CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq — Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty visited Soldiers of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division at Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, July 19. He arrived from Baghdad, accompanied by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Nevada Gov. Joe Gibbons.
The trip had been planned for some time. The leaders of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division were to communicate to their governor how the mission was going. But instead, the visit was overshadowed by the recent deaths of three Minnesota National Guard Soldiers, Spc. Daniel Paul Drevnick, 22, of Woodbury, Spc. David Wertish, 20, of Olivia, and Spc. Carlos E. Wilcox, 27, of Cottage Grove, occurring three days before the governor arrived. The Soldiers were all with the 34th Military Police Company.
The governor took time to listen to the successes and challenges of the mission throughout Multi-National Division - South, the sector that falls under the command of the Red Bull Division. The time for each commander in the briefing was arranged so the governor could have plenty of time to meet with the military police company.
Pawlenty met with the MPs and talked to them about their mission and discussed their loss. Following the informal conversations with the Soldiers, everyone filed into a small room for a town hall meeting.
The governor was brief with his opening statements, saying that he realized any condolence he offered would undoubtedly "seem inadequate."
"Normally, at these town hall meetings, we talk about a lot of stuff," said Pawlenty, "from the GI Bill to the Minnesota Vikings. But I want to limit my comments today to letting you know that I'm just so very sorry."
When the time came for the MPs to ask questions of the governor, the room was silent for a moment. One Soldier stood up, who would ask the one and only question from the entire company. The Soldier was Staff Sgt. Blake Hayden from Woodbury, Minn., squad leader for the Military Police Company's Quick Reaction Force and the direct supervisor of Drevnick, Wertish and Wilcox.
"Sir, are you going to be able to be at the funerals?"
The governor did not mince words with his response.