Specialists Jeffrey Atkinson, Terry Kiekhafer and Arnold Manke, all of Princeton, are three of the 149 soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 850th Horizontal Engineer Company based in Cambridge.
The specialists all took part in a deployment ceremony held at the Cambridge-Isanti High School gymnasium on Sunday, March 3, in honor of the 149 soldiers being deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the name of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
The 850th HEC of the Minnesota National Guard is a horizontal construction company in the U.S. Army and headquartered in Cambridge, with the 682nd Engineer Battalion as their higher headquarters, based in Willmar.
The Minnesota soldiers deploying from the 850th HEC will conduct missions such as repair, maintenance and road construction, emplace culverts, hauling, force protection and limited clearing operations. Additionally, the company will provide construction training to the Afghan National Army.
Soldiers from the 850th HEC represent 100 communities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, with one soldier living as far away as Texas. Around the area, six soldiers deployed are from Isanti, five from North Branch, four from Cambridge, four from Princeton, two from Harris and one each from Braham, Dalbo and Rush City.
The average age of the deploying soldiers is 27 years old. The youngest soldier is 18 and the oldest is 55. This is the first deployment for 73 percent (110) of the 149 soldiers. Twenty-six percent (39) have previously deployed. For some, this is the second, third and/or fourth deployment.
“We have a very professional group of soldiers that are ready to respond to our nation’s call,” said Army Capt. Michael J. Thompson, 850th HEC Commander.
“I am very confident in these soldiers, as they are the most qualified soldiers to perform this mission. Over the past few months, we have trained hard and formed a strong bond where individuals can rely on each other for strength and mentorship.”
The soldiers left Cambridge on March 6 for training and travel to Ft. Bliss, Texas, where they will spend March and April before leaving for their one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
“Our company is an engineer unit that will provide heavy equipment, hauling and maintenance support for several forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan,” said Army 1st Sgt. Jeffry C. Taylor, 850th Horizontal Engineer Company First Sergeant.
Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer wished the soldiers all the best.
“I wanted to tell you that I think I can understand and share with you the feelings of a grateful citizen, city and nation,” Palmer said. “Soldiers, I’m so inspired by your sense of duty, dedication and commitment as you leave. Your service will inspire us all to be better citizens. Your willingness to protect our community and country is nothing less than a blessing. We will be with you in our prayers and support. I want you to know that taking care of your families here will be the orders we have.”
The 850th Horizontal Engineer Company resides in Cambridge. The unit’s primary mission is to provide command and control of engineer effects platoons that are necessary to conduct missions such as repair, maintain, construct air/ground lines of communication (LOC); emplace culverts; hauling; force protection; and limited clearing operations. The 850th HEC will also support the state’s CBRNE Enhanced Response Force (CERF) by organizing, training, equipping, and certifying a soldier search and extraction element IOT, support state, regional, and federal missions. The 850th Horizontal Engineer Company will activate and provide additional support to local or state officials as directed by the Adjutant General.
The unit’s history starts with being the 257th Military Police Company, based out of Cottage Grove, which deployed in 1990/1991, in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In 1995, the unit reorganized into Battery F, 151st Field Artillery, deploying soldiers to Europe and Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2006, the unit reorganized once more to what is now the 850th Horizontal Engineer Company, part of the 682nd Engineer Battalion.