Minn. National Guard Unit Deploys to Afghanistan

Updated: 07/15/2013 11:06 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert

95 Minnesota National Guardsmen deploying.
95 Minnesota National Guardsmen deploying.
Photo: Photo: KSTP/ Mark Albert

In the standing-room only Civic Arena in Litchfield on Sunday, family and friends cheered wildly for 95 Minnesota National Guardsmen who are deploying for a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Their mission will be to clear roads of improvised explosive devices that could injure or kill U.S. troops as they patrol and largely withdraw from a country three times the size of Minnesota.

"It can be dangerous, (but) we're prepared," Capt. Matt Jukkala, commander of the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company based in Litchfield, said in an interview.

The company, of which four out of five soldiers will be going on their first overseas deployment, will train for several months in Ft. Hood, Texas, before arriving in Afghanistan in the Fall.

They're due to return home to Minnesota next summer.

"My number one goal is to bring everyone home in the exact condition we leave in," said Jukkala.

The soldiers, all of whom are men, come from 28 communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Click here for a fact sheet provided by the Minn. National Guard to learn more about the soldiers who deployed Sunday.

For Robbie Sheets, a 28 year-old sergeant who is originally from Litchfield, this will be his second deployment. Members of his family went to the deployment ceremony Sunday to see him off.

"As a mom, I wish he would stay home," explained Sheets' mother, Kim Schwich, "but this is what he wants to do."

Sheets acknowledges "it will be a dangerous mission," and thinks "everybody's going to have a little bit of fear going in." But, he says, "we're only scared until we're done. Until we do it right. And once it's done right, we won't be scared anymore."

The Minn. National Guard also played a key role in ensuring the safety of withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011.

Click here to watch our series from Iraq, Leading the Way Home.