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Area residents were among the National Guard troops mobilized to the Twin Cities in May

WALNUT GROVE — Members of the Minnesota National Guard know they need to be ready to move in case of a disaster in their state. But being called to the Twin Cities last month — amid fires, riots and protests of the death of George Floyd — was something Staff Sgt. Travis Skindelien said he hadn’t expected.

Skindelien had been deployed in the past. But, he said, “There’s a whole different meaning behind it, when you go to your home state.”

Skindelien, a Walnut Grove resident and a member of the National Guard unit based in Marshall, talked to the Independent last week about some of his experiences being mobilized to Minneapolis and St. Paul.

On May 28, Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard, in response to unrest and property damage after the death of Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

“Soldiers from the Marshall unit were among the first called up,” said Cpt. Nicholas Cappola, commander of Battery A of the 1-151st Field Artillery, which is based in Marshall. Members of the Marshall unit reported for duty within hours of being notified, Cappola said.

Skindelien said he got a phone call around lunchtime.

“I pretty much left work,” he said, and saw his family for a few minutes before heading to Marshall. The news came as a shock, and saying goodbye was hard, especially for his children, he said.

Cappola said the Marshall Guard unit has about 65 soldiers, and 49 of them were activated to support law enforcement and firefighters in the Twin Cities. Some soldiers from the Marshall unit were already on active state duty in response to COVID-19, or were in training.

The activated soldiers spent 10 days in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“They were supporting civilian authorities primarily at Lake (Street) and Hiawatha (Avenue), and Minneapolis Fire Station 6,” Cappola said. “The last week on duty they supported the St. Paul Police headquarters and Ramsey County Sheriff Department.”

“The first couple days, they probably only got three to four hours of sleep,” Cappola said.

“The beginning was more busy,” Skindelien said. He said area Guard members were there to support the Minneapolis Police and Fire Departments. Part of that meant cordoning off areas near Lake Street and Chicago Avenue, he said. Later, he was among the Guard members present at the state Capitol, he said.

Skindelien had been part of the National Guard mission during the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. There was a big contrast between that mission and what Guard soldiers saw in June, he said.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Skindelien said. As the Guard were traveling down Lake Street, he said, “We had buildings on both sides of the street on fire. It was really hot going through there.” There was a lot of damage and debris around Lake Street, he said.

While there was destruction in the Twin Cities, Skindelien said the mood seemed to change after the first couple of days they were there.

“Especially when we got to the capitol, there was a lot of peaceful protest there,” he said. The crowds at the capitol would stay until curfew, and then go away, he said.

“We had people who wanted to speak their minds,” but many were respectful once they said what they needed to say, Skindelien said. Local community members were also generous, offering food or other support for responders.

Both Skindelien and Cappola said support from community members at home in the Marshall area, like the Yellow Ribbon group and Family Readiness Group, played an important role for Guard members and their families during the Twin Cities mission.

“I would like to personally thank the community of Marshall and the Alpha Battery Family Readiness Group for their ongoing support of the soldiers of Alpha Battery 1-151,” he said.

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