody pays the same price. The individuals sitting in front of us are willing to pick up a heavier load and carry a heavier load for the rest of us. The family members in this room are willing to pick up a heavier load and carry a heavier load a longer distance for the cause and the price of freedom. We are grateful and respectful for that."
Pawlenty said that he believes the situation in Iraq has improved some in the past year and -half.
"One of the reason we have gotten to this point is because the members of the United States military and their leadership and the soldiers said we ain't quitting. So we don't quit on them, whether you are a governor or community member or leader. We are with you 100 percent of the way, no matter what you're doing, no matter where you are, whether you're sitting in Morris, Minnesota or halfway around the world."
First Lady Mary Pawlenty encouraged community organizations to become active in the military family care initiative.
"These are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, VFWs and church groups, youth groups who have at their core, service and acts of love and kindness. So we are speaking of simple things, painting a fence, bringing over meals, cleaning out the garage, some yard cleanup, the kind of things that naturally neighbors do."
The First Lady's initiative can be found at: http://www.firstlady.state.mn.us/initiatives_militaryfamily.html
Mary Pawlenty encouraged all of the military families to visit the Web site.
"Even if you feel you have a strong support network that you might take a look just because it is heartening and encouraging to see just how many groups throughout the state are there to support military families."
Charlie Battery will be led by Capt. David Johansson and Lt. Col. Scott St. Sauver.
Johansson told the soldiers he is proud of them. And he noted that this is a difficult and impatient time for them.
"There's a feeling that begins to build in us when preparations are finally complete. Equipment is made ready, meetings are ended and the missions begin. It one of apprehension mixed with expectation. There's almost an audible cry, it's saying. 'Please, just let us get on with the job we are trained to do.'"
Johansson also thanked the families and community members.
"While this deployment of more than 128 soldiers from this unit represents an opportunity to improve the lives of the average Iraqi while we are deployed, it comes at a great sacrifice for our own families, employers and communities. Your support is what drives these soldiers to be the best that they can be, to do what others would never think about doing and to protect people that need to be protected."
The Minnesota troops will be part of a 2,900-soldier brigade with soldiers from units in Wyoming, South Dakota, Alabama and Colorado.
In announcing the deployment, St. Sauver said that about 400 to 450 of the Minnesota soldiers will be directly involved with convoy escort service, while the remainder will serve in command, maintenance, communication and other missions at Camp Virginia.
The troops are scheduled to leave Minnesota on April 19.