Just as 2,700 Minnesota National Guard members currently stationed in Kuwait prepare to ship home, a nine-member interagency "Employment Resource Team" will travel to the country the first week of March. Their mission will be to assess the employment and educational needs of the returning citizen-soldiers and help train job-seeking skills.

The team consists of representatives from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), state government agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Veterans Affairs, as well as the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and corporate human-resource managers from Target, Best Buy and U.S. Bank. Chaplain (Col.) John Morris and Maj. Aaron Krenz from the Guard will lead the delegation.

I'll also travel with the Employment Resource Team and report back on the trip after I return.

The mission of the delegation is to help soldiers prepare for a challenging job market: Minnesota's official unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, but 19 percent of the deployed 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infrantry -- known as the "Red Bulls" -- will arrive home jobless, according to DEED.

The trip is unprecedented, said Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard.

"I don't know of any state or any other adjutants general that have ever sent a team of civilian experts forward into an area of conflict to do this -- albeit Kuwait is somewhat of a permissive environment at this particular time and place."

Not only is the trip unique, but so is the overall approach, Nash said.

"The buy-in we've had, not only from the governor's office, all his commissioners, DEED, MnSCU, corporations -- this is really a village coming together to take care of itself."

The outreach won't go unnoticed by the troops, said Nash, and the delegation hopes it won't go unnoticed by Minnesota's employers.

The trip caught the attention of Gen. John Vessey Jr., the Minnesota native who was the only chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who started out as a private in the National Guard.

Vessey was "visibly moved" when told of the trip, said Morris, who quoted the general as saying, "This reinforces to me that the 34th Division still takes care of its soldiers."


John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.