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Task Force Wild

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild

In just over 48 hours, Xcel Energy Center will be filled with fans in their red, white or green jerseys. Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi will have officially crossed over to the Good Side. Matt Cullen now has someone else on the team to speak Minnesotan with in Mike Lundin.

Thank you Father Time. Thank you for bringing hockey season upon us once again. After a very tragic summer in hockey, with the loss of two former Wild fan favorites, and the brother of Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, we’ve needed a distraction.

There might be only one place that needs hockey more than the State of Hockey does right now, and that’s in the steamy desert of Kuwait. There, you’ll find Camp Arifjan, which is where the Wild’s “other” team is stationed.

Task Force Wild, 1/34 Brigade Special Troops Battalion is two months into a deployment with 52 Minnesotans in the unit. Their group is responsible for base operations at Camp Arifjan, which is basically the equivalent of running a small city with the goal of being “Clean, Functional and Safe.” It also involves command and control oversight, or convoy security of three units. The overall large portion of the combined mission is to help with the drawdown of forces in Iraq as they transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.

That’s a lot to handle for a group of soldiers who “are working extremely hard,” according to Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Bruce Stowe. Every day, they put themselves in harm’s way, yet do so without complaint.

But like everybody else, these men and women need a break, so what else would a unit named “Task Force Wild” do but play hockey, and follow the Wild from the other side of the world.

In a May ceremony at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, the Wild organization was welcomed as the troops prepared to deploy for their mission with their families and friends in attendance. The Wild presented Stowe with a State of Hockey flag, which he says will be raised over Camp Arifjan on Opening Night, when the Wild takes on the Columbus Blue Jackets. The flag is just one of the many Wild-related items that adorn the base, whether it be wall logos, or posters or screen savers on their computers.
But while Stowe and the troops were following along with the offseason news, and eagerly awaiting the start of the season, they weren’t sitting by idly. When they weren't diligently working on their mission, they've been getting plenty of exercise and camaraderie through floor hockey games three nights a week.

“It’s a great time, good workout and excellent stress reliever,” said Stowe. “It’s a way to feel like you’re back home in the State of Hockey.”

The games consist of old school gym floor rules, and teams are picked so the Minnesotans will get teamed up with soldiers from other states. But Stowe thinks his group of Minnesotans are the best out there.

“First Sergeant Kasprzyk has had the hot stick the last week or so,” said Stowe. “Specialist “Flash” Flachmeyer is the pride of the defense, and the goaltending has been rock solid with Sergeants Wittlief and Vang.”

Stowe was sure to add that some of the “old guys” chip into the offense every now and then, and that likely means he’s been lighting the lamp fairly often (he's the guy in the gray T-shirt above about to pound home a stray rebound for a goal.

While they won’t have the crowds at their games like we see here in downtown St. Paul, we wouldn’t have the freedoms that we’re afforded, and the Wild speaks for the State of Hockey in passing on our thanks to Task Force Wild, and letting them know how proud we are to be associated with them and their extremely important mission.

Stowe has promised to provide the Minnesota Wild and with updates on the status of the Battalion, as well as send photos.

The least we can do is pass on Stowe’s words to the folks here in Minnesota:

“Thank you for your support to us, but more importantly to our families. Not an hour goes by that we don’t think about our families, what they are going through, what they need help with and in general how they are doing. The support from communities, friends and neighbors is more appreciated than you could know. The hard work happens back there in Minnesota as our families get on with life without us around to support and help. On behalf of all the soldiers in Task Force Wild…Thank you!” – CSM Bruce Stowe

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