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The Path Back to Iraq

Four "Charlie Company" soldiers from the Morris and Ortonville National Guard units talked Thursday about their circumstances as their April deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom approaches. From left are Brent Fuhrman, Jason Peterson, Jeff Anderson and Darin Doschadis.

By Tom Larson, Sun Tribune

The Minnesota National Guard's 1st Battalion 151st Field Artillery will deploy overseas sometime this summer, the second time the company has been sent into the Iraq theatre since 2004.

It seems like just yesterday when families cried and hugged at that first departure ceremony, when communities collectively grieved the loss of three Charlie Company soldiers who died in action, and smiled and cheered and cried again when buses filled with members of the 151st returned home on a cold night in December 2005.

But a lifetime of stories unfolded during the year the Guard soldiers were away and in the years since they returned. Many of those stories will be talked about among families and friends between now and April 15, when the Charlie Company troops leave for another year-long deployment.

Here, briefly, are four of those stories.

Walking out the door

With Charlie Company preparing for another assignment in Operation Iraqi Freedom, some might believe this is old hat for the 105 area Charlie Company soldiers among the 560 who comprise the 151st.

But going to war is never a situation that can be described as been-there, done-that. And it ignores the fact that most of the Guard soldiers being deployed this spring will be making their first trip in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. More than 70 percent of the troops in the company will be deployed for the first time, said Staff Sgt. Brent Fuhrman, the Morris National Guard Readiness NCO, who himself is making his first trip to Iraq.

"We've been building up for this for about a year," Fuhrman said. "We got our alert order in February (2008) and we've been training ever since; training and transforming the company into something that will mirror what we've been told we have to look like when we get there. There are a lot of training steps, and it's a lot of work taking guys who have been working in factories, banks and on farms and transforming them into full-time soldiers. It takes time."

The 560 soldiers in the 151st come from 234 Minnesota communities, with five Guard units deploying from the communities of Morris, Ortonville, Appleton, Madison, Montevideo, Olivia and Marshall.

In 2004, Fuhrman was one of those soldiers, but he was not among those deployed to Iraq. He stayed behind to handle company operations in Morris. This time, he's heading out, first for training at Fort Hood, Texas, and then to the 151st headquarters in Camp Virginia in Kuwait.

"I've got mixed emotions," Fuhrman said. "Obviously, I've got a family (wife Darcy and three children) and that part will be really tough. Last time, I was blessed to not have to go. At the same time, one of the toughest things I ever did was watch these guys walk out the door. I'm proud and excited to be part of this and to work with these guys."

So many changes

come so quickly

Charlie Company received its official deployment orders late last month. On March 28, soldiers from Morris, Ortonville and Olivia will be honored at a departure ceremony, and a ceremony for the Guardsmen from the other four communities is April 4.

Jason Peterson was among the soldiers in the University of Minnesota, Morris' P.E. Center in 2004, preparing to leave behind his wife, Rebecca, and two children and head to Iraq.

He was sort of a jack-of-all-trades, working convoy security, VIP security and securing prisoners and other duties at a combat support hospital.

This time, Peterson has yet another job, replacing Fuhrman as the Guardsman in charge of operations at the Morris Armory.

"It's going to be nerve-wracking, for sure," said Peterson. 151st soldiers now come from an area that stretches from Minnesota's Iron Range down to Colorado, which means he'll be dealing with many more families from a much large geographical area.

"I think I'd rather be deployed," said Peterson, who lives in Glenwood. "But things have to be done here, and the soldiers here have things that need to be taken care of, and there are a lot more families that will need assistance this time."

His own included. Peterson had been home about two years when, in October 2007, his wife was killed in a car crash near Cyrus.

Jason and his daughter, Bailley, 8, and son Preston, 6, are carrying on.

A son leaves

Jeff Anderson, of Ortonville, is carrying on, too.

Anderson was deployed with Charlie Company in 2004, and he finds it interesting how things have changed.

Back then, the company's missions were all but state secrets. This time, press releases outline where the company will be stationed, what it will be doing and when it will return.

"The last one was so secret we didn't even know where we were going until we hit home," Anderson said. "This one pretty much tells everything."

That may be an indication of how much things have changed in Iraq since Charlie Company boots were first on the ground there. Anderson has a friend who is an Army captain in Iraq. The captain, who is in air cavalry, told Anderson that it's a much different environment in Iraq these days. U.S. soldiers have a lot less to do because Iraqis have taken control of almost all duties and operations.

"He told me, 'Jeff, I don't even think you'll come,' " Anderson said. "Well, that didn't happen, but he said it's amazing how much has changed."

Much will be different for Anderson this time around, too.

While in Iraq during his first deployment, his mother and younger brother both died. His brother died in a car crash near Morris in July 2005.

Anderson will be seen off this time by his father, Richard, a brother and a sister.

"My dad is having a lot tougher time with it this time around," he said.

A new father leaves

Darin Doschadis, of Graceville, was a single man when he deployed with Charlie Company in 2004.

While in Iraq, he and other soldiers were charged with guarding a police station, convoy security and escort missions. When word came that Charlie Company would be deployed again, Doschadis knew what to expect, and he had the experience to help first-timers with their preparations.

"It's easier for people this time to get their families in order," he said. "We know what to expect this time. But while it's easier for us this time, it's not for those who are being deployed for the first time."

But Doschadis admits his second deployment will be much more difficult.

Between the time he returned and now, he married and became a father. This time, he will be leaving behind his wife of two years, Amber, and 2-year-old son, Zander.

"It's tougher, leaving a son and a wife, this time than it was before," Doschadis said. "It's a little harder walking out the door when you know you're leaving a son."

The risks are known

All four soldiers get a little somber when the subject of their three comrades is raised. Just outside the window in the room where they are sitting is a memorial to Staff Sgt. David F. Day, First Lt. Jason Timmerman and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, who were killed during a mission in Iraq in February 2005.

While the missions and the environment in Iraq have changed, they all understand that they always are at risk of not returning home.

"They'll be with us in spirit," Fuhrman said. "As leaders, we train hard to reduce risk as much as we can. As leaders, that's why we take our training so seriously."

Peterson said that worrying about dying in a war zone is something well-trained soldiers can't concern themselves with.

"You can die here just as easily as you can die there," he said. "Look what happened to my wife. It doesn't matter."

Anderson said the risks are always in the back of a soldier's mind -- "That it could happen to you."

"But it just makes you train harder, to work harder in Combat Life Saver Training so you know what's going on and that you can be ready so you can save somebody," he said. "That fear helps. It keeps you alert."

1st Battalion 151st Deployment Facts & Figures

• The 1st Battalion 151st's departure ceremonies are March 28 for soldiers from Morris, Ortonville and Olivia, and April 4 for soldiers from Appleton, Montevideo, Madison and Marshall.

• The troops will train from April to July at Ft. Hood, Texas.

• The troops will arrive and be headquartered at Camp Virginia in Kuwait in July. They are scheduled to return to Minnesota in April 2010.

• As it did in 2004, the 1st Battalion 151st Field Artillery will again switch gears once deployed, serving as a security force for convoy operations and logistical supplies throughout Iraq.

• This will be the first deployment for 409 of the 560 battalion soldiers (72 percent). This will be the second tour for 140 (25 percent). For nine soldiers, this is their third deployment, and two are making their fourth trip.