Minnesota troops bound for combat zone
MINNEAPOLIS -- More than 100 members of the Minnesota Air National Guard took off Monday for southwestern Asia, the first major foreign deployment of a Minnesota military unit for the war on terrorism.
Waving flags and wiping away tears, hundreds of friends and family members saw their loved ones off for Operation Enduring Freedom at the guard base at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Three large C-130H cargo planes heading to the war zone and a fourth to the East Coast paraded past the crowd then, one-by-one, disappeared into a gray sky.
The airmen took with them a Minnesota flag, presented by Gov. Jesse Ventura. He offered it as a symbol of the state's support and good wishes, noting that when he made similar gestures in the past, the soldiers made it home safely.
"Return this flag to me when you get back," Ventura said.
Military officials wouldn't say precisely where the unit will be stationed, but said the soldiers are heading to the combat zone and could fly missions in Afghanistan, the focus of U.S. military action after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The 133rd Airlift Wing and the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard were chosen because they have new C-130s, a transport plane that has served the military for decades.
Maj. Gary Olson, a Minnesota National Guard spokesman, said no date has been set for the unit's return, but members will likely be rotated after three months. Some members of the deployed unit are from southeastern Minnesota, but a National Guard spokesman was unsure how many.
Since Sept. 11, the 133rd, which has about 1,100 members, has been helping the Air Force by flying transport missions in the United States. Another Minnesota Air National Guard unit, the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing, has been flying patrol flights over U.S. cities.
Minnesota Army National Guard troops have been stationed at airports across the state as well.