More than 1,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard have completed their training this week and will be heading to their assignment in Iraq, where they will command the southern province around the port city of Basra.
The Guard will replace members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, based in New York state, which took over the area from the British. About 300 of the Minnesota Guard members already are in Kuwait or Iraq for additional training, said Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, who will command the group.
While larger groups of Minnesota troops have been deployed to Iraq, the Guard members being deployed for a one-year tour of duty will be in charge of roughly 16,000 multinational forces as well as Iraqi security forces. Training at Fort Lewis in Washington state has included simulated scenarios that involve such things as working with tribal governments, local sheiks and provincial leaders.
Nash said a key element in the Guard's responsibilities will be to encourage open trade with neighboring Iran while at the same time monitoring the borders for illegal smuggling and insurgent activity.
"The people have spoken, they don't want that sort of negative influence from Iran," said Nash, pointing to recent peaceful provincial elections that appeared to move toward support for more secularism.