Members of the Minnesota Army National Guard are dealing with two discouraging developments. The first is the news that the 2600 Minnesota troops will remain in Iraq until August. The soldiers and their families were expecting a homecoming in March, but their mission has been extended 125 days as part of President Bush's plan to increase troop numbers in Iraq.
The second is the way the soldiers and their families found out about the deployment extension. Word of the extended deployment surfaced Wednesday, January 10th when President Bush announced the additional forces for Iraq. The news broke in the news media and online sources and spread quickly through e-mails and on websites.
Lt. Colonel David Elicerio only received official word of the deployment last Sunday, five days after the President's speech. Elicerio used his video news conference from southern Iraq to apologize to the families and to explain how communication broke down.
"What happened was the word came out of the joint chiefs of staff and got passed to several other levels of command. Somewhere within that passing of the message two people thought each other were going to pass that message to the next level. Somehow that message didn't get passed and trickle down to my level of command," he said.
Elicerio characterizes the process as a "major goof." He's heard from soldiers who are disappointed they weren't the ones to tell their family members about the extension. Elicerio says he knows exactly how they feel.
"To the families out there, I certainly feel your pain. My wife found out the same way you did--from an e-mail, that we had been extended. (It) didn't necessarily make her happy, but we're working through that as a family.
Kimberly Messner is also working through the news with her family.
"We just got to pray to God He watches over everyone and brings them home safely," she says.
Messner of Winthrop, has a 21-year-old son, Cody, who is a diesel mechanic serving about 100 miles south of Baghdad. She says she appreciates the gesture--but the official apology from the Army does not bring her much comfort. She says she's angry her son was not the one to tell her the bad news.
"I was at work at the time. At shift change one of the guys who came on, his son is also over there. He told me if I heard the lovely news. I said, 'What Bush was saying?' He said, 'Yeah, the way he was talking is it is indefinitely, that's how long they're going to be over there.' It was very frustrating and maddening," she says.
Messner's talks to Cody about once a week by cell phone. Messner says Cody's deployment extension has prompted her daughter, Kiley, to push back her scheduled wedding in September. Her daughter wants to make sure her brother will be there to see her walk down the aisle. Messner says the family think about their brother in Iraq all the time.
"They're very proud of him. But they can't wait for him to come home. We're a pretty close family and my kids look to each other a lot for strength," she says.
Elicerio says he expects the brigade's mission to remain the same. Most Minnesota troops are providing security for supply convoys and helping with other security duties. Elicerio says he and the soldiers are dealing with the disappointment and are looking forward to spending next fall in Minnesota.
"As far as a second extension for this brigade--I can say with some assurity that won't happen past that August time frame. There's a good amount of federal code and law that's in place to allow us to come home after a 24-month deployment.
The Minnesota Guard began it's deployment with training in Mississippi in the fall of 2005. Most of them shipped out to Iraq in the spring of 2006.