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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Minnesota Continues to Excel in Troop Reintegration

The good news just keeps pouring in for troops based in the fine state of Minnesota. Just a couple of days ago I posted an update on a ground-breaking community troop reintegration program offered for its Duluth National Guard members.

Now a recently returned Iraq veteran from Clay County's Army National Guard is delivering public education forums seeking the community's help in easing troop return to civilian life. Completing this trilogy of wonderful news and action, today kicks off the 87th annual Convention of the Minnesota Chapter of Disabled American Veterans -- held in Duluth for the first time since 1987.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From The Forum:

When Capt. Aaron Krenz of Fargo returned to the Red River Valley after a deployment to Iraq, he found a different world from the home he left 15 months earlier. The 9-month-old daughter who couldn’t talk or walk in September 2004 had grown into a toddling bundle of energy with a mind of her own. His wife, Monica, having learned to live as a single mom for a year, had developed a system of running the household, and Krenz wondered where he fit into the equation.

Simply put, after the flag-waving and cheers that accompanied Krenz’s return to the U.S. in November faded away, he faced a new set of challenges: adjusting back to civilian life. For Krenz, 32, the transition from company commander of 152 field artillery men to husband and father of a 2-year-old hasn’t been easy. It’s been a day-by-day process for the veteran whose job was to train Iraqi police forces in southeast Baghdad. “Certain sounds or smells will take me back mentally to Iraq,” said Krenz, who still jumps when a door slams before realizing it’s not a roadside bomb.

“My focus has been on trying to get back with my family, trying to integrate with my wife and my daughter, Ellie. I also want to help educate the public on things they may not know about.” That’s one reason Krenz is working with Clay County to offer community training on how to ease veterans’ re-entry into daily life.

A series of public forums sponsored by the Minnesota Army National Guard is addressing how neighbors can help newly returned soldiers. Veterans such as Krenz will speak about their experiences. Veterans hope the initiative will help the community to better understand issues such as what it’s like for a combat veteran to return home, how combat stress affects a veteran’s daily life and how employers, clergy, school personnel, law enforcement and other community members can assist in the re-entry process.

The soldier was to present at a forum held at a local high school yesterday; there's also a community seminar slated for May 23, 2006 in Moorhead. All indications are that there will be a great need, in the near future, for a wide variety of support services as troops return from serving in combat overseas. Krenz to his great credit is trying to prepare his neighbors ahead of time.

Krenz and Clay County Veterans Service Officer Tom Figliuzzi told the Clay County Commission on Tuesday the community needs to prepare for what will likely be the largest influx of new combat veterans in the state’s history. In March, about 2,600 Minnesota National Guard members were part of a 4,000 multi-state brigade that left for a 12-month stint in Iraq. The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, has several members from the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Come spring 2007, those veterans will be grappling with the same re-entry issues that sometimes perplex Krenz.

Krenz relates a story on how, while his wife left him alone with their daughter for the first time, he struggled with feelings of fear at not knowing what to do in the situation -- toddler care was foreign to him. And a bit unnerving.

Other soldiers struggle with different situations.

Krenz said some drive excessively fast, swerving through traffic as they were ordered to in Baghdad. Many soldiers get depressed moving from high-tension situations to more mundane tasks, he said. “You’ve got an 18-or 19-year-old kid up in the turret of a humvee making life or death decisions everyday, whether to pull the trigger or not to pull the trigger,” Krenz said. “Now they come back and they may be flipping burgers at McDonald’s. To have that amount of control and power taken away and to make sure the hamburgers aren’t burning – that’s a difficult transition for some people.

Figliuzzi said National Guard members in particular need support because they find themselves immersed in civilian life outside the environment of a military base that many veterans return to. While National Guard members’ main role used to be disaster assistance at home, their duties have shifted to active military participation abroad, he said.

Commissioners were receptive to the idea and complimented the National Guard’s efforts. “Whether you support the war or not, it’s important that soldiers have support,” said Commissioner Mike McCarthy.

A big Woo Hoo! goes out for this effort. And also to the Minnesota Chapter of Disabled American Veterans convention:

As many as 300 disabled Minnesota veterans will participate in a four-day convention starting today in Duluth. The 87th annual Convention of the Minnesota Chapter of Disabled American Veterans is the first to be held in Duluth since 1987, said Jerry Uecker, commander of the Minnesota DAV's Sixth Chapter. The chapter includes a geographic region covering the northern half of Minnesota. Part of the convention will focus on the issues facing America's newest disabled veterans -- those returning from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Send your thanks to the Forum and the Duluth News Tribune and let them know you appreciate their covering these great strides in true troop support. Way to go, Minnesota!

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