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Long-distance family dining

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Video link brings soldiers face-to-face with loved back in Minnesota

By Bob Freund

freund@postbulletin.com

"Da-da," said little Austin Fisher.

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The 2 1/2-year-old recognized the face on the oversized television screen, after his father, Staff Sgt. Joseph Fisher of Eagle Lake, Minn., waved and said, "How are you, Austin?"

Austin pointed again and again at the TV screen carrying his father’s face and voice. Meanwhile Austin’s mom, Melissa Fisher, held 6-month-old daughter Brooklyn and worked the microphone for the family’s allotted four minutes or so of time with the soldier.

The Fishers’ video link-up was part of an intercontinental benefit at the Mayo Civic Center from late morning to midafternoon Sunday.

A Saint Paul-based group called Serving Our Troops cooked up a simultaneous steak dinner for about 300 Minnesota National Guard soldiers stationed in the Kosovo region of Serbia and for their families in Rochester. The sponsors then linked the diners — at the local convention center and at Camp Bondsteel in eastern Kosovo — by video.

The soldiers overseas belong to a Mankato-based battalion of the Minnesota Army National Guard, which has six companies scattered around southeastern Minnesota. The approximately 300 soldiers left last July for training and, in October, joined other United Nations troops as peacekeepers in Kosovo.

They’re scheduled to return this summer. Further, "It is my hope that we’ll be home … (that) you’ll see us in about six weeks," said battalion commander Lt. Col. Mike Funk by video on Sunday.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty flew to Rochester by helicopter to visit with families and to recognize their military loved ones serving overseas. Their service is a job for which they enlisted, but "Let’s face it; this is no ordinary job," said Pawlenty.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also spoke at the gathering.

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The 2nd Battalion of the 135th Infantry is based in Mankato, with companies in Rochester, Austin, Albert Lea, Winona and West St. Paul.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

2nd Battalion of the 135th Infantry http://www.dma.state.mn.us/units/unit_template.php?unit=PUUT0

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