Destination Afghanistan: Iron Range community gives warm send-off to Duluth-based 114thFrom Hibbing, Hill City and Hastings; Alborn, Anoka and Aurora, they assembled inside the Chisholm High School auditorium on Saturday, nearly 150 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard’s Duluth-based 114th Transportation Company.
By: Andrew Krueger , Duluth News Tribune
CHISHOLM — From Hibbing, Hill City and Hastings; Alborn, Anoka and Aurora, they assembled inside the Chisholm High School auditorium on Saturday, nearly 150 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard’s Duluth-based 114th Transportation Company.
Occupying the central seats, surrounded by hundreds of family members, friends and community members, the soldiers heard military and political leaders thank them for their service and wish them well on the eve of the company’s one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
Then they fell into formation outside, on the pavement at the corner of Fourth Street and Third Avenue Southwest. And they started to march.
The 114th, known as the Wolfpack, leaves Minnesota today for training at Fort Hood, Texas. They’ll arrive in eastern Afghanistan this winter, with a mission of ensuring the delivery of supplies to outlying camps and assisting in the eventual drawdown of troops as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. They’re scheduled to return home next fall.
The company, which includes soldiers from more than 100 communities in Minnesota, as well as from Wisconsin, Kansas and North Dakota, previously deployed to Afghanistan in 2009-10. Nearly half of the soldiers heading overseas this time around have been there before.
That includes Spc. James Woods, 24, of Forest Lake, Minn. This will be his second deployment, and he said it was easier to prepare this time around. Part of that was having a better idea what to bring — including more items such as movie DVDs to help pass the down time.
“Anything that gets you out of that setting for at least an hour,” he said.
The soldiers, marching four-across with the 114th’s guidon — a small flag — leading the way and a few family and friends running alongside with cameras in hand, turned the corner onto Fourth Avenue Southwest.
They passed mountain ash trees whose bright red berries contrasted against the gray October sky and marched uphill to Lake Street. With squad cars blocking traffic from downtown Chisholm, they turned westward.
Twins Dylan and Tanner Wells, 20, of Otsego, Minn., are leaving on their first deployment. Their parents, Julie and Cris, drove up to see them off. They were joined by other relatives and the twins’ girlfriends.
With months of training and input from soldiers who have deployed before, the brothers said they’re ready to go.
“I’m very proud of their service,” Julie Wells said of her sons as they gathered outside the Chisholm National Guard Armory, the company’s home in recent months due to renovation at the Duluth armory. “I’ll just be sending lots of letters and care packages and waiting for them to come home.”
“He’ll be OK,” said Dylan’s girlfriend, Taylor Sundell of St. Michael. “It’ll be tough, but time will pass.”
Beneath the Chisholm water tower the soldiers marched, through a set of castle-like gates and past bocce-ball courts and Maturi Field, home of the Bluestreaks. As they neared the armory, where there were several dozen volunteers from Chisholm — American Legion members, high school students, city councilors and others, on hand to serve a pasta dinner to the soldiers and their families — the troops halted their march.
Cars full of loved ones began streaming into the parking lot after the drive from the school, and the order came: “On the command to fall out, fall out and enjoy some time with your families.”
And they did, gathering for one more round of food and photos before heading to Texas in the morning.
The 114th’s commander, Capt. Ryan Koester of Minnetonka, said there’s a saying that leaving loved ones to deploy overseas is best done as you would remove a bandage — get it done quickly, all at once; better to have one sharp jolt of pain than prolonged agony and anxiety.
“It’s tough to break away from your family,” Koester said. But he said members of the 114th now have to turn their attention to their family for the next year — their fellow soldiers.
And as those soldiers started their march Saturday, in front of Roels Gymnasium and the Fountain of Youth statue donated by the Chisholm High School Class of 1918, their focus on the road ahead, a voice drifted out over the crowd:
“Don’t look back!”