By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota has a number of National Guard troops serving in the Middle East right now.

The Minnesota National Guard has more than 900 citizen soldiers deployed in several locations in Kuwait and Iraq. That number includes 700 soldiers and 200 airmen.

From finance and logistics, to combat support and medical, Minnesota National Guard members are serving in many capacities in this war against terror. More than ever, these troops and their families need support to handle the uncertainty of what’s next.

“One [of the] things we pride [ourselves] on in the National Guard is ‘Always Ready.’ That’s our motto,” Chaplain Hickory Smith said.

The Minnesota National Guard is one of the most deployed guards in the country.

“We know that we have continuous deployment, mobilization stuff, so we get in the habit of doing that so we need to be prepared for whatever that is,” Smith said.

WCCO was there for the sendoff of 700 soldiers from the St. Paul-based 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade. They are now serving in multiple locations in Kuwait and Iraq.

WCCO’s Reg Chapman and photojournalist Tom Aviles spent time in Kuwait last May, where they witnessed the preparedness of Minnesota troops.

Chaplain Hickory Smith is part of the continuous deployment of Minnesota troops. He is preparing to leave for the Middle East this Summer.

“I want to make sure my family is taken care of, my wife and our kids, as we prepare,” Smith said. “As we get closer to deployment, we gradually tell those closest to us and start to build that support.”

Chaplain Smith says the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program is there to assist families of those deployed.

“We have a lot of communities that are actually well set up to provide that care that’s needed,” Smith said. “Being intentional about putting forth that effort and supporting, because we have a high percentage of people that continue to deploy.”

Chaplain Smith will be there to answer questions for those who deploy with him, but it’s the uncertainty that keeps all who serve alert, as well as on edge.

“As a chaplain, specifically, some of it is meeting with soldiers that have the anxiety around it, even sometimes my own anxiety when I don’t know about something,” Smith said. “It’s having those people around to go ask, ‘Hey, what’s this going to be like’? Doing it together as a group is a good way to do that.”

Since 1991, 25,000 Minnesota National Guard troops have been deployed in support of the global war on terror.

In line with operations security, WCCO is not mentioning the exact locations of those currently in the Middle East.

Reg Chapman