MANKATO, Minn. (WCCO) — It was a somber day for family and friends of members of the Minnesota Army National Guard. On a day where Americans remember fallen military men and women, they were preparing to say goodbye to soldiers leaving for Iraq.
Sibley Park in Mankato was packed with family and friends of Red Bull soldiers leaving for Iraq. It was a deployment ceremony with a different feel.
There was the usual pomp and circumstance associated with a military send off but leaving on Memorial Day has special meaning for the troops and their families.
The music, the photos and the tight hugs might be the same but because of this day, the deployment ceremony for the soldiers from the 2nd Battalion 135th Infantry meant something more.
“On Memorial Day, it’s a somber occasion. A lot of families here are, in a way, looking forward to and proud of their soldiers deploying. It’s also a sacrifice and we recognize that and the families are making the same sacrifice,” said Capt. Chris Andersen.
Andersen said his soldiers are focused on their mission. They will play an important role in the final drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq.
“We are a force protection. We will be in Kuwait at Camp Arifjan. We’ll just make sure the convoys going into and out of Iraq are safe and that the base is operational,” Andersen said.
But in the back of every soldier’s minds is the sacrifice made by countless military men and women in the past.
“It’s an anxious moment. This is my third tour so we know a little bit of what to expect but it’s nerve-wrecking,” said Sgt. David Enzer.
Enzer said it’s hard leaving his family but what helps him deal with the separation is the thought of the countless men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. For Enzer, deploying on Memorial Day makes his mission special.
“To follow in the footsteps of the great Minnesota soldiers that have given prior to me years before, it means a lot to us,” Enzer said.
These soldiers say their mission is clear and while they perform their duties they will be thinking about those who were called before them.
“There’s a huge sense of pride and I think a lot of people feel the same,” said Sgt. Michael Cocuzzi, who is leaving on his second deployment.
Although he hates to leave his two daughters and his wife, who is expecting, he is focused on the task ahead.
“Pretty much every day I put on the uniform on, I think about it,” said Cocuzzi.
The soldiers will leave Monday night for their mission in Iraq. They have been activated for at least a year. They’re part of a deployment that includes 2,400 soldiers.
This is the second largest deployment of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II.