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Mike Nowatzki, Published December 02 2009

Impact on North Dakota, Minnesota soldiers unclear

Sgt. Heath Bivier said things went downhill during the second half of his yearlong tour in Afghanistan, and he’s been watching them slide ever since.

“I kept a lot of track of it right when we got back, and it just seems like everything just went down even worse and it’s just gradually going that way,” said Bivier, a North Dakota National Guard member in Grand Forks.

President Barack Obama announced a plan Tuesday to try to improve the situation by sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan over six months.

It could be some time before the plan’s effects become known to North Dakota and Minnesota National Guard units, officials said Tuesday.

“North Dakota won’t see any immediate impact, I’m sure, from this,” said Sgt. Amy Weiser Willson, deputy public information officer for the North Dakota Guard. “As it trickles down to the units, we’ll see what happens as far as how this is structured.”

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ewer, spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard, said he couldn’t speculate on how any presidential policy decision might affect future operations.

Bivier was a member of the Grand Forks-based 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment when it was deployed for 16 months in March 2006, including a year in Afghanistan.

As military police, his unit conducted troop patrols, dealt with detainees and set up traffic checkpoints to search vehicles for people, explosives and documents that might provide tips on high-priority targets, he said.

The first six months went smoothly until the unit was moved to a new forward operating base, where they trained Afghan National Army members to be soldiers and policeman – and routinely were attacked by insurgents, he said.

“In my personal opinion, after being there and seeing it, it’s just what I feel is a war that we’ll never win, because half the country wants to change and the other half doesn’t,” said Bivier, now with the 132nd Quartermaster Company in Grand Forks. “You can’t fight what they’re protecting all the time.”

The North Dakota Army National Guard has sent 277 soldiers to Afghanistan since the war began in 2001, Weiser Willson said.

Another 72 soldiers from the 188th will leave within the next two weeks for Fort Hood, Texas, where they’ll spend a month before 64 of them deploy to Afghanistan, she said. The other eight will head to Iraq.

Nine airmen from the North Dakota Air National Guard have served in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, Capt. Penny Ripperger said.

The Minnesota Guard currently has 187 members deployed in Afghanistan, 175 of them from the Duluth-based 114th Transportation Company. The state has sent about 200 Guard members total to the country since 2001, Ewer said.

Whether North Dakota or Minnesota troops become part of the president’s plan will depend on the makeup of the proposed troop surge. The North Dakota Guard has combat service support units such as engineers and a water supply detachment, but no combat troops, while the Minnesota Guard has infantry, including 1,150 troops presently in Iraq.

Asked if he personally would see returning to Afghanistan as worthwhile, Bivier said, “I wouldn’t agree with it, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if I had to go back.

“I mean, I joined the military for a reason, and this is exactly it.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528