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Minnesota troops say goodbye
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Staff Sgt. Jason Beren says he's going on this mission in part for the sake of his three-year-old daughter, Sydney. "Her generation is going to grow up and really going to feel the aftermath of this." (MPR Photo/Brandt Willliams)
Sometime this week, nearly 300 members of the Minnesota Air National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing will leave their families, friends and livelihoods behind for the Persian Gulf region. Tuesday, the soldiers and their families gathered at the base, where they were honored for their service to the country.

Bloomington, Minn. — Air National Guard officials say this week's deployment is the largest movement of troops from Minnesota since Sept. 11, 2001. They will join about 400 National Guard troops and nearly 600 Army Reserve soldiers from Minnesota who have already been called into duty.

At the service, the troops were honored by their commanding officers and several elected officials. U.S. Sens. Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman both phoned in.

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Image Gov. Pawlenty greets officers

"The men and women who stand before you in their uniforms today are Minnesota's and the nation's best," Coleman said.

The Guard members were also greeted by their new commander in chief, Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty told the troops and their families they were performing a crucial service for the nation.

He announced that First Lady Mary Pawlenty will volunteer with the National Guard's family support services. The governor told families help is there if they need it.

"So if you have a need or a concern or a suggestion, you can work through the contacts that Gen. Andriotti mentioned, in terms of the support services. But beyond that feel free also to contact my office or the first lady, and we will help you in any way we can," Pawlenty said.

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Image Honoring the flag

After the ceremony, soldiers and their families stood around and talked, as children carrying small American flags ran among them. Many of the members of the 133rd have been sent overseas before. The unit has seen action in Kosovo, and in January 2002 was sent to the Gulf for a six-month tour.

Staff Sgt. Shavon Linedecker has only been back from the Gulf for seven months. She said desert duty is hot, uncomfortable and involves working long days. Linedecker said her fellow soldiers have looked to her to help them prepare.

"Everybody's asking me what to expect ... I'd be scared if I hadn't already been before. But since I know, I'm not that nervous," Linedecker said.

For soldiers with families, like Staff Sgt. Jason Beren, six months in the desert will also mean being apart from his wife and daughter. Beren held his daughter Sydney in his arms, as he explained why he thinks the mission is worthwhile.

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Image Shipping out

"I've got a family -- a little three-year-old girl here. It's one of those things where I have to start thinking about the actions that I take," Beren said. "I'm really doing it for her, and her generation is going to grow up and really going to feel the aftermath of this here."

National Guard officials will not disclose details of the 133rd Airlift Wing's mission, or where they will be stationed. As an airlift wing, the 133rd flies transport planes which carry supplies, equipment and people.

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