Bush extends Guard unit's stay in Iraq

Hundreds of Minnesota National Guard members will be in Iraq up to 125 days longer than expected, the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed Thursday. Members of the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota Army National Guard will be part of...

Hundreds of Minnesota National Guard members will be in Iraq up to 125 days longer than expected, the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed Thursday.

Members of the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota Army National Guard will be part of President Bush's plan for an expanded force in Iraq.

It turns out that not all of the forces included in Bush's surge of 21,500 troops in Iraq are new to the country. Many are soldiers who will have to stay in Iraq longer than originally planned.

There are 2,600 Minnesotans in the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, some of whom have been deployed for more than a year. That includes nearly 200 members of the Duluth-based 2nd Squadron, 194th Armored Reconnaissance. It also includes members of the Duluth-based Company D of the 134th Support Brigade, based in Little Falls.

The Minnesota unit was expected home in March. The Defense Department said Thursday the entire unit will be redeployed out of Iraq no later than August. Minnesota Guard officials later said they expect the unit home in July.


No other Minnesota or Wisconsin units are affected by the announcement at this time, although not all the new units heading to Iraq have been identified.

The word of an extended tour spread across the unit, and to soldiers' family and friends Wednesday -- even before President Bush made the announcement.

"I was talking to my husband yesterday and he said that was the word,'' said Susan Berggren of Poplar. Her husband, Master Sgt. Robert Berggren, is a member of the Minnesota-based brigade.

Susan Berggren seemed to take the news of the extended separation in stride. Her husband has been away from home on this deployment since October 2005 and in Iraq since March. Before that, he spent a year in Bosnia. He was home only eight months between tours.

"It comes with signing the papers. It's part of the job,'' she said. "Of course, we don't like it. But we deal with it.''

That includes the couple's four children, ages 12, 10, 7 and 5.

"There are definitely days that are tougher than others, and this [extended tour] makes for more of them,'' she said. "People say that it must be tough on me. ... But it's even tougher on him. He can't be here to hold them. He's seeing his kids grow up in pictures.''

Anna Abbott of Duluth, whose brother Andrew Boisjoli is a sergeant in the 194th, was bitterly disappointed by the news that he won't be coming home in March.


"It sucks," she said. "It feels like it's not fair. We're wondering where the active-duty troops are."

For Andrew's mother, Stephanie Boisjoli, the extension means more time without her son.

"I feel like it's heartbreaking," she said. "It's heartbreaking for our family to be without our son."

Stephanie Boisjoli noted Andrew has missed important family occasions such as birthdays and reunions and is putting his college career on hold.

"We see what he's missing and it breaks our hearts. He's not in the active army. He's in the National Guard," she said. "He did know what he signed up for, but still."

Andrew was able to come home for two weeks at the end of November.

"He had kind of a sense of a light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "I wonder if he feels that's been snuffed out now."

The news of the tour extension was disappointing to state officials, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who called the extension a breach of trust between the Pentagon and the guard members and "unfair to them and their families."


"The Minnesota National Guard is disappointed with the impact of this extension on our citizen soldiers, families, employers and the communities they serve," said Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, in a news release. "We are confident that the citizens of Minnesota will continue their outstanding support to the soldiers and airmen of the Minnesota National Guard and their families."

Bush said the extra surge in soldiers is needed to keep a U.S. presence in troubled areas after insurgents are cleared out. But even members of the president's own party don't like how the plan is being carried out.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., on Thursday sent a stern letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressing his "extreme frustration'' over the extension and short notice.

"I am extremely disappointed to hear that the president's decision to implement a troop surge in Baghdad will have a major, negative impact on the Minnesota National Guard," Coleman wrote in the letter. "These soldiers have made the ultimate commitment to serve our country and defend our freedom. They deserve better than to find out just two short months before their planned return that their tours will be extended for at least another 125 days. Most don't know when they'll be coming home at all, and none know what their extended mission will entail."

News Tribune staff writer Will Ashenmacher contributed to this report.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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