Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 15, 2003

National Guard send-off event includes 4 locals

By Ryan Gueningsman

Three are cousins and the fourth a is a friend, and now all four will be spending more than a year together in the heart of Iraq as members of the National Guard.

Cousins Jon Ruzicka, 20, of Silver Lake, and Charlie Parpart, and Nick Fiecke, both 19, of Lester Prairie, and Mike Dietel, 22, of Lester Prairie, will be leaving on a journey to Iraq Thursday morning if plans stay as they currently are.

They will be overseas until March 2005, with training in Georgia and Louisiana beforehand.

Ruzicka's and Fiecke's families had to switch holiday plans to get together Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.

"We usually have Christmas together," said their cousin Rick Baumann. "Rather than all get together at Christmas, we did it at Thanksgiving so they could be there."

The four from Lester Prairie, along with the 33 other members in their unit, received a military-style send-off Dec. 9 at the McLeod County fairgrounds in Hutchinson.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, Sen. Steve Dille, and other officials were on hand for the event.

"We're still in a war, we've been through a very significant recession," Pawlenty told the crowd. "There is instability in America, both abroad and in the homeland."

"The one word that I think about that describes those standing here is courage ­ not the absence of fear, but the willingness to dedicate ourselves and our services and sacrifice to a cause greater than ourselves," he said.

"We have the greatest, most prosperous country in the world, and when push comes to shove, the people that answer the call to keep it the greatest nation, are those standing here tonight," he said to applause.

"We also know that these people are the most recent chapter of our freedom history. Freedom is not free ­ it comes with a price," Pawlenty said. "The price doesn't just come to them. It comes to their families, their loved ones, their communities, and their employers. It's hard."

The governor mentioned that there is a web site set up for family members and friends for those who may need help or assistance while their loved ones are overseas. The web site is http://www.governor.state.mn.us/FirstLady/flmain1.asp.

Pawlenty ended his speech with a quote from President George Bush. "Your training has prepared you. Your eyes will guide you. You believe in America, and we believe in you. We believe in what you're doing. We are with you 110 percent to the end. Thank you for your courage. May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America."

Pawlenty proceeded to meet and greet soldiers and families, posing for pictures and spending time talking with people.

The first of the four from Lester Prairie to join the National Guard was Dietel, who joined in July 1999, the summer after he graduated from Lester Prairie High School.

Dietel is the son of Dale and Jane Dietel. He has one brother, Steve and wife Melissa, and one sister, Erin.

Ruzicka is the son of Kevin and Sue Ruzicka, and the grandson of Shirley Fiecke and the late Marvin Fiecke of Winsted. He has three sisters ­ Kim, Jacqui, and Amanda. Ruzicka attended Holy Family Catholic School in Silver Lake for six years, and went on to graduate from Glencoe-Silver Lake High School.

He was the first of three cousins who joined the National Guard. He signed up in spring 2001, and spent almost 11 weeks of the summer at basic training at Fort Leonardwood, Miss.

"I missed my high school graduation to go back to Fort Leonardwood for my AIT training for another eight weeks," Ruzicka said.

A year after Ruzicka joined the National Guard, Fiecke joined, and one year after that Parpart joined.

Fiecke is the son of Mike Fiecke and Sandy Fiecke, and has two brothers and one sister, Matt Kutz, and Travis and Tori Fiecke.

Parpart is the son of Jim and Sheila Parpart. He grew up on a farm outside of Lester Prairie and has one brother and one sister, Angie and Robert.

Both Fiecke and Parpart are graduates from Lester Prairie High School; Fiecke in 2002, and Parpart in 2003.

"I joined because I wanted to do something that many kids my age would never try ­ serve our country and go through the rigorous, hard training, Parpart said.

"I accomplished the training, which will always give me memories of becoming friends with people all over the United States . . . memories of accomplishing teamwork with these people I'd never met, and memories of the long hard nights of work that changed my life."

"Now, I get to go on a new adventure in a foreign country," he said. "I hope this creates more good memories of the experience I'm about to take part in."

Future plans on hold

Fiecke began attending college after he graduated from high school. He was going to Mankato State to be a construction manager.

Parpart spent this summer at Fort Leonardwood, finishing his basic training, and was accepted into Minnesota State University ­ Mankato to begin classes this fall.

"I was accepted for fall, but was finishing up my training, so I was then scheduled to start college in January 2004, but that will be put on hold a little while longer," Parpart said.

Both Dietel and Ruzicka chose the National Guard for college tuition assistance and benefits for school.

Dietel has been living in St. Cloud and attending St. Cloud State University for elementary education, but now is unsure what path he will choose upon his return from Iraq.

Ruzicka is attending St. Thomas, where he is pursuing a major in business.

"I plan to continue my college education when I get back in 2005," he said. "I am also ready to protect and serve my country as best as I can."

Their roles in Iraq

Although in the heart of Iraq, the four won't be seeing hand-to-hand combat.

"They will be combat engineers, and what that means is that they will build barricades, demolish obstacles, and create methods of advancing," said Major Kevin Olson of the National Guard.

The three are part of Company B of the 682nd engineering battalion based out of Hutchinson, Olson said. There are 33 other soldiers who have been notified as well.

The notification process was a two-phase process, Olson said. Phase one was letting them know that they are next in line to go over, or be mobilized.

They were mobilized, and assigned to an engineering platoon and sent from Hutchinson to two training stops before leaving for Iraq.

"We are going down to Fort Stewart, Ga. Thursday, Dec. 18 where we will be joining the 105th," Dietel said. "We will be in Georgia for a few months and than go to Fort Polk, La. to have out squad platoon training.

"Once we are done at Polk, we will go back to Stewart and leave for Iraq around Feb. 25 for approximately 18 months."

"Our deployment is for up to 18 months, but definite dates or information hasn't been given to us," Parpart said. "We do not yet know what our missions will be over in Iraq."

"We were told that we would be there until March 2005," Fiecke said.

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