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The Minnesota National Guard takes a turn in Bosnia
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Maj. Jody Gunlock surveys Camp Ripley in central Minnesota from the top of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Gunlock is one of the 2,000 Minnesota National Guard troops headed to Bosnia. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
The Minnesota National Guard will soon engage in its largest overseas troop deployment since World War II. Some 1,100 National Guard troops from the Twin Cities, Moorhead and Duluth are about to begin an eight-month mission in Bosnia. The soldiers will take part in the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission set up by the 1996 Dayton Peace Accords. The National Guard says the deployment will be tough on the soldiers and their families. But they also realize it's a burden on employers.

Camp Ripley, Minn. — Camp Ripley's 53,000 acres of woods and prairie have the feel of a nature preserve. There are open fields full of wildflowers. Deer graze on summer grass next the camp's twisting dirt roads. But it doesn't take long to see and hear the real purpose of central Minnesota's Camp Ripley.

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Image National Guard patch

Gunshots echo through the woods as Minnesota National Guard troop practice with .50 caliber machine guns. The training is in preparation for an eight-month deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sgt. Timothy Teig will take part in the mission. He says it's the Minnesota National Guard's turn to enforce the Dayton Peace Accords. Their mission is to provide a secure military presence.

"Allowing the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina to get back to setting up their civilian populations, get back to developing industry, businesses and becoming a more well-rounded nation," Teig says.

Minnesota National Guard officials say they know the mission will be a hardship for the soldiers, their families and employers. Most of the troops going to Bosnia will leave behind full-time jobs in Minnesota.

Federal law requires employers hold Guard members' jobs while they're activated. Some employers go even further -- they make up the difference in pay if their employees' Guard checks fall short of their civilian salary.

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Image A taste of Army life

Employers with workers in the Guard recently came to Camp Ripley. National Guard officials introduced employers to the training soldiers go through to prepare for such a mission. And they literally got a taste of soldier life. The employers were treated to an army meal of MREs. Mike Robinson, who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, unwrapped a meal of spaghetti.

"It's very good. Certainly tastes good, and would get you through the day I think," Robinson says.

One of Robinson's employees is Maj. Jody Gunlock, a transportation materials supervisor for MnDOT in Duluth. Gunlock went to Croatia three years ago, and he was called up in February to prepare for the Bosnia mission. He's spent two-and-a-half of the past four years away from his job and family.

"My wife is getting a little bit tired of it," says Gunlock. "I've got a senior in high school this year, and she's a little less than enthused that her father is going to miss her senior year."

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Image Training with an M-16

Gunlock says his time in the National Guard hasn't hurt his career at MnDOT. In fact, it's helped. He says he's learned new leadership skills he can use on the job.

Mike Robinson, Gunlock's supervisor, doesn't expect any problems because of the deployment. "We just adjust, we reassign duties and cover folks while they're gone. We fully support their efforts while they're gone," Robinson says.

Greg Pike agrees. Pike is watching soldiers practice with their M-16s on a firing range. One of Pike's employees from the Holiday Inn Rivercentre in St. Paul is headed to Bosnia. Pike and other employers will cover the extra work.

"I can hardly complain about that when I know what his family is going through. It's minimal what I'm doing, compared to what his family is going through," Pike says.

The 1,100 Minnesota National Guard troops will head to Bosnia in August. They'll return in late March or early April of next year.

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