Three of the 152 Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers in Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, based near Baghdad began their two-week leave.
Capt. Mike Pazdernik, Little Falls, who is the company commander, sent an e-mail update noting the first soldiers had left for their return home just days ago. The 15-day leaves for the company's soldiers will be spread out during the next eight months.
The 152 Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers in Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, left for an 18-month deployment in mid-October. By Dec. 22, the soldiers arrived in Kuwait to get acclimated to the area before moving into Iraq. Many of these soldiers are from Brainerd or Wadena, as well as St. Cloud. The soldiers are on an 18-month deployment with 12 months of "boots on the ground" duty near Baghdad.
The soldiers are out daily escorting convoys, providing area security and providing security for their own base camp. Pazdernik said many of the drivers already have logged nearly 4,000 miles.
"We've conducted hundreds of combat patrols," Pazdernik said. "We've saved innocent lives on the highway, and we'll never know how many other lives we've saved with just our presence alone. We've done our jobs professionally. We're proud of our unit, the role we have been asked to play in the global war on terrorism."
Last week three of the company's soldiers were involved in a head-on crash at 55 mph as a civilian semi-truck crossed the highway's center line and struck their armored vehicle. Pazdernik said the damage was extensive and the soldiers lives were saved by their seat belts.
"One of our first soldiers on the scene of the accident is a Minnesota state trooper back home," Pazdernik said. "He was absolutely amazed that our soldiers, especially the driver, survived a crash of that magnitude. They actually did far better than just surviving. They essentially walked away with nothing more than soreness and some superficial scratches and bruises. The driver and gunner were evacuated by helicopter to the nearest military hospital as a precautionary measure to make sure they didn't sustain any spinal or head injuries. All tests came back negative. Both soldiers are doing very well and are already back to work. I visited them at the hospital the day of the accident. I was so impressed by their positive attitude and strength."
Pazdernik and other company soldiers attended the memorial service for the three Minnesota National Guard soldiers from the 151st Field Artillery who were killed in Baghdad last week. So many people attended the service, they could not fit inside the chapel. Those outside the chapel could not hear words for the service but could hear the bugler play taps.
"Leaders and soldiers from all levels, and all areas of Iraq, were there," Pazdernik said. "After the service, every soldier, including those of us who had been outside, were allowed to file by individually to pay our respects to the memorials that were set up for each soldier. Each of the fallen had a traditional memorial erected in their honor consisting of a rifle with bayonet. The soldier's helmet sat on top of the rifle. Their boots were placed at the base. The soldier's dog tags hung from the rifle. A picture of each soldier sat in front of each memorial. One by one, each of us filed past, saluted the memorials, and offered our condolences to the unit commander and first sergeant. This was very moving and also very necessary, especially for soldiers who now have to pick up and carry on."
In terms of everyday conditions, Pazdernik said the company's living area will be moved soon in preparation of the arrival of climate-controlled trailers, which are expected to replace the current tents. It will be a roughly two-month process, completed by mid-May. The trailers should provide more protection against bugs, dust and heat. With the plan, soldiers will live two to a room. Now they have eight to 10 in a tent.
Part of the shift to make room for trailers includes moving the motor pool. Pazdernik praised the mechanics for a remarkable job in keeping the vehicles operating.
"They work tirelessly and always amaze me with how fast they fix things," Pazdernik said. "They have a very daunting task, especially when you get an appreciation for how hard we are on these vehicles during our missions. Without our mechanics, we would fail our mission here. They never complain. They never quit. Our motor sergeant jokes that we have a pretty good arrangement going between the soldiers on patrol and the mechanics. We keep breaking stuff and they keep fixing it. The trick is trying to figure out if the mechanics are fixing the stuff we break, or if we are breaking the stuff they fix."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.