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National Guard commander describes Minnesota soldier operations in Iraq

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The Minnesota National Guard members deployed for training in October at Camp Shelby, Miss., are now on the ground in Iraq putting their training to use.

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On Thursday morning Minnesota time, Lt. Col. Gregg Parks held a conference call with members of the media. Calling from Camp Taqaddum in western Iraq, he said the troops from the 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry, the Red Bull Company, have been in Iraq for about one month and are starting to become acquainted with the day-to-day operations.

"I can tell you we have had many successes so far," Parks said, although he couldn't share many details. Soldiers in the company, nicknamed the Bearcats, are from Bemidji, Alexandria, Anoka, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids, Moorhead, Redwood Falls, River Falls and Wadena.

Parks said the operations include eliminating terrorist weapons caches and Improvised Explosive Devices and interrupting the money stream that funds the weapons. He said dealing with IEDs is the most dangerous part of the work, and three soldiers were wounded recently, two with minor injuries and a third with serious, but not life-threatening wounds. The seriously injured soldier, whose name Parks declined to reveal for family privacy reasons, has been evacuated to Langstuhl, Germany, for treatment.

Parks said the soldiers have adequate body and vehicle armor, which, along with quick action by other soldiers, prevented loss of life in the attack. The soldiers also continue training on responses to attack scenarios, IEDs and the ever-developing technology to build the weapons.

"Training doesn't stop while you're deployed," Parks said.

In addition to patrols, he said the battalion members are working with Iraqi village leaders to improve and build infrastructure such as medical facilities and schools. Because the citizen soldiers have a variety of skills from their careers at home, they can help in ways active-duty soldiers sometimes can't, Parks said. For example, he said some are police officers who can use their forensic skills in investigations into the weapons deals. Others have skills to help in the rebuilding of the country.

Parks said the soldiers' morale is high.

"One of the biggest signs of commitment in a combat zone is the willingness to re-enlist," he said, noting that he has paid out $1.1 million in re-enlistment bonuses.

The training of Iraqi forces and police officers continues, Parks said, with a projection of 325,000 Iraqi troops trained by the end of the year.

In response to a question about how people at home can help the soldiers, Parks said they have everything they need, but do appreciate care packages with treats such as candy or beef jerky. They have plenty of sunscreen, lib balm and deodorant, he said.

But the best thing people can do is support the families at home, he said. Help with chores such as yard work this summer and snow shoveling next winter would be useful ways to support the families. The soldiers' tour of duty is scheduled to continue until next spring.

"The families back home are very proud," he said. "Sometimes they don't like to ask for help."

Parks said the 2-136th Bearcats are also guarding at a Marine Corps logistics base.

"They sleep well knowing the Bearcats are out there protecting them," Parks said.

He added that photos, news and further updates are available at redbullweb.com.

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