When 35 members of a Minnesota National Guard assault helicopter battalion left for training a couple of weeks ago, it stood as a good example that not everyone is coming home when military operations in Iraq are scheduled to halt in a couple of weeks. They'll be gone for a year and stationed in Kuwait.
The deployment is also a reminder of the sacrifices a few have made. It's the fifth deployment for one member of the unit and the third deployment for nine others.
While U.S. military operations will officially be ending in Iraq on Dec. 31, much still needs to be done -- and likely will continue after the end-of-year deadline.
The helicopter battalion will be responsible for transporting troops and supplies around the borders of Iraq and Kuwait and into the Persian Gulf. The missions are not expected to put troops directly in harm's way, but company commander Capt. Shannon Gregory said the unit will remain on alert.
"We keep our situational awareness pretty high as if we are going into Iraq," he said. "You never know when the mission will change. I try to keep our guys as ready as possible. We have to be adaptive."
The group will train at Fort Hood, Texas, to become more acclimated to flying and, more importantly, landing in the dust of a desert environment. Even in reduced hostilities, the Black Hawks the troops will be flying have become the workhorse of the modern military.
"A car or a Humvee is too slow or too dangerous to get from one place to another," said Gregory, who will be on his fourth deployment, including service in the Marines. "People still need to get around and get places and we'll be an increased presence, just in case something goes awry in the area."
The unit will be training at Fort Hood through the end of the year and is expected to be in Kuwait by early 2012. They are expected to return to Minnesota by fall 2012. The unit, A Company, 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion, hails from 27 Minnesota communities.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434