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Morale good as 151st prepares to deploy

Morris-area soldiers of the 1st Battalion 151st Field Artillery in a May 2009 photograph.The National Guard soldiers recently completed a four-day leave and are expected to be deployed to Kuwait in July. Photo courtesy Danter's Photography.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Area soldiers of the 1st Battalion 151st Field Artillery are expected to arrive in Kuwait to begin their one-year deployment in July.

Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Scott St. Sauver, answered press questions during a conference call Friday morning.

The battalion just returned to duty following leave, which came after 36 days of intensive training at Ft. Hood Texas, St. Sauver said.

The battalion's morale is good, although "they're just coming off a four-day pass so I probably wouldn't ask them today," St. Sauver joked.

The battalion is comprised of about 600 Minnesotans from National Guard units in Morris, Montevideo, Appleton, Marshall, Madison, Olivia and Ortonville.

The battalion will be stationed at Camp Virginia in Kuwait and will be responsible for convoy security, force protection and supply missions throughout Iraq, what St. Sauver termed a "long haul convoy battalion,"

"They'll be out for many days, depending on where the mission is," he said.

This is the 151st's second deployment to the Iraq theater. The battalion also was deployed for about a year from late 2004 to the end of 2005. The soldiers join almost 2,100 Minnesotans currently serving in Iraq.

St. Sauver said that, unlike its first deployment, the battalion will be kept intact, with four convoy security units under one command. Previously, the battalion was broken into two security sections.

The convoys will move with four-vehicle escort teams on the main highways in Iraq. In addition to a full year of mission-related training at home, the battalion prepared during 36 days in live fire gunnery training, which prepared them to shoot from heavy, moving vehicles. Another aspect of their training, vital for convoy support, was learning to find and "defeat" Improvised Explosive Devices, St. Sauver said.

"That was very important training," he said.

Iraqis have, over time, taken more responsibility for security, and the battalion may work with Iraqi security to some degree. The Iraqi security has improved significantly, "and continues to be a success story," St. Sauver said.

The battalion will be bringing equipment and supplies out at the same time it is bringing material in as the U.S. begins its draw-down of soldiers in Iraq. Asked if he expected to face more violence as more soldiers leave the country during the battalion's deployment, St. Sauver said the battalion will always be vigilant knowing it's still in a dangerous area, but "I suspect we won't be turning the lights out" and that a substantial force will still be in the country over the next year.

The battalion soldiers who are on their second deployment will be more experienced this time around, and the battalion is younger, with an average age of 28.

"This isn't your old Guard anymore," St. Sauver said.

He also noted that the soldiers are prepared and ready for their mission, adding that 39 soldiers recently reenlisted for between three and six years.

"We've had very little trouble at all keeping morale up," St. Sauver said.