Soldiers training in Fort Dix, N.J., will be in Kuwait in the next day or so as they move closer to beginning their 12-month deployment near Baghdad.
Operational security did not allow the release of the exact time of their departure. The 152 Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers in Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, were in the process of packing up final items Monday.
Soldiers had a weekend pass and most had families and friends visit them in New Jersey.
"Everyone had a chance to get off Fort Dix for a while and take in some of the sites around the area," Capt. Mike Pazdernik wrote in an e-mail before packing up his computer for the flight out. Pazdernik is leading the 194th.
"Many of us used the chance to visit the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, or Washington, D.C. They are great and constant reminders of why we do the things we do as soldiers," Pazdernik wrote. "It was hard saying goodbye to our loved ones all over again. Still, it was worth every tear to see them again. The memories of the weekend will help sustain us for the next year."
Pazdernik said Monday was "very cold" in New Jersey.
"The wind chill makes it feel like a good, old Minnesota January day," he said. "The joke going around was, 'well, maybe the desert won't be so bad after all' as soldiers raced around making final preparations.
"We have packed up all the equipment that will make the trip on the aircraft with us. We are clearing out of our buildings and offices here. We are ready to go.
"It is now time for us to take the next step. These next steps bring lots of anxiety for everyone. However, they are part of the process, necessary for us to get our mission accomplished, and they all bring us one step closer to coming home."
Pazdernik said the officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor wished everyone back in Minnesota a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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