June 8, 2022 at 7:32 p.m.

Lions Club to honor Sauk Centre troops

Lions Club to honor Sauk Centre troops
Lions Club to honor Sauk Centre troops

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

National Guard company assisted evacuation at Kabul airport

It has been nearly half a year since the Sauk Centre community turned out in force to welcome home Sauk Centre’s National Guard Anzio Company. Now, the Sauk Centre Lions Club, along with the Sauk Centre American Legion and other local organizations, will be hosting an event to more formally honor the troops for their service.

The event will be at the American Legion Post 67 on Friday, June 24, and one of its purposes will be to let the guardsmen know how the community can serve them in return.

“The Lions have some resources available for people who come back from combat,” said Allan Ulbricht with the Sauk Centre Lions Club. “We want to show appreciation, but we also want to see what other services we as the Lions can provide. We want to talk about that and find out what their needs are.”

There will be a short introduction and a private meal for the troops starting at 1 p.m. The public is invited to stop in later from 2:30-4 p.m. to meet, greet and thank the solders and get pictures with them.

The troops will be given a basket with a keepsake glass and other items. Community members can also donate stories, prayers, business cards, cash, gift cards, gas cards and more, which can be dropped off at the Legion Club or at Minnesota National Bank. They can also show their support outside of the Legion building.

 “We’re hoping people display their patriotism by putting flags out in town that day,” Ulbricht said.

The deployment

The Sauk Centre National Guard Anzio Company had already had a busy year prior to deployment, from managing COVID-19 testing sites to mobilizing for the summer 2020 civil disturbance in the Twin Cities, followed by three weeks of training in the Mojave Desert. Therefore, as the buses rolled out of Sauk Centre on March 9, 2021, it was one of the more expected events on the company’s agenda.

“It was a standard rotational deployment,” said Sauk Centre National Guard Master Sgt. Aaron Rousselange. “They’re generally projected four to five years out; you generally know when you’re going to mobilize again.”

Rousselange has been with the National Guard since 2001; he and the Sauk Centre company were last deployed overseas in 2011-12 to assist with the retrograde of the Iraq War.

For the 2021 deployment, Anzio Company, a roughly 70-personnel tank company, joined an infantry platoon in east St. Paul, forming a company team of about 120 people out of an overall task force of 1,100 Minnesota soldiers. Rousselange was one of the 20% of soldiers in the task force who had been on a previous deployment; the other 80% had never been deployed before. After about 45 days of training in Texas, the force was sent to various locations such as Syria and Kuwait.

The United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was underway while the task force was in Kuwait, and the call soon came in that their assistance would be needed at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“We were watching for probably a good week and a half,” Rousselange said. “We’d get updates from our intel officer as things started getting closer and closer to Kabul, and we’re like, is Kabul going to fall? Finally, everything went south. We ended up waking up the battalion commander sometime around 02:00 in the morning, and by that next night, we were already loaded up on a C-17, flying in.”

Their plane landed around 3 a.m.; from there, the task force’s job was to secure the northern sector of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Their area included the National Security Unit gate to the west, and they handled the inflow of NSU military and families.

The sound of gunfire was all but constant in Kabul from the moment the troops landed; it was unusual for there to be five minutes of silence without the NSU, the Taliban or Isis exchanging gunfire. At the airport, all doors on the airplanes – except the back door – were ratchet-strapped shut to prevent unauthorized boarding, and then there was the turmoil at the gates.

“A lot of guys saw a lot of acts of desperation, of what a country in shambles looks like,” Rousselange said. “Families were just begging and pleading to try to get through a gate; you tell them ‘no’ because they’re at the wrong one, they don’t have the right paperwork for this gate and they have to go to a different one. There was fear, desperation and all acts, throwing babies over the gate to make it our responsibility to take them home. For a lot of the soldiers, the mental the anguish of not being able to save everyone comes into effect.”

Then, during the Aug. 26 evacuations, a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. troops and many civilians at a gate a couple of miles away from where Sauk Centre’s troops were stationed. The whole operation had to halt while the military reevaluated and double-checked their security protocols, and then the evacuation opened up again.

As a veteran from the Iraq drawdown, Rousselange was familiar with this kind of attack response but also understood how it affected the four-fifths of the task force who were unfamiliar with this kind of unexpected strike.

“For a lot of the guys, it became real,” Rousselange said. “You’re standing around, checking vehicles coming in, and then immediately responding to a threat and shutting everything down, and then going, ‘OK guys, open back up.’ You don’t have much time to get over whatever it is you have to get over.”

The National Guard company returned to the Kuwait area after the evacuation, participating in a tri-lateral training mission with Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles – the first time a weapon of war had been brought across the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border since Desert Storm in 1991.

Finally, the Sauk Centre troops returned home Jan. 28, and the community’s reception of the National Guard buses was noticed far beyond town.

“The companies down in the cities, they’re like, those small-town communities really do take care of the Guard’s guys,” Rousselange said. “They do appreciate a lot of the stuff that this community does for the unit, whether or not the guys are from Detroit Lakes or the metro.”

Rousselange is proud of the job the soldiers did on deployment, whether veterans or first-timers, and he knows they are looking forward to seeing whomever comes to the June 24 event at the Sauk Centre American Legion.

“It was a heck of a ride over the course of the last three years for this company, let alone the battalion,” Rousselange said.



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