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Continued: July 18, 2009: Iraq missile kills 3 Minnesotans

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE and BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 13, 2011 - 2:14 PM

"He didn't leave his elders behind," Ken Drevnick said. "Dan and I had the best father-son relationship I know of."

James Wertish

Wertish, who has two sisters and a brother, wanted to become a police officer but also loved working on his family's farm, said George Schmit, pastor of the family's church in Bird Island, Minn.
"Being on a tractor was one of his passions," he said.

Wertish joined the National Guard in 2006, the summer before his senior year at B.O.L.D. High School in Olivia.

Wertish had told his father recently that he was looking forward to coming home, Schmit said. On the Fourth of July, the family had a big get-together and talked to Wertish on the phone for more than an hour, Schmit said.

Red Bull duties

The Minnesota National Guard released no information about the deaths Friday but promised a statement when more information became available, said spokesman Paul Rickert.

In February 2009, more than 1,000 Minnesota National Guard troops left on a yearlong mission to Iraq. Among them were 275 military police based in Stillwater, and soldiers from the 34th Red Bull
Infantry Division based in Rosemount, Inver Grove Heights, Faribault and Stillwater.

The duties of military police include maneuvering and mobility, area security, internment and resettlement, law and order, and intelligence.

The 34th is providing leadership, command, logistics and communication support for four active-duty brigades of more than 16,000 multi-national coalition forces. Guard officials said they
provide both civil and military skills to help move the country toward independence and stability. The Minnesota group operates in the southern third of Iraq. They are expected to return home in
early 2010.

Before Thursday's deaths, 12 Minnesota National Guard members had been killed in Iraq.

The security situation in Iraq has improved dramatically in the last two years, though militants still carry out lethal attacks on a regular basis.

Although U.S. combat forces withdrew from Iraq's cities on June 30, thousands of troops remain stationed at bases outside urban areas.

The base struck by mortar rounds on Thursday, Contingency Operating Base Basra, is about 20 miles outside Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

Britain, which had a large force in Basra, has ended combat operations and begun pulling out its troops. The British bases around the city and the airport were once subject to regular mortar barrages by Shiite militias believed to have received funding and training from Iran.

Last year, Iraqi forces, with U.S. support, routed Shiite militias from their strongholds in Basra.

Col. Butch Kievenaar, the top U.S. military commander in southern Iraq, said in a Defense Department briefing earlier this week that some Iraqi extremists who had gone to Iran have returned to the Basra region.

He said he believed they were pursuing criminal activities such as extortion, and there had been no clear sign that they had a "militia" agenda.

He said some groups were still receiving support from Iran, but "most of the individuals that we see or deal with on a daily basis" are no longer receiving the same level of backing from the Iranians as in the past.

Staff writer Kevin Giles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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