A 15-minute video package with video clips and photos will document the journey of area soldiers from Camp Ripley to Iraq.
Capt. Mike Pazdernik, company commander for Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, is sending the video in a DVD to the area Family Readiness Groups for distribution. The video should arrive this month.
"All of this is part of our continued effort to keep you all informed," Pazdernik said in an e-mail from Iraq. "We could not do what we do without you and your support."
The video will include training images, the forward operating base and missions and experiences "outside the wire," Pazdernik said.
Community support in the lakes area is helping the soldiers through their deployment and assisting families at home. In October, send-off ceremonies were set in Wadena for the unit's 45 soldiers based there, in St. Cloud for the approximately 75 soldiers based in St. Cloud and Sauk Centre, and in Brainerd for the 35 soldiers based here in Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1-194th.
The Family Readiness Group in Brainerd hosts regular meetings for family members. The group recently helped family members make lighted red, white and blue ribbons for the wives of married soldiers or parents of single soldiers.
Harley Van Ruler from Long Prairie donated metal frames shaped like a 4-foot-tall and 2-foot-wide ribbon. Red, white and blue rope lights were attached to the frame outlining the ribbon. Families were able to hang the lighted ribbons outside their homes. One was donated to the armory.
The 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon with the 194th Armor posed near palm trees by the camp. Temperatures in Iraq have gone from chilly to super heated in recent weeks.
With help from the community and lakes area business sponsors, the cot organizer fund-raising drive was successful. Money was raised to create 152 cot organizers for each member of the 194th. Twenty-two cot organizers still are being made as part of the final bunch.
In Brainerd and Wadena, the Family Readiness Groups are sending birthday cards to soldiers. The groups also set up a card shop for soldiers in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, so they could mail cards to loved ones on special occasions. The VFWs in Brainerd and Nisswa, First Presbyterian Church and Jenny's Hallmark at the Westgate Mall donated cards.
Mary Esperson made anniversary cards for each wife. Area floral shops -- House of Flowers, Baxter; North Country Floral, Brainerd; Nature's Touch, Nisswa; Sweet Pea Peddler, Crosslake; Northwoods, Crosby -- donated flowers for wives in the lakes area.
Rochelle Kilts said the deployment has been a learning experience for her and her deployed husband.
"I have learned a lot about myself that I don't believe I would have ever learned had my husband not been deployed," Kilts said in an e-mail. "Being here without him has been really hard to deal with at times. It was really hard for me emotionally when he first left."
She said holidays without him were hard.
Scott (left) and Bozena Persons added their rope light to a metal frame in the shape of a ribbon to hang at their home. The Family Readiness Group in Brainerd helped family members make lighted red, white and blue ribbons for the wives of married soldiers or parents of single soldiers. The group met at First Presbyterian Church to craft the ribbons with family members.
"Our children seem to be dealing with him being gone better then I am, but I have to be strong for them. It was really hard to have our anniversary come and go and know that we weren't able to share it with each other. Getting the flowers and the card through the Family Readiness Group for our anniversary was very nice."
"It shows that they are there for the families to support us when our soldiers are gone so that the soldiers can do their job and give them peace of mind that their families are being cared for. I just try to take this deployment one day at a time and I look forward to my husband's safe return."
Sarah Baker's third-grade class at Nisswa Elementary School combined a geography lesson with messages to soldiers. Students wrote a letter to each soldier, sent photographs and made a banner with all the children's signatures on it.
Lord of Life Church, Baxter, put together baskets for three new babies and their mothers while their soldiers are away.
Staci Headley got involved with the basket project because she appreciated the support she received when her fiance, Clint, now her husband, was deployed.
"For me it meant the world knowing that someone out there in the community knew what we were going through and was willing to help," Headley said. "We just wanted to help."
The 152 Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers in Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor are on an 18-month deployment with 12 months of "boots on the ground" duty near Baghdad. They were deployed Oct. 16. After additional training in New Jersey, they arrived Dec. 22 in Kuwait. They moved into Iraq in early January.
Franklin Junior High School students raised $1,770 for phone time for soldiers with the 194th.
"We have received so many nice thank you notes from our soldiers in Iraq, and from their families," said Dalen Hodge, eighth-grade science teacher and Builders Club adviser. "Our students at Franklin just wanted to let the soldiers know that we appreciate the sacrifices they make on a daily basis. The soldiers and their families have been so wonderful about sending pictures and thank you notes to individual students, and to our school. We are feeling very connected to the 194th."
Hodge said there are a number of worthwhile fund-raisers, but the school never received such a response of thanks.
"And that has made this experience very real and rewarding for all of us here at Franklin Junior High," Hodge said. "What a wonderful memory from our last year at this school."
In Brainerd, the Family Readiness Group is collecting beef jerky through May. The group is seeking unopened packages of beef jerky and will send what is collected to Iraq the first week of June.
The group is seeking help from the public for donations of beef jerky or monetary donations to help with shipping costs. Donations of beef jerky may be dropped off at the Brainerd Armory on Wright Street.
The Dispatch provides a connection to deployed soldiers from several units through SoldierLink, which can be accessed from the newspaper's home page at www.brainerddispatch.com by choosing the link on the page's left side.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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