Members of a Minnesota National Guard assault helicopter battalion were honored at a departure ceremony Sunday as they leave for deployment to Kuwait.
Gov. Mark Dayton was among officials who spoke and shook hands with the 35 soldiers of the 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion. The company deploys in January to provide aviation support as the U.S. military draws down from Iraq.
During his speech, Dayton told a story about his first time in Afghanistan, three weeks after the U.S. military routed the Taliban. When he and other senators landed at Bagram Air Base, soldiers told them to walk to a nearby building along a narrow path. Dayton recalled the soldiers said that path was all they'd had time to clear for landmines.
"You've never seen six United States senators walk so carefully in single file," he said. "Those are the lessons that freedom's not free. And these men and women understand that it takes dedicated Americans to ensure the freedom of others around the world."
Capt. Shannon Gregory, commander of the deploying soldiers, told them they'll help lay the foundation for lasting peace.
"As our country continues to leave Iraq, we will play a critical part in making that happen," he said. "We will transport personnel and supplies while strengthening the aspirations of a people. With the leading edge of our rotor blades we will write history as Iraq takes the reins of its own destiny."
Gregory asked the dozens of families gathered to write soldiers old-fashioned letters instead of e-mails so they have something to keep over time. The soldiers' mission is expected to last into next fall.
This is the second deployment for 28 of the soldiers honored in the ceremony.