Local Guardsman returns for two-week break

ROUND LAKE -- A 6 a.m. tee time, the sound of a breeze rustling through the trees, the smells of flowers and fresh cut grass and the steady drone of crickets may not seem like a treat to most Minnesotans.

ROUND LAKE -- A 6 a.m. tee time, the sound of a breeze rustling through the trees, the smells of flowers and fresh cut grass and the steady drone of crickets may not seem like a treat to most Minnesotans.

Unless, of course, you have spent the past five months on a small military base in southern Iraq -- a base where the ground is sand, the temperature hovers between 110 and 120 degrees and the only sounds you hear are the hum of the generators and the shifting gears of trucks.

As Scott Kruger sprawled out in a chair under a canopied patio set outside his rural Round Lake home Wednesday morning, his tanned face and relaxed smile proved that -- no matter how long, or short, the break -- it's good to be home.

Kruger is nearing the end of his two weeks of R&R after landing at the Twin Cities airport on Aug. 20, his 39th birthday, to the welcoming arms of his wife, Lori Lanphere Kruger, and children, 7-year-old Taylor, 4-year-old Morgan and 2-year-old Jackson, and numerous other family members. He leaves again on Tuesday to rejoin his second family -- soldiers in the 1-125th Field Artillery unit of the Minnesota National Guard, stationed at Camp Scania, Iraq.

Called to serve


Kruger enlisted in the National Guard a couple of years after graduating from Sioux Valley-Round Lake-Brewster High School in 1986, becoming a third-generation military veteran. Both of his grandfathers served during World War II, his grandmother was a WAC (Women's Army Corps) member, and his father served during the Vietnam era.

In his 17 years with the Army National Guard, Kruger has obtained the rank of Sergeant First Class in the B-Battery of the 1-125th. For the four years prior to his deployment last September, he was an active duty Guardsman and unit supply sergeant working at the National Guard Armory in both Jackson and Fairmont.

"I was going to go active duty, but I couldn't get the job I wanted -- I became a number," he said. "But I still wanted to serve my country."

Though his 17 years of National Guard duty is considered a service to his country, it is his first deployment that provided Kruger with the experience of truly serving during a nation's time of need. He's been asked several times if he believes the United States is making a difference in Iraq, and each time he hesitates to answer.

"It's kind of hard for us to really know that," he said. "We're just a convoy support center. We're just a big truck stop where people can stop, eat a meal ..."

Kruger is among approximately 1,500 Minnesota soldiers stationed at Camp Scania, which he refers to as a "real small base where you know everybody." His unit, including members of the Jackson-Fairmont, Luverne-Pipestone, New Ulm, St. James and St. Peter National Guard, performs base defense at the camp. Soldiers are tasked with keeping the base secure -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

All of the soldiers at Camp Scania are members of the National Guard, and Kruger said the number of Guard and Reserve troops serving in Iraq outnumber America's active military component. As such, he disagrees somewhat with the labels placed on Guardsmen -- labels such as Weekend Warrior or Citizen Soldier.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm in the U.S. Army," Kruger said. "Without the National Guard and the Reserve, this wouldn't be happening.


"These National Guard guys, they're asked to go over there, put their life, career, families on hold ... some are college students, and (it is) two years of college they missed," he added.

A typical day

Day-to-day activity at Camp Scania fluctuates little for soldiers in the 1-125th, Kruger said. As the Unit Supply Sergeant, he gets up in the morning, eats breakfast, goes to work for about eight to nine hours, stops by the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) tent for a workout and then checks in at the office for a short while in the evening.

For his soldiers, the day could entail convoy security or working the overnight shift to protect the base. Off-duty time may include watching movies, playing video games, lifting weights or playing pool or pingpong at the MWR, or joining in a game of basketball or sand volleyball outdoors. Construction is now under way on a new, larger PX building on Camp Scania to provide soldiers with mini-mart type items, and phone banks and Internet cafés make it easy for soldiers to communicate with friends and family on a regular basis.

Soldiers who call Camp Scania home throughout the 1-125th's deployment -- expected to last approximately through March -- have a fairly modern base that includes a combination of C-huts and air-conditioned tents for sleeping. Kruger shares a tent with five other soldiers, each having about an 8- by 10-foot space for their cot and all of their belongings.

"We chose to live in the tent, because it's closer to the bathroom and shower," said Kruger with a smile. As one of the first members of his unit to arrive at Camp Scania, he had his choice of the living quarters.

Kruger was among about 18 soldiers to depart Camp Shelby, Miss., in mid-March to help prepare the base for the arrival of the rest of the soldiers in the 1-125th. Looking back on his arrival at Camp Scania, Kruger said he had some real concerns about being able to perform his job adequately.

"I had a lot of anxiety, I guess, because I didn't know ... how do you do business out in the middle of nowhere? How do you get stuff done?" he said.


But after arriving at Camp Scania and being trained in by soldiers preparing to return home, Kruger said he quickly got into the routine of his job.

On the home front

As her husband prepares to return to Camp Scania, Lori Lanphere Kruger is keeping herself immersed in the activities of the 1-125th's Family Readiness Group here at home. In June, the group began assisting in the collection of items for a children's orphanage and widow's home not far from Camp Scania. Their first shipment included more than 100 boxes of supplies.

After taking the month of August off, the group is gathering in a couple of weeks to prepare another shipment. This time, they will focus on both school and medical supplies for the children of Iraq.

"They're doing drives for 40 schools, two orphanages and widows in the area," Lori said. "It's just awesome."

The Family Readiness Group is just one of many groups throughout the area either helping soldiers stationed in Iraq or sending items for the Iraqi people.

"We're always getting letters from kids," Kruger said, adding that he's received letters from 4-H members and packages from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, churches and other organizations.

"Knowing they're here helping your family takes a big burden off you," he said.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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