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Commander: 'I feel your pain'

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota National Guard commander in Iraq apologized Wednesday for the botched notification of a deployment extension.

"I certainly feel your pain," National Guard Col. David Elicerio said during a video hookup from Camp Adder in Iraq. "My wife found out the same way you did."

Soldiers from the Guard's First Brigade - known as the Red Bulls - will remain in Iraq for up 125 days longer than their original deployment called for. They had expected to be home in March, but now are to return by August.

But due to what Elicerio called a break in the chain of command, families received word of the extension through the media before troops in Iraq did. Soldiers got the official word on Tuesday, he said.

"They're certainly disappointed about finding out about the extension, as am I," Elicerio said, adding that he wasn't officially notified until Sunday. "They'll get over it."

He said he's "pretty sure" that no additional extensions will be forced on Red Bull soldiers.

The mission of the Red Bulls - they provide security escorts, perimeter security and deliver materials and supplies in Iraq - won't change because of the extension, Elicerio said. The soldiers' assignment is a critical one, he noted, and keeps him "pretty comfortable" that the Red Bulls won't be moved to Baghdad.

He urged family members to "just be strong" through the elongated period, which he said should mean troops returning from Iraq by August. But for families still dealing with the news, he said not to fret over the plight of his soldiers.

"Quit worrying so much about me and the Red Bulls here," Elicerio said.

There was great frustration among his troops when they were alerted by family members - rather than by the military - of the extension, he said. But Elicerio said he's confident his soldiers will overcome the aggravation.

"This is not the first time this brigade has faced adversity," he said.

The effects have been felt in Minnesota, too, said Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Kevin Olson. He said Guard members still home are also disappointed.

Steps have been taken to correct the notification mistake, Elicerio said.

Elicerio said he's not been made aware of any financial constraints being laid upon families as a result of the extension. If there are families facing a strain, "they have to make their need known," he said, and military programs may provide help.

The extension could provide pay incentives for some of the soldiers, Elicerio noted.