COVID-19 pandemic makes Minnesota National Guard deployment to Africa more difficult

Nearly 700 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard are getting ready to deploy to Africa.

The soldiers from the Mankato-based 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, start reporting to Camp Ripley June 1.

Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Chip Rankin said this deployment is particularly challenging, given all the uncertainties the soldiers' families face here at home because of the pandemic.

"Yeah, it's been a lot of juggling," Rankin said.

Rankin has many duties here in Minnesota. He's not only a National Guard commander, but he is also the superintendent of Minnewaska Area Schools and a father of four.

"You know, time keeps ticking and so you're constantly having to prioritize what you're not going to be able to do because there just won't be enough time," Rankin said.

Rankin said his battalion will be on a peacekeeping mission in Djibouti as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"I think a lot of people in America forget that we have soldiers and service members deployed across the world all the time," Rankin said.

As he prepares to be gone for the next year, he is trying to spend quality time with his wife and kids, while also wrapping up the school year for 1400 students in his district who have been dealing with the challenges of distance learning.

Rankin has deployed two other times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He noted it is always a sacrifice but said he is so proud of the soldiers who will be serving alongside him in Africa.

"They're from your hometown. They're from your neighborhood," Rankin said. "They come from every walk of life and they're going to do their very best to make this world a better place."

In lieu of deployment ceremonies at all unit Armories due to social distancing requirements, the battalion will have a private departure ceremony at Camp Ripley on June 19. They deploy to Africa in July.