By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a tough day for hundreds of Minnesota National Guard families sending loved ones overseas.

A sense of pride and fear could be felt from the crowd Thursday morning at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, as they held their loved ones tight in preparation for months of separation.

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“It will be the longest we’ve been away from each other in almost 20 years,” said Sara Mohler.

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For Sara Mohler and her children Addison, Imogen and Leland, sending Dad off to help others is bittersweet.

“It’s going to be sad because I am kind of more close to my dad. I might not show it, but I am,” said Addison Mohler.

It’s even harder on the soldier who has to leave.

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“It’s finally starting to hit, and we’ve known for almost a year now, so it’s pretty hard,” said truck driver Sgt. Anthony Mohler. “It’s starting to set in … so it’s getting rough.”

(credit: CBS)

Seven-hundred soldiers from the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade will take their talents to Kuwait and Iraq, and provide aviation support for two separate mission: Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve. They will use the unit’s aviation assets to promote stability in the region.

“We’ll be moving cargo and personnel around the battle field, and also conducting reconnaissance for both missions,” said Aviation Brigade Commander Col. Greg Fix.

This is the 18th deployment of Minnesota National Guard Aviation units in the past 18 years.

Gov. Tim Walz, a Minnesota National Guard retiree, spoke to the troops about their commitment to duty, and how proud Minnesota is of their service.

“You represent the greatest fighting force in the history of this planet, and the thing that separates us from so many is we don’t deploy for conquest or riches. We deploy for human dignity and freedom,” Walz said. “I call tell you being in this space, all that’s right with this nation is in this room. Neighbors who are willing to put themselves on the line. Families who are willing to step back so that 5.7 million of your fellow Minnesotans can go about and live their lives in peace and security.”

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The soldiers will provide Army helicopter, airplane and drone support to U.S. and coalition forces. The unit flies Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache helicopters and twin-engine turboprops for reconnaissance, transportation and medical evacuations.

Reg Chapman