2,400 Minn. Guard troops to be deployed to Kuwait

In a file photo, soldiers sit and listen to then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who attended a deployment ceremony at the Cedar Street Armory in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Gina Reis

The Minnesota Army National Guard has announced the deployment of 2,400 soldiers who make up the 34th Infantry Division -- known as the "Red Bulls."

Speaking at a news conference at St Paul's RiverCentre Sunday morning, Maj. Gen. Richard Nash said the Red Bulls would leave for training in May and will reach Kuwait this summer.

It will be the second-largest deployment for the Red Bulls since World War II, when Minnesota soldiers were among the first to train on European soil and engage the enemy.

This time, their role is supposed to be defensive. The Red Bull Division will be stationed in Kuwait and provide security as U.S troops slowly move out of Iraq. They're scheduled to return in spring 2012.

Col. Eric Kerska, a Rochester Fire Department battalion chief who commands the Red Bull division, said he's honored his troops will play a key role in Operation New Dawn.

"For the safety of U.S. service members that are deployed, security has to be phased out," Kerska said. "You just can't pick up and move because that's when people are put in danger. If our soldiers were there now, the people of Minnesota would want somebody to fill that role to support us."

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Kerska said part of his brigade will be guarding ground bases. Roughly one-third will also be traveling through Iraq, providing security for convoys moving goods and equipment around the country. Kerska said there are still extremists in Iraq who may use improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, against the troops.

"Last time we were there it was a very high threat," Kerksa said. "Those same threats exist but at a much lower frequency, much lower probability."

Kemp family
Timothy Kemp, 41, Sophia Kemp, 7, and Stephanie Kemp, 39, of Woodbury, at a Minnesota National Guard news conference in St. Paul Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011. Kemp serves on the staff of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Division and will be deployed to Kuwait this summer.
MPR Photo/Rupa Shenoy

Any threat scares Dara Bronson. Bronson met her husband Derek while both were deployed to Bosnia in 2003. They now have three children, ages 5, 2, and 9 months. Derek Bronson is about to be deployed to Iraq for the second time.

"I'm always terrified," she said. "The last time he was in Iraq he did security ... it was scary. There was IEDs. That was the worst time possible that he could've had. Now going back to Kuwait, I think it'll be better. I'm not as worried. But you know there's still the threat."

Meanwhile, Dara Bronson will spend a year as a single stay-at-home mom.

"I would like to go back to school," Bronson said. "But you know not really. We knew that this was our life; this was what we were going to be doing.

It's harder for kids to understand. Seven-year-old Sophia Kemp's dad, Timothy, is a member of the brigade staff that will be stationed in Kuwait.

"I think he'll be all right," Sophia said of her father. "I don't think it's that bad."

Timothy Kemp, 41, was last deployed to Bosnia 10 years ago. It was much harder then to keep in touch with his 39-year-old wife Stephanie -- mostly through snail male and the occasional phone call.

This time Timothy Kemp plans to communicate regularly by webcam.

"At least I'll be able to see your face [now]," Stephanie Kemp said. "And that's good."

He still knows he's going to miss a lot.

"The biggest thing is the small things. Just seeing the girls before they go to bed at night. seeing them sleeping, seeing them laugh and giggle and play together," he said.

But Timothy Kemp is also proud of his brigade's mission to protect other members of the military in Iraq.

"They've been there for a while," he said. "They can focus on getting prepared to go home and we'll take care of the security for them.