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National Guard unit deploys from Duluth

Associated Press

DULUTH — About 200 members of the 148th Minnesota Air National Guard unit left early Monday on a charter jet that would ultimately carry them to Balad Air Base in Iraq.

They were the largest group from the unit in a planned 400-person deployment that will fly and maintain a dozen F-16C jet fighters in support of ground troops over the next two months.

The troops mustered shortly after 2 a.m. in a garage at the unit’s base in Duluth. About half of them had gone on a similar deployment in 2005.

Lt. Col. Mark Vavra said the troops had four months of preparation for the mission, including training for chemical attacks and using their firearms.

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Senior Airman Matthew Holland, 19, of Cloquet said he was a little nervous as he said goodbye to his girlfriend and lined up for the 100-yard walk across the tarmac to the jet.

His father, Dennis, is a master sergeant with the 148th and part of the same deployment. He said of his son’s decision to follow him into the military, "I think I’m proud more than anything."

As the airmen boarded the planes they were greeted with handshakes and pats on the back by senior officers, including wing commander, Col. Mark Johnson.

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