Pledge takes precedence over vows
Guard members get a heartfelt sendoff
By Dawn Schuett
RED WING -- If it weren't for war, Jeff O'Donnell and Kate Flynn of Rochester would be planning their wedding.
For the moment, though, an oath to serve their country as specialists in the Minnesota National Guard comes before the vows they one day plan to say to each other.
The couple leave for Kansas today before deploying to Iraq as members of the 434th Chemical Co., a unit based in Red Wing. They are among 110 soldiers of the unit activated for the assignment that could last up to 18 months.
Nearly 1,000 people turned out for an emotional send-off ceremony for the unit Saturday at Red Wing High School.
"I feel like my heart's being ripped out," said Flynn's mother, Sharon Flynn of Rochester, as she stood by her daughter's side following the ceremony. Kate Flynn's father, Vince, and two sisters, Laura, 20, and Terri, 26, also attended.
Kate Flynn, 22, said she is prepared for duty in Iraq. The unit received good guidelines from instructors about the "combat way to do things" and what life would be like when not on a mission.
"It was more reassuring than anything, I thought," Flynn said.
Her mother also takes comfort in the fact that O'Donnell is going to Iraq with her daughter, although they'll be in different platoons.
"It's wonderful for me to know he'll be over there for her," Sharon Flynn said.
O'Donnell, 26, was serving in Kosovo when he learned in August that Kate Flynn would be deployed with the 434th. He was able to transfer units and, three days after returning from Kosovo on Sept. 4, he joined up with the 434th.
"He didn't think twice about it," Kate Flynn said.
It wasn't difficult to decide to transfer units to be with Flynn in Iraq, O'Donnell said. In fact, it makes the assignment "a lot easier because we're together."
At least two other Rochester residents in the unit also are headed to Iraq: Spc. Tracy Ackerman, 24, and E-4 Spc. James Kramer, 39. Sgt. Jesse Siemer, 27, of Elgin, also is part of the company, but he'll stay behind to maintain vehicles for the unit.
During the hour-long ceremony, Jeff Olson, state commissioner of veterans affairs, assured the soldiers and their families that the cause in Iraq is just.
"The fight for democracy is always the right thing to do," Olson said. He gave the unit a Minnesota flag to fly at its headquarters in Iraq, and asked that it be returned to Gov. Tim Pawlenty once the soldiers are safely home.