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No matter who you are, there's probably someone just like you in the Hastings-based National Guard unit.

They're young and old, men and women, white, black and Hispanic. Some have the traditional military-style haircut, some are bald and others have full heads of hair. Some wear glasses and a few sport moustaches.

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Charlie Company of the 834th Aviation Support Battalion gathered at Hastings High School Sunday with members of the public for a farewell ceremony. The unit is being deployed to Iraq for tour of duty about one-year long.

The unit consists of 43 soldiers, six of whom are Hastings residents. About another six Hastings residents are deploying with other units in the battalion.

After the unit filed into the gym and unit members took their seats, it was apparent that Charlie Company isn't made up of nameless, faceless soldiers. They're neighbors and friends, brothers and sisters, and moms and dads.

Charlie Company's mission is to provide voice and Internet communications for the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade. Captain Kent Kogler closed his speech Sunday by saying, "Charlie Company - the voice of the brigade."

The 834th Aviation Support Battalion's mission is essentially to keep 140 helicopters in the air, according to Lt. Colonel Eric Waage.

He said the battalion is like an iceberg in that people see the 140 helicopters in the air. What people don't often see, Waage said, are the units like Charlie Company who work in the background, but serve equally, in roles as vital as those who pilot the helicopters.

Mayor Paul Hicks spoke of the connection the Hastings community has to the unit, and during his speech referred to it several times as "our unit."

According to a press release from the Minnesota National Guard, the unit will deploy to Ft. Sill, Okla. for a short training period before being deployed to Iraq later this summer.

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Chad Richardson
Chad Richardson is the publisher and editor at the Hastings Star Gazette. He was the general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He previously worked at the Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.
(651) 319-4500
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