Monica Mead and I joined a number of military, governmental, and civic leaders on a trip to Ft Lewis on Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009. What a day!!!
We accompanied members of government, military, and the public sector to spend the day with the Red Bulls as they are getting closer to deployment.
The concept for the visit was to provide an unclassified overview of the post mobilization process and Iraq mission. We were separated into three groups - Government, Civic and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program which allowed them to focus on a specific set of objectives for each of the groups at select locations.
Arriving at the airport at 6am we saw many old friends such as Stan Kowalski, MG Jon Trost, JB Ball (Tee It Up For The Troops), Gov Pawlenty, and Paul Anderson (Gov Office).
After a briefing on flight safety we boarded the C-130 which fortunately had been fitted with standard airplane seats. No web seats for the 5 hour flight! LOL
Arriving at Ft Lewis we were met by the entire command of the 34th ID including our old friends CSM Scot Mills and CH Morris!
They took us to a breakfast area where we got to mingle with many of the soldiers (AL DeKruif.. Jacobs say hi!) before they took us to an operational briefing. The briefing was enlightening in that 1) they are ready! and 2) it is a multi-force group with many branches being represented in this deployment.
We then broke into 3 different groups and toured the base area where they are living and training. The picture link better tells the story of how they are living than words can. We then had the opportunity to have lunch with the soldiers and to mingle with them to see how they are doing.
After lunch we went to the chapel for a town hall meeting with the Governor so the soldiers could ask any question they wanted to. The Governor was really animated in his explaining why he considers the MN Natl Guard the best in the country and how we wanted to help them receive the best treatment possible on their return. Immediately after that Chris "Cowboy" Kamp's Dad found Monica and I to express is amazement at being on the other side of the flag line. He could not say Thanks enough.
We mingled for a while longer before taking the bus back to the airbase for the flight home. Coolest part of the flight home was the opportunity to go in the cockpit and talk to the pilots while en route. Yow.. you don't get to do that every day! Getting back the Mpls at around 11pm made for a long but great day.
Things we learned 1. They are on track for their deployment 2. The spirits of the soldiers was good 3. The soldiers are worried about their families while they are gone and how to help them 4. Each soldier leaving the wire carries about 100 pounds of gear including body armor. They are coming home measurably shorter. I asked about the long term physical affects and there is no solid answer yet. I am afraid for the back and leg issues that will result in the future. Btw.. each soldier now has fitted body armor. Any reports that they don't are false. 5. There is a distinct divide in the soldiers not asking for assistance out of pride but yet wanting it. I won't break any confidences with anybody but all I will say that every time you have the chance to say "hi" to the family of a deployed soldier or help them with a favor... the word gets back to them and it matters. The reverse of that is fear for their safety or being preyed upon if anyone finds out they are alone. 6. News from home matters. We are going to build links to our web site and "News and Notes" area on the Red Bull site as well as link their site and newsletter to ours. 7. Care packages are appreciated. Please only send things they need or are specifically asked for. Example given was that while treats are nice.. beef jerky is better for the long hours in transit or stuck in traffic. We are going to try to get better information as to what is needed.
The MN Patriot Guard is making a difference and every minute you spend on a mission, every act of kindness you make, every smile or cheer you give is noted.