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Area troops deployed in Iraq War

The Iraq War hit close to home in 2003 and 2004 when soldiers stationed in Ellsworth, Red Wing and other area cities were deployed overseas.

"Every man, woman and child was aware we had troops gone. If we had lost someone, it may well have made a major difference. But we were very lucky we didn't," Bob Davis, Goodhue County Veterans Service Officer, told the R-E this month. "In Lake City they lost someone, and that changed the way they looked at things."

Davis was referring to Pfc. Anthony Hebert, who died June 21, 2007, along with four other soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq, after a roadside bomb attack. Hebert joined the Army shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and took pride in serving his country, his father said.

An Ellsworth native was also killed in battle.

Four soldiers from the 652nd Engineering Co. of the U.S. Army Reserve, stationed in Ellsworth, were killed in Iraq, including Ellsworth native Bert Hoyer, who died March 9 when his convoy was struck by an explosive.

Soldiers with the 652nd were deployed in February 2003.

Although only about 30 of the men and women were from the immediate area - including Ellsworth, Red Wing and Cannon Falls - the community of Ellsworth embraced them all as sons and daughters.

The 652nd assembled temporary bridges, including floating bridges across waterways and bridges over dry gaps.

The group of soldiers spent more than a year away from home before returning April 6, 2004.

Hundreds of supporters lined Main Street in Ellsworth that sunny April afternoon.

Two buses carrying the troops were greeted with loud cheers, a sea of American flags, and patriotic music from the Ellsworth High School band.

The unit was stationed 35 miles north of Baghdad. The troops arrived back in the United States March 31, 2004, and spent the week at Fort McCoy where the soldiers underwent medical exams, had debriefings and received counseling on the transition back into civilian life.

A few months after the 652nd returned home, Red Wing residents held a similar sendoff along crowded streets.

The National Guard 434th Chemical Co., with detachments in Red Wing, Northfield and Roseville, left in the fall of 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

About 110 members of the company ran convoys between Kuwait and Iraq. Intensive retraining was required because the Guardsmen and women, who were part of a chemical unit, were given new jobs with the 778th Transportation Co. assigned to convoy operations and transportation logistics. They had to learn to operate the Army's truck-tractor known as the HETT, or Heavy Equipment Tactical Transport.

The unit included men and women from Red Wing, Cannon Falls, Goodhue, Frontenac, Lake City, Wanamingo and Zumbrota, plus Bay City, Ellsworth and Prescott.

The remaining troops were from other communities across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Friends, family and complete strangers lined the streets Nov. 30, 2005, waving flags and "Hero Hankies." Many mouthed the words "thank you" as the three large busses weaved through the streets of Red Wing ending a more than 10-hour bus ride from Kansas.

The 434th learned earlier this year that might be mobilized again sometime soon but found out recently the whole unit would not be shipped out, rather volunteers would be selected to ship out with other groups of soldiers, Davis said.

"We will know by the end of January which of them have volunteered and been picked," he said.