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Hundreds line Willmar streets to see off soldiers before Kuwait deployment

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Hundreds of people lined the streets of Willmar to bid farewell to local National Guard members as they deploy for an 11-month stint in the Middle East.

More than 150 soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard's 682nd Engineer Battalion will deploy to Kuwait as a part of Operation Spartan Shield, it says on the battalion website. The battalion is responsible for managing road and building infrastructure maintenance for the coalition forces, according to Lt. Col. Keith Ferdon, battalion commander.

The soldiers are taking part in a departure ceremony at the Willmar Senior High School on Thursday morning, after a parade through the streets of Willmar earlier on.

It'll be a new experience for about 100 soldiers in the unit who are experiencing their first deployment, Ferdon said.

The commander also finds plenty of satisfaction that his battalion will be part of "Task Force Wild" in Kuwait, saying: "As a Minnesota hockey fan that is pretty cool."

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The Grand Forks Herald reports before jetting off to Kuwait they will spend some time training in Fort Bliss, Texas.

The newspaper notes preparations for the deployment have been described as "organized chaos" as soldiers packed their personal items into their luggage (they're allowed 4 duffel bags and a rucksack), with many bringing blankets, pillows, towels, civilian clothes, electronics and alarm clocks.

The ages of deployed soldiers range from 19 to 54, and they are from "99 different communities" across Minnesota, the paper says.

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