Vredenburg family model of support

Now days it is uncommon not to know someone who has been deployed, especially to Iraq. Minnesota's National Guard soldiers are ready to serve, but never really know for sure when the call is going to come.

Now days it is uncommon not to know someone who has been deployed, especially to Iraq. Minnesota's National Guard soldiers are ready to serve, but never really know for sure when the call is going to come.

That was the case for Robin Kriens' brother, Rodney Vredenburg. "It was a roller coaster of emotions when he was told in 2005 to get his affairs in order as he was being deployed to Afghanistan," Robin said.

He thought he was taken off that list a few weeks later because there was a greater need for him here in Minnesota, since he is a National Guard instructor. A few months later, he found out his name was back on the list for deployment to Iraq.

"For those who have loved ones who have gotten the call, you know all the stress and emotions that follow. There are so many details to get ironed out before deployment."

Rodney is the platoon sergeant for 40-50 soldiers, so his tasks loomed even larger. Not only did he have to get his personal affairs in order, but his job was to help his soldiers get their affairs in order, as well.


"I am not sure what all he did in the way of 'getting ready,' but when you think about leaving your life as you know it for over a year, it had to have been huge," Robin said.

He left behind a great construction job in Minneapolis; his wife, Carol; two stepdaughters, Jessica and Taylor; his dog, Scout; along with lots of family and friends.

He has already missed Taylor's 12th birthday, their wedding anniversary and Jessica's homecoming. He also will miss Jessica's high school graduation in the spring. "It's a story that could be told and retold throughout Minnesota as numerous men and women have been deployed. It is never easy," Robin said.

In his last e-mail from Fort Dix, NJ, he reports they are now training in the forward operating base (FOB). It is a big tent compound in the middle of the woods that simulates a base in Iraq (although he's told the living conditions are not as bad over in Iraq).

There are around 1,800 soldiers sleeping and training there right now. The total stay out in the big tent city will be around a month and a half. Once they leave the FOB, they go back to the main post at Fort Dix and then eventually to Iraq.

So far, the unit has been hit with poison ivy, the "crud," some pneumonia and some side effects from small pox vaccinations. Rod lost two of his squad leaders due to illness, so he awaits their replacements.

His lieutenant is due in Oct. 31, and he is looking forward to his arrival.

According to Robin, "the good news is that training has been very good and overall the guys are doing well."


Rod's unit has been the talk of the post on how motivated and disciplined they are as a company. "The guys in charge of training said we are one of the best units they have seen come through here," Rod said. "Hooah."

During an intense infantry school session, Rod was awarded the top soldier award for his stellar achievement during the program. "Yep, I'm doing a little bragging," he added.

In his last e-mail, Rod requested extra care packages, as some from his unit receive nothing from back home. Favorites from home are Minnesota newspapers, AA and AAA batteries, music CDs, jerky, candy, magazines, personal hygiene items and handwritten letters and pictures, of course.

"From a sibling perspective, I asked myself what I could do for Rod," Robin said. The answer for her was to support him and his unit by praying for them every day, sending letters and care packages, sending e-mail, staying connected with his immediate family - phone calls and help if there are any needs. "And did I mention, pray hard?"

The send-off ceremony was held Sept. 10 for the 160 members of Co. B, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor in Little Falls.

"That was a very hard day - a hard day for 160 soldiers and a hard day for the multitude of people who love them. Having two nephews already in Iraq (Ryan Vredenburg and Anthony Kriens) and my son's former college roommate from Perham (Lucas Schmitz, who was seriously wounded in Iraq a couple of months ago and is recovering in Texas), really intensified the anguish of sending my youngest brother off to war.

"I was so proud of Rod and of all of the soldiers," Robin said. "I was never more proud of Gov. Pawlenty and the First Lady, who offered words to ease the anxiety. 'Please know that we're thinking of you, we care about you, we pray for you regularly,' Mary Pawlenty said."

Robin said it actually "physically hurt my heart to see him leave on that bus, and it was absolutely heart wrenching to look around at the hundreds of soldiers - many who were leaving behind tiny children.


"I was never more aware of the sacrifices that soldiers make for our country, for me," said Robin. "I think I will forever have etched in my mind a young couple who sat side by side on a window ledge not saying a word - he holding his infant child with his head tipped down touching his forehead to the baby's head - no words!

"All of this to say, please pray for our troops," Robin added. "I am sure you know someone in the military that you can be praying for."

If you would like to send a care package to a soldier in Rod's unit who gets nothing, Rod's address at Fort Dix is: SFC Vredenburg, Rodney; MRB/Co A/Bldg 5641; B Co 3-194 CAB; Fort Dix, NJ 08640.

If you want to learn more about Lucas Schmitz from Perham, log onto the Web site and click on "visit a CaringBridge site," and type in "lucasschmitz." Visit his guestbook and send a note of encouragement to him as he is now doing physical therapy to learn to walk with his leg prosthesis.

"Rod's family loves him and is proud of him, just like other soldiers' families," Robin said. "We pray for safety, for the family remaining behind and for the war to end. Life is hard, but God is good - Hooah!"

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