(AP) - Pfc. Brent Haberle deploys to Iraq next month with more than 1,000 other Minnesota National Guard troops. But the young soldier is already thinking about where his paycheck will come from when he gets home in about a year.
"How are we supposed to get a job from Iraq when the economy is so bad like it is?" he asked Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday at a meeting on the pine-studded Fort Lewis, Wash., military campus where the soldiers are training. "I mean, it's kind of difficult to find a job from Iraq."
Haberle, 19, of Maple Grove, is worried about entering the job market. Economic worries also weigh on many of the older Red Bulls in the 34th Infantry Division even as they prepare to take over command of 16,000 coalition forces in eight of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Some are anxious about leaving jobs and responsibilities when the economy is so shaky. For others, the assignment provides guaranteed income during a rough market and the hope that things will be better when their deployment ends next winter.
"It's job security for a whole year, and a lot of people don't have that," said Spc. Raina Dow of St. Paul, whose husband recently lost his job.
Dow, 31, said embarking on her second deployment to Iraq is "perfect timing," even though she is more homesick than she was when she went the first time in 2005. Dow said she was out of work at the end of last year and afraid she would have to take whatever job she could find.
Now she is spending her days preparing for situations ranging from roadside bombs to escaping a rolled Humvee. The Minnesota troops came to the rainy, cool Pacific Northwest in February for about two months of training before shipping to the desert.
About 100 soldiers got the chance to bounce some of their concerns off their home state's chief executive on Tuesday, when Pawlenty flew in for a town hall meeting at a chapel on the base. Money issues came up, from property taxes to re-enlistment bonuses and health insurance.
Federal law protects the jobs of National Guard and Reserves members under most conditions when they're deployed and prohibits job discrimination based on a person's military status. But those protections only go so far, and are cold comfort for those who are between jobs when they deploy.
Pawlenty said his office is working on a listing of companies who identify themselves as military-friendly to help returning soldiers with job searches.
"We are on a mission while you're gone to upgrade our capacity to make those employers known to you and make sure that those job opportunities are flagged for you in an easy-to-find way," the Republican governor told the troops.
At Innovative Laser Technologies in Fridley, part owner Daniel Sanborn said a laser technician was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard several years ago. Other employees and a contractor covered his duties for more than a year.
Sanborn said he would expect the company to do the same if another employee was called up, even though the economy is worse now.
"It wasn't terrible but the timing on it was hard for us," said Sanborn, an Army reservist.
Putting things on hold at work was tough for Pfc. David Munson.
The 35-year-old former Marine from Farmington is on leave from his job as a fire alarm specialist at an alarm and security company that got new owners last year. Munson said he hated to leave when the company is changing, even though he will end up with about the same take-home pay during his tour.
"That's one of the things that makes me nervous, the economy and how well are they going to be doing now that I'm not there," Munson said.
The ailing economy was also a factor in Spc. Andrew Johnson's decision to go back to Iraq.
The former reservist lost his job at a printing press and looked for work for five months in Waseca, without luck. He joined the guard in October after eight years in the reserves. It will be his second deployment; he drove trucks in al-Anbar province in 2006 and 2007.
"I tried finding a job," said Johnson, 26. "I was trying to find anything. McDonald's, Wal-Mart, anybody that would hire. And you know, I got thinking, they'll let me do a one-year contract, it'll help get caught up on bills, get some extra money in the savings account. When I get back hopefully the economy is up a bit."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)