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Guard members saluted in Fargo

FARGO -- Andrew Dozhier of Grand Forks will say goodbye today to a newborn daughter he's known for only three days. The specialist with the North Dakota National Guard is among 300 members of the 231st Maneuver Task Force headed to Kosovo for a y...

Spc. Andrew Dozhier
Spc. Andrew Dozhier, Grand Forks, watches his two-day-old daughter, Madisyn, while attending a send-off ceremony Friday in the Fargo Civic Center for the 231st Maneuver Task Force. The North Dakota National Guard troops are leaving Saturday for a 13-month peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO -- Andrew Dozhier of Grand Forks will say goodbye today to a newborn daughter he's known for only three days.

The specialist with the North Dakota National Guard is among 300 members of the 231st Maneuver Task Force headed to Kosovo for a yearlong peace-keeping mission.

Dozhier's daughter, Madisyn, born Tuesday night, and about 20 family members and friends attended a send-off ceremony Friday for the soldiers at the Fargo Civic Center.

His sister Peggy Stevens said there would be tears Friday, the last day Dozhier got to spend with his family, but even more today as they say goodbye.

Members of the unit, based in Fargo and Valley City, N.D., leave Fargo today for Camp Atterbury, Ind. They then head to Germany for training before arriving in Kosovo.

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In all, 700 North Dakota National Guard soldiers will leave the state in the coming week. North Dakota will lead a multinational force of about 2,200 troops.

Gov. John Hoeven, North Dakota's congressional delegation and other officials commended the troops Friday during the send-off ceremony.

"If there is an outfit in the country I'd recommend for this assignment, it'd be the North Dakota National Guard,"

said Rep. Earl Pomeroy.

Supporters filled the bleachers and nearly all of the balcony seating in the auditorium. Patriot Guard Riders saluted the soldiers with flags.

Many speakers, including the mayors of Fargo and Valley City, thanked soldiers for their help during the flood fight.

"We would not have gotten here without your help," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

The task force's commander, Brig. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, Bismarck, told family members they have a huge challenge ahead of them and advised them to use the family readiness group.

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"You have a much more difficult job than us," Dohrmann said.

For Dozhier, he plans to keep up with his newborn's first year by using web-cams.

He considers himself lucky that he got to meet his baby before he left. Doctors induced labor so Dozhier wouldn't miss the birth.

"It was a close one," he said.

His girlfriend, Andrea Laughlin, said it's stressful having him leave, but they both have family who will help.

Like many of the soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Chris Jennewen of Grand Forks has been deployed before. He served in Iraq for 1½ years in 2004-05.

He will leave behind his wife, Stacy, and sons Tyler, 19, and Cody, 15.

This deployment is a little easier, Jennewen said, because he has a better idea what to expect and his family knows it's a safer mission.

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But saying goodbye at the armory today before soldiers get on the bus for the airport will still be difficult.

"It hasn't hit until they actually leave," Stacy Jen-newen said.

Heather Bernotas of West Fargo attended the send-off to support two friends. She got teary-eyed watching all the families about to say goodbye to their loved ones.

"It's pretty emotional," Bernotas said.

Pfc. Kayla Beckman of Washburn, N.D., said she's anxious for her first deployment, but ready to get started.

She was pleased to see the large turnout Friday at the send-off.

"It's nice to know there are so many people going through what I'm going through and that there's so much support," Beckman said.

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