550 Minnesota Guard soldiers heading to Iraqby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — More than 550 troops from the Minnesota Army National Guard will head to Iraq next month, where they will serve a one-year deployment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery will provide convoy security protection throughout Iraq and Kuwait, where they will be based.
They will be responsible for protecting deployment and redeployment convoys, and escorting logistical supplies to coalition and Iraqi forces, according to Lt. Col. Scott St. Sauver, the battalion's commander.
"They're going to be running the main highways of Iraq along with everybody else," St. Sauver said.
The troops recently finished their pre-deployment training at Fort Hood, Texas, and are preparing to leave for the Middle East sometime in July, according to St. Sauver.
Most of the five Minnesota National Guard units that will deploy come from Montevideo, Appleton, Marshall, Madison, Olivia, Morris and Ortonville.
The deployment comes as attacks in Iraq continue to rise, days before the June 30 deadline for U.S. combat troops to withdraw from cities around the country.
The spike in violence has raised concerns about the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security and fight insurgents as American troops become less visible.
"We're certainly going into an environment where it can be dangerous," St. Sauver said. "There's no doubt about that. I suspect we won't be turning the lights off. I suspect there certainly will be, as we continue to draw down, other things that become available."
Still, St. Sauver said troop morale is "very, very good," adding that 39 soldiers recently re-enlisted for three to six years, knowing they were headed back to Iraq.
Currently, there are nearly 2,070 Minnesotans deployed overseas, according to a National Guard spokeswoman.