Bemidji National Guard packing for Iraq
The Bemidji-based Army National Guard Able Company 2/136th Infantry Division, formerly Charlie C Company, has been in training at Camp Shelby, Miss., since October.
Now, the 50-plus soldiers have said goodbye to their families and are ready for a year's service overseas.
"We leave here next week or so," said Sgt. Brian Ophus of Bemidji in a telephone interview Friday from Camp Shelby. "We're pretty much ready for whatever they throw at us."
He said the soldiers have been training on various types of weaponry and Bradley Fighting Vehicles for the last six months.
Ophus said the troops were scheduled to arrive in Kuwait, and then move on to an as-yet-unannounced destination in Iraq.
"Everybody's pretty excited to get there and do their part in our mission," he said.
Spec. Terrell Bondy of Bemidji agreed that the soldiers are anticipating their deployment. "Everybody's ready to get it started so we can go home," he said.
Bondy said the division should be together on the same base, at least in the beginning of their tour of duty.
"It'll definitely be a life experience," said Ophus.
Maj. Wade Bastian said the soldiers received passes for family visits and travel prior to the final physical training tests last week.
Ophus said his wife, Leah, parents, Steve and Karen Ophus, and sisters, Christie Olson and Holly Ophus, joined him for a four-day leave to travel to New Orleans and around Hattiesburg, Miss. Then, he and his wife took some time alone together in Florida.
Bondy said his family also spent leave time with him -- his wife, Andrea, mother, Pat Morris, brother, Jason Bondy, and sister, Nicole Morris. He said when the division is settled on the base in Iraq, the soldiers will have addresses where friends can write and e-mail.
Bondy and Ophus sent greetings and love to their wives and families.
"Tell my wife I love her and I'll see everybody in a year," Ophus said. "It's a long time, but you have to take it in chunks."
"Tell my wife and family I love them, and I'll definitely be home in a year," Bondy said.
The soldiers also expressed appreciation for the support they have received from the community.