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Guardsmen plan mission

About 100 National Guardsmen from southwestern North Dakota are preparing to head down to the United States-Mexico border next month, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Schmoker said Monday.

About 100 National Guardsmen from southwestern North Dakota are preparing to head down to the United States-Mexico border next month, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Schmoker said Monday.

Fifty area soldiers kick out June 1 with the 818th platoon, which is based in Williston with a detachment in Dickinson. Another fifty leave June 20 as part of the 816th platoon, which is based in Dickinson with detachments from Mott and Williston. Each unit will be gone for 20 days, Schmoker said.

Both platoons plan to build and improve roads used by the U.S. Border Patrol. The 818th will be working on roads that parallel the border near Nogales, Ariz., and the 816th will be doing the same in the Yuma, Ariz., area, Schmoker said.

"Our mission is strictly construction," he said, adding that the soldiers will not be armed. "In fact, the Border Patrol provides security for us."

The soldiers had boned up on their welding skills in anticipation of having to construct vehicle barricades out of old railroad tracks. But now orders have changed, and the main mission for both platoons is road construction, Schmoker said.

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"It's normal," he said. "Everywhere we go, you know, we have to be flexible."

Staff Sgt. Tom Caldwell, who's served for 18 years and is familiar with the ever-changing nature of military missions, foresaw the shift earlier this month.

"Maybe a welding mission, maybe road construction, we'll see when we get there. Things change," he said during a welding training session on May 3.

Caldwell, of Hettinger, leads a group of 18 soldiers, who specialize in spreading dirt and moving heavy loads.

"We basically do the work that no else wants to do. They send us in to do it. We have to be a jack-of-all-trades," he said.

Caldwell, 46, said the mission will be a learning opportunity for his soldiers.

"This is a real-live mission. It's not a training exercise or anything like that. This is a mission to do with national security along the Mexican border. So that kind of steps it up level," he said.

It'll be Caldwell's second border mission. He also spent a year with the Guard in Iraq, keeping roads clear in 2003 and 2004.

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"We basically looked for roadside bombs or anything along the route that would hamper our supply lines," he said. "The work we did was dangerous, and many times we were targeted because of what we were doing."

Schmoker conceded that the upcoming border missions are going to be less demanding than the Iraq tours many soldiers have experienced.

"It's going to be a little bit easier mission than were accustom to," Schmoker said.

The missions are part of Operation Jump Start, an effort that calls on National Guardsmen to assist the Border Patrol in California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as the agency hires and trains 6,000 agents, said Guard spokeswoman Capt. Kristine Munn. The operation began in June 2006 and ends July 15.

Pfc. Brooklyn Gilje, a 19-year-old who graduated from Richardton-Taylor High School last year, said this will be her first mission ever as well as her first time in the Southwest.

"I'm excited. Granted it's going to be hot, but it'll be fun. Get to see some new stuff, learn some new stuff," Gilje said.

She also has gotten some welding training out of the deal.

"I don't think I would have welded any other time for any other reason," she said.

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Gilje and other soldiers spent three days learning to weld with help from Rudy Privratsky, an instructor who has taught at Dickinson High School for 13 years and Dickinson State University for 18 years.

"Anytime I can help out the community, I'll do it," Privratsky said wearing his red jumpsuit and red-and-white polka-dot cap.

Staff Sgt. Eric Friesz said he had Privratsky as a teacher in college.

"As far as teaching welding, there's nobody better. He knows everything about it," Friesz said.

Friesz, a farmer from New Leipzig, said he's expecting some balmy temperatures in Arizona.

"It sounds like it's going to be pretty warm," he said.

Weather.com backs up his forecast: The average high for June in Nogales is 96 degrees. In Yuma, it's 104.

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