Local Guard unit ready for new assignment

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Write this down: the Minnesota Army National Guard in Austin will become Company B HHC-434th Maintenance Support Battalion.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Write this down: the Minnesota Army National Guard in Austin will become Company B HHC-434th Maintenance Support Battalion.

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Beginning early in 2000, the National Guard unit in Austin will return to its transportation roots.

n Staff. Sgt. Norman Johnson will be the local unit’s readiness non-commissioned officer and truck master.

n Staff Sgt. Ron Glidden of Fairmont will be squad leader and light truck platoon leader.

n Capt. Jason Graaf of Minneapolis will the unit’s commander.

n LTC Stanley C. Bergan of Leroy will be battalion commander.

"It all happens March 1, 2000," said Johnson, a 28-year veteran of the Army and Army National Guard. "Basically, what they’re doing is moving transportation to the south part of the state and splitting the company."

Earlier in December, the Minnesota Army National Guard announced a major reorganization, which will help bring the Guard closer to the training and preparedness levels of the active duty Army.

No longer will the local 135th Mechanized Infantry have that mission and it will become part of the largest unit in the 34th Infantry Division. The battalion headquarters will continue to be Camp Ripley.

LTC Greg Langley, the Minnesota Guard’s mobilization and readiness officer at headquarters in St. Paul, said earlier this month: "Our bottom line in this reorganization is retaining every soldier we have while gaining the same capabilities as active military components."

According to Johnson and Glidden, the members of the Austin unit have greeted the news of the reorganization enthusiastically.

"One of the reasons for their acceptance is that there will be new job openings beginning in March 2000," he said. "There will be 112 slots in the Austin unit and they will include jobs such as vehicle drivers, administrative clerks, wheeled vehicle mechanics, cooks and nuclear biological chemical specialists."

The Austin unit had been a transportation company since 1972. Then, it became a mechanized infantry unit in 1992 and now it is returning to its original mission of transportation support.

"Austin doesn’t lose anything," Johnson said. "There will be 60 people here beginning March 1, 2000, and 40 to 50 job openings."

Sometime prior to the change-over, 35 2.5-ton trucks will roll down the highway from St. Cloud to become a part of the local unit’s inventory and with them two 5-ton tractor-trailers.

There will also be a new crest or guidon unveiled for the newly reorganized unit.

"The state reorganization is being done to align the Guard more closely with the active duty Army," Johnson said. "There will be a phased-in retraining period and some soldiers will attend a two-week summer course instead of the regular summer camp to better acquaint them with their new responsibilities."

"It’s going to be the same company. Only it will have two different parts," he said.

The giant 34th Infantry Division has soldiers from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin as well as Minnesota.

According to Johnson and Glidden, soldiers and non-commissioned officers are pleased with the change-over. One of the reasons: more rank progression.

"Until the change-over, a soldier could only be advanced as high as an E-6 with this unit," Johnson said. "Now, they can be promoted two more ranks to E-8."

"We’re looking forward to it," Glidden said.

Staff Sgt. Todd Bergland, the National Guard recruiter for the area, also believes the reorganization will help attract new soldiers.

That is, when the National Guard prospects hear about the enlistment bonuses and financial aid for college as well as reorganization.

"Qualified recruits who successfully score a high enough grade on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery Test can qualify for a $5,000 enlistment bonus," Bergland said. "In addition, there’s more than $34,000 in college financial aid they may also qualify for."

"It’ feels like coming home again," veteran soldier Johnson said. "We were transportation and now we’re going to be transportation again. I’m feeling good about the reorganization and I think the entire unit is also."