Send off our soldiersSoldiers prepare to deploy to Kuwait while spouses hold down the home-front.
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
Life will soon change for about 130 families of soldiers from the Alexandria unit of the Minnesota Army National Guard being deployed for a year to Kuwait May 27.
About 2,400 Minnesota soldiers are scheduled to support Operation New Dawn in “the second largest deployment of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II,” according to Army Lt. Col. Michael Wickman, deputy commander of troops for 1st Brigade Combat Team.
“Our soldiers will play an important role in the final drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq,” Wickman said.
The Reimers family of Alexandria understands the challenges of deployment first-hand. Rich Reimers, 38, training NCO for the Alexandria unit of the Minnesota National Guard, is a part of the unit leaving the area May 27. Rich has served 20 years with the military.
Ann Reimers, 34, Rich’s wife, is the manager of Raapers Sports Bar and Grill in Alexandria. The couple has two sons, Christian, 14, and Nicholas, 12.
Rich was deployed to Kosovo about eight years ago. During 2005-2007, his unit was deployed to Iraq for 22 months. Rich stayed in Alexandria as acting commander.
“He wanted to go the last time and he fought tooth and nail to go,” Ann said. “He did his darndest to take care of the families when they were gone.”
This time around, Rich has been ordered to deploy to Kuwait. His boys will miss their dad.
“Nick pretty much wears his heart on his sleeve, so he’ll definitely be feeling [Rich’s absence],” Ann said.
Rich coaches hockey and co-coaches football and baseball for the boys’ teams. Nick and his dad like hanging out and working on his dirt bike.
“Him and Nick are like – he’s his little buddy.”
Rich and Christian enjoy discussing music and watching Comedy Central together.
“Rich is just really good with both of them. They have the same likes in different ways.”
Ann’s nickname is “Sarge,” “because I tend to be a little harsh doing my job, not to customers, but I expect a little more.”
Ann was in the active Army Reserves for two years and was inactive for six years after she became pregnant. “It’s a choice,” she said. “I miss the military.”
She acknowledged her options: “Take care of my family, or end up going overseas – because then my house would fall apart.”
How is “Sarge” coping with her husband’s deployment?
“Any time a soldier deploys, you always worry about their safety,” she said. “Hopefully, the missions are safe and no one’s going to go crazy and go after them. It’s relatively calm right now.”
Ann said she doesn’t have any family in the area and relies on her “Raapers family” for support. “The bosses are behind me 100 percent,” she said. “Any time I need anything – not a problem. Coworkers, their spouses – the kitchen manager’s husband said, ‘If you need anything, I’ll help you out,’ and he is a handy man. Any ‘honey-do’ I need, he’ll do it for me.”
But things aren’t easy. The stress associated with Rich’s deployment has taken its toll. “My coworkers have seen me cry once in 10 years and that was just a little while ago,” she said. “I’m all my kids have.”
Ann said not having Rich to talk to each day was going to be difficult. “You’ve got to try and do it through e-mails or Skype,” she said. “It gets lonely.”
Ann said there are many resources available to help military families while a family-member is deployed. She helped organize a Family Readiness Group chapter in Alexandria almost 10 years ago. The group had picnics and Christmas parties for families and organized activities for the children.
Some soldiers will experience pay cuts when they are deployed, Ann said. “There’s resources out there to help families in case they get into financial distress.”
“I feel bad for people that are in different towns that don’t have a ton of people and that’s where the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon does come in handy.” Ann said.
Ann joined the Yellow Ribbon’s website for support, including a children’s camp.
What will she miss most about Rich while he is away?
“Geez, where do I start?” she said. “He just happens to be one of those good men.”
She thought for a moment.
“Sometimes, he’ll be really honest, especially with my cooking,” she said with a laugh. “He’s a hard worker and he’s patient. That’s probably his best quality.”
After Rich’s return to Alexandria from Kosovo there was a period of readjustment, according to Ann. “He actually became almost more patient when he came back.”
But some parts of his return were more difficult. “It’s a transition period,” Ann said. “It usually is hard when he comes back to try and step back into his role, when the wife has been doing the finances, the handyman work, taking care of the kids and, basically, being mom and dad at once.”
Rich will most likely receive two weeks of R and R during the next year to return home to his family in Alexandria, but he plans to allow soldiers with younger children to return for the holidays.
Christian will start driver’s training while his dad is gone. “I am not ready for that,” Ann said. “I’ll be the one who has to ride with him.”
And Christian will be graduating from the Alexandria Area Hockey Association as a Bantam. “That is a big year,” Ann said. “[Christian] plays goalie. Rich always gives him good advice.”
But friends involved in the sport have promised to pitch in and help the family with rides and support. “The hockey community is phenomenal,” she said.
What is Ann hoping to find in Alexandria? “It would be nice to see Alex jump and support [the soldiers] and put up yellow ribbons.”
“We are a big military family,” she said. “We support the USA and fly our flags and take off our hats and say the Pledge of Allegiance.”
And Ann has someone else in her corner. Her mother. “Mama” Jean Jarvis drove 1,200 miles from Tennessee to say goodbye to her son-in-law before he takes that long and important journey to serve his country.
Yellow Ribbon Rally
Wednesday, May 25, 1 p.m.
Runestone Community Center
Friday, May 27, 9:30 a.m.
from 4th Ave. and Broadway, south to I-94.
Boy Scouts are placing flags along Broadway for the procession. Alexandria downtown merchants, businesses and community members are encouraged to display yellow ribbons or signs supporting the troops.
The Yellow Ribbon Network in Douglas County “unites to honor and embrace those affected by military deployments. The outward showing of support enables a soldier’s successful transition all the way home. The community’s effort transcends the military to any group in need and builds a stronger, more compassionate community.”
The network is accepting volunteers to help military families. Those interested in becoming a volunteer may contact Owen Miller at (320) 763-4845.
The Family Readiness Group for Alexandria worked with the Yellow Ribbon Network and area businesses to prepare the ceremony and activities.