The Minnesota National Guard is celebrating its 150th anniversary in a year when the challenges have never been greater.
More than 2,600 Minnesota Guard members are currently deployed in Iraq. It's the state's largest overseas deployment since World War II. Other men and women are on duty in Afghanistan.
But a few hundred troops and their families were available for a gathering in the 133th Airlift Wing hanger at the Twin Cities airport. Vice President Dick Cheney was there to offer a big-time thank you.
"Every day you live by the Midwestern values of hard work, community spirit and shared sacrifice. Those values translate to National Guard recruiting and retention rates that Minnesota can be proud of," said Cheney. "And both units of the Minnesota Air National Guard have maintained themselves at above 100 percent authorized strength. Since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, more than 11,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard have have carried out active federal duty."
Cheney said he has immense respect for citizen soldiers. He acknowledged the nation has relied much on the men and women of the National Guard to take on many urgent and difficult assignments.
The war on terror is a battle for the future of civilization. It's a battle worth fighting, and it's a battle we're going to win.Vice President Dick Cheney
But in his short, upbeat speech, Cheney predicted the efforts of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will bring democracy and reform throughout the Middle East.
"As that area experiences new hope and progress, we will see the power of freedom to lift up whole nations, and the spread of liberty will produce a safer world for our children and grandchildren," said Cheney. "The war on terror is a battle for the future of civilization. It's a battle worth fighting, and it's a battle we're going to win."
The vice president's pep talk appeared to hit the mark. Sgt. Kaleb Kroman of Litchfield returned from a tour of Iraq last year. He's not sure where he might be sent in the future. Kroman says he felt motivated by Cheney's speech.
"It definitely puts it in perspective, if people have forgotten why we're there, why we're here. It really motivates us to continue what we're doing and to fight," said Kroman.
Supporting the troops was just one part of the vice president's business in Minnesota. He also appeared at a Republican fundraiser at an undisclosed private residence.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey says the event is expected to raise six figures. But he wouldn't say any more about it.
"This was presented as a private event, a low-profile event. And we chose not to make it into -- not a lot of details on this," said Carey.
The most likely beneficiaries of a Cheney fundraiser are Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Congressman Mark Kennedy, who's running for U.S. Senate. Pawlenty was with the vice president at the National Guard speech. Kennedy was not. Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez offered a highly partisan theory of the Cheney visit.
"It seems extremely unusual. I've never heard of such a thing, the vice president of the United States coming to town but not announcing where he's going to be. I think it's unprecedented," said Melendez. "But if I were a Republican and had a vice president with poll numbers in the 20s, I wouldn't want to admit that I was hanging out with him either."
Vice President Cheney was in Minnesota last summer for a private fundraiser for Kennedy's Senate campaign.