Meals Ready To Eat Men and women of the Kansas National Guard's 130th Field Artillery Brigade simply sat on the curb in front of Vermillion High School as they dined on broasted chicken and salad prepared by Hy-Vee Catering. by David Lias Meals ready to eat that everyone agreed are much tastier than the military version awaited members of the Kansas National Guard's 130th Field Artillery Brigade, as convoy after convoy of the unit arrived at the parking lot of Vermillion High School Thursday evening, Aug. 11.
The Guard members, based in Topeka, KS, had left Camp Ripley, MN, earlier in the day. They were on their way home last week, and Vermillion proved to be the perfect midpoint of their two-day journey.
Groups of green camouflaged U.S. Army vehicles, from a large tanker and smaller trucks, to Hummers and HEMTTs (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Transports) arrived at the high school parking lot.
Waiting outside the school was the crew from Hy-Vee Catering. They had prepared a feast of broasted chicken, salads, cookies and lemonade for the road-weary women and men.
�We�re convoying home, and we�ll be back to our home stations, scattered out all over eastern Kansas, by the end of the day tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 12),� said Col. Alex Duckworth, the brigade�s commander.
The Vermillion High School parking lot and the food and services of Hy-Vee Catering were familiar to brigade members.
Two weeks earlier, they spent the night here while on their northward journey to Camp Ripley. Just like last week, Hy-Vee Catering was waiting for them with a hot meal � featuring prime rib sandwiches instead of chicken.
�They really loved the prime rib,� Andy Anderson, Hy-Vee kitchen manager, said.
Vermillion proved to be a �mathematical� solution for the brigade.
�A driver can only drive X amount of hours and X amount of miles per day,� Duckworth said. �So when you start doing the mathematics, we may have actually peaked somewhere between here and Sioux Falls, and Vermillion just happens to be in that goose egg of options.
�We don�t require much; we just need a big spot (to park). We�re pretty much self-contained,� he said.
Straight, neat rows, each made up of dozens of vehicles, eventually filled the parking lot. After enjoying their evening meal, brigade members took advantage of the shower facilities at Vermillion High School.
They then broke out their cots and sleeping bags and prepared to bed down for the night.
Members of the 130th Field Artillery slept under the stars Thursday night, between the rows of their vehicles.
�Some of them sleep in the back of their vehicles,� Duckworth said. �We just bivouac right here. It�s not a big deal.�
He describes the 130th as the �typical, hometown, American soldier National Guard unit. I�ve got guys and gals scattered from all across the region, from Colorado and Nebraska, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. For whatever reason, they cross our path and enter our unit.
�This is our annual training period. We went to Camp Ripley because we needed to do three functions at the same time, and Ripley was able to facilitate that,� Duckworth said.
The first convoy of the brigade left Vermillion at approximately 7:30 a.m. Friday, but not without first being treated to breakfast prepared by Hy-Vee.
The 130th started the day with biscuits and gravy, ham, bacon, sausage, cinnamon rolls, coffee and orange juice.
�They were all very appreciative,� said Anderson. �They were really a nice group to work with.�
The convoys included women, men and vehicles, but no artillery units.
�Our primary weapon system � the 155mm self-propelled MRLS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) was railroaded,� Duckworth said. �All of that equipment, 15 rail cars worth of stuff, was loaded yesterday (Aug. 11) and is headed to Kansas by train,� he said.
The roster of the brigade includes people who are unemployed, and people who have Ph.Ds.
�I�ve had mayors, chancellors at universities, engineers, policemen � you name it,� Duckworth said. �We are a slice of America, just like Vermillion.�
At full strength, the 130th is made up of approximately 800 soldiers.
�Right now, the unit has about 300 soldiers,� Duckworth said. �We have 158 soldiers on their way to Iraq. Three-hundred-fifty personnel have just come back from Iraq, and 78 soldiers are assisting other units in their deployments.�
The 130th may be made up of a wide cross-section of men and women, but all of the individuals have one thing in common.
�The one unique thing about the Guard is everyone is very patriotic,� Duckworth said. �We know what the cost is, we understand our purpose.�
�We were just happy to be able to help them out,� Anderson said.