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Emotional day as 700 Minnesota National Guard soldiers prepare for deployment to Middle East

Updated: September 20, 2019 06:44 PM

It was an emotional and patriotic day at Grace Church in Eden Prairie as Governor Tim Walz, Senator Tina Smith and hundreds of family members helped send off 700 Minnesota National Guard soldiers.

"All that's right with this nation is in this room," Walz, a former Minnesota National Guard soldier, told the big crowd at the deployment ceremony. "Neighbors who are willing to put themselves on the line. Families who are willing to step back so that 5.7 million of your fellow Minnesotans can go about and live their life in peace and security."

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About 40 percent of the soldiers in the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade are on their first deployment. Their commander said they're ready.

"Our soldiers have been looking forward to this and they've been looking forward to their families being involved with this moment to recognize them for the service to their country and their commitment," Col. Greg Fix told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Minnesota Army National Guard Reservists prepare for overseas deployment

Among the soldiers deploying for the first time is Selasi Richards, who will focus on fueling combat helicopters on the mission. He was born in a Liberian refugee camp, but is now serving the United States Army.

"It's very emotional," he told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS after the ceremony. "I'm leaving my mom, my little brother, my cousins ... but the sense of purpose makes it all worthwhile."

His mother, Mardia Richards, a naturalized citizen, was beaming with pride.

"I'm excited," she said. "I'm afraid. I'm proud. It's a lot of emotions going on but I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve, for my son to serve."

The soldiers will deploy in phases for additional training here in the U.S. before leaving for an eventual one-year deployment in Kuwait.

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Tom Hauser

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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