Red Bulls' mission after Iraq shifts to trainingby Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Even though the last U.S. military troops withdrew from Iraq last month, 4,100 troops are still serving in the region.
That includes 2,700 members of Minnesota's National Guard, who are known as the Red Bulls.
The brigade, which is scheduled to return home sometime this spring, is under the command of Col. Eric Kerska of Rochester, who spoke with Minnesota Public Radio's Tom Crann on Tuesday.
Although the unit is currently stationed in Kuwait, they were responsible for transporting the final 40,000 soldiers and equipment out of Iraq as military operations ended.
"There were only 30 soldiers behind the Red Bulls coming out of Iraq on the 18th of December," Kerska said. "We're very proud that we got all those soldiers out by Christmas because that's what we were sent over to do."
The unit faced what Kerska described as a "thinking enemy."
"There are people that tried to hurt us," Kerska said. "We stayed a little more agile than them, with all those miles and all the IEDs we faced, we had some minor wounds, some injuries, but [were] essentially unscathed."
The unit is currently responsible for running the bases in Kuwait, ensuring that soldiers stationed there are taken care of.
Now the fighting is over so we're going back into that train mode, which is the life of an army unit," Kerska said. "We'll just continue to train, continue to manage the bases and the brigade will be much better trained by the time we get home."
Kerska said it wasn't unusual for the unit's soldiers to maintain almost daily contact with family during this tour, as opposed to previous conflicts like the Gulf War, where letters with a delivery time of six to eight weeks would often be the only form of contact.
But Minnesota's Red Bulls are still looking forward to their planned trip home this spring.
"When they opened that airplane door back in Minnesota the last two times I've done this, the smell of green grass and trees that comes through the door of that airplane is what I remember the most," Kerska said. "I'm looking forward to that smell, it doesn't smell anything like home over here."