By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 11, 2008 - For only the second time since 9/11, a U.S. Army National Guard division headquarters will deploy to command active-duty forces in combat. The Defense Department and Minnesota National Guard today announced that more than 1,000 soldiers from the 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division will mobilize for training in February for a yearlong deployment to Iraq that will begin in April.
"Minnesotans have grown accustomed to our National Guard forces leaving their families, employers, farms and communities in order to carry out vital missions in harm's way," Army Maj. Gen. Larry W. Shellito, the state's adjutant general, said during a press conference today at the Rosemont National Guard Armory in Rosemont, Minn.
More than 17,000 citizen-soldiers and -airmen from Minnesota units have deployed since 9/11, but this particular mission is different, Shellito said.
"The scope of this mission is unprecedented for the modern Minnesota National Guard," he said.
The division headquarters will provide leadership, command and control, and in-depth staff analysis for more than 16,000 U.S., Salvadoran, Lithuanian and Romanian coalition troops in the southern third of the country.
The "Red Bulls" also will have direct partnership with more than 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen across eight of Iraq's 18 provinces, all of which have been transitioned to provincial Iraqi control. Coalition troops in the region are employed in a supporting role to Iraqi security forces, Shellito said.
"The images of U.S. troops fighting at close quarters in intense street battles are images of the past," he said. "In order to make this transition happen we now need troops who are not only proficient in military skills, but are adept in assisting civil authorities as well."
Security responsibilities in the region "rest with professional and capable Iraqi security forces," Army Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, commander of the 34th Infantry Division, said during the press conference. He added that the days of "U.S.-only operations" in Iraq are mostly over.
"Our mission will be grounded with our relationship with the Iraqis," Nash said. "We will conduct all operations by, with and through Iraqi security forces. The measure of success for the 34th [Infantry] Division will be to what extent the government of Iraq is capable of providing for its own population."
The division primarily will focus on working with embedded provincial reconstruction teams from the U.S. State Department to improve infrastructure and essential services as well as help the local governments stimulate the economy and job opportunities.
"This is where our citizen-soldiers will distinguish themselves," Nash said, citing that his unit includes soldiers with years of experience in business, agriculture, law enforcement, law, medicine and other city services. "We are committed to applying our civilian- and military-acquired skills to enabling Iraqi institutions to provide for their own people."
The division's headquarters, special troops battalion, division band and 34th Military Police Company will receive pre-deployment training at Fort Lewis, Wash. In Iraq, they will relieve the 10th Mountain Division headquarters as Multinational Division Center.