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National Guard soldiers deploy

Friends and family could leave messages to deploying soldiers on a banner displayed at Friday's deployment ceremony.1 / 2
Deploying soldiers are seated with members of the Minnesota Patriot Guard behind them during Friday's deployment ceremony.2 / 2

Fifty-five Minnesota National Guard soldiers, including some from Rosemount, left Minnesota Sunday to train for a one-year deployment in Afghanistan.

There was a departure ceremony for the soldiers April 15 at the Rosemount Community Center.

Governor Mark Dayton, speaking at Friday's ceremony, called the soldiers heroes.

"Your patriotism, your willingness to protect freedom throughout the world, is extraordinary," Dayton said. "You represent the very finest of our citizens who are now soldiers serving people in need."

The soldiers from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136 Infantry will travel from Minnesota to Fort Dix, N.J. for pre-deployment training. They will deploy to Afghanistan this summer and spend a year serving in one of three locations around Afghanistan. Their mission will be to train, coach and mentor Afghan security forces, coalition forces and the Afghan Army.

One team will be based in Kabul and focus on counterinsurgency operations. A second team, based in central Afghanistan, will focus on training field artillery skills. The third team will be based in Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, and will focus on training infantry skills.

"The knowledge and experience our team has from previous deployments and our civilian occupations will help ensure our success as advisors and trainers in Afghanistan," said Army Maj. Chip R. Rankin, National Training Mission -- Afghanistan Team Officer in Charge.

There will be plenty of challenges ahead for the soldiers, a point that came through in Friday's ceremony. Richard Nash, Adjutant General for the Minnesota National Guard, told soldiers their mission would be difficult, but he said it is also important.

"I can say with certainty that this mission you are about to undertake is extremely critical," Nash said. "The specific military skills that you have gained from your military training ... will ensure your success as you train and advise the Afghan forces."

For Tharen Callanan, a National Guard soldier from St. Charles, the deployment can't come soon enough. Callanan is unemployed, and volunteered for the deployment for the income it will provide.

"For me, it's about time," he said after Friday's ceremony. "I haven't been deployed since 2004."

Callanan was previously deployed to Kosovo. On this deployment he will be part of the team providing training in counterinsurgency.

Callanan will serve alongside Ken Schmitz, who will deploy for the second time to the Middle East. He served in Iraq in 2004-05, providing area security north of Baghdad.

Schmitz, who was being seen off by his wife, his daughter and two grandchildren, was a little less enthusiastic than Callanan.

"It's kind of numb. I'm kind of apprehensive," he said.

But Schmitz said his previous deployment should make this time a little bit easier. He said he knows now there is a good system in place to support his family.

"They know a little bit more about what to expect," he said. "We've got a real good base back home."

This will be the first deployment for 34 of the deploying soldiers. The other 21 soldiers have deployed once before.

Nash predicted success in his address to the departing soldiers.

"I am certain that one year from now you will leave your post in Afghanistan confident that the Afghan forces can address their military challenges head on."