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Prep academy aims to help families of soldiers heading to Middle East

More than 500 Minnesota soldiers will deploy to the Middle East in the next few months
More than 500 Minnesota soldiers will deploy to the Middle East in the next few months 02:03

MINNEAPOLIS — More than 500 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard are set to deploy to the Middle East in a few months.

The National Guard's 34th infantry division "Red Bulls" will deploy in early February and return in December of next year.

The regularly scheduled deployment will focus on strengthening ties and maintaining readiness in countries like Kuwait and Jordan.

Hundreds of soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard packed the third floor of the Downtown Minneapolis Hilton hotel Saturday.

They're there to prepare themselves and their families for the nearly year-long deployment in the Middle East.

It's Conner Thordson's first time deploying.

"There's just a whole lot of emotions going on. Definite nervousness is at the top of the list," said Thordson.

"A lot of emotions right now, especially with having a little one," said Trinity Kirckof, Conner's wife.

Kirckof is referring to her and Conner's seven-month-old son Elliott.

Dealing with that separation is something the more than 550 soldiers and their families will have to adapt to.

"He's a daddy's boy for sure, so he's definitely going to miss him," said Kirckof.

It's a big reason why the National Guard regularly holds family prep academies a few months before deployments.

"It's meant for the soldier and anybody who's going to support them throughout their deployment cycle," said Sabel Peterson, a First Lieutenant with the Minnesota National Guard.

Saturday's academy features workshops focusing on mental health and resiliency, among other topics soldiers and families should know.

"It's helping them understand what the deployment's about,t how long they're going to be gone and how the communication, even going across time zones and things like that, the changes in the relationships that they're going to see," said Peterson.

For Erin Rieder, now on her second deployment, joining the guard is a family legacy. She will work producing maps for the Middle East region from Kuwait.

"I was very excited to be the first female in my family in the National Guard," said Rieder. "It has offered me career opportunities, it's given me a chance to serve my country, and honestly just to make my family proud."

Thordson said he's thankful for family support, from now until his return.

"We'll be able to get on through this, one day at a time. Start the countdown," said Thordson.

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