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Their mission: Drum up support for the troops

Minnesota needs to support their troops.

That's the message Kevin Dunaway and Merrilee Carlson are spreading throughout the state. Dunaway, a 30-plus-year Marine veteran, and Carlson, who lost her son a year ago in Iraq, are traveling to different media outlets in the state to let people know the troops need everyone's support.

"You know Minnesotans, unless we get really riled up about something, we don't speak out," Carlson said.

Carlson's driving force is her son, Army Sgt. Michael Carlson.

"I want to share his mission and speak out on behalf of the troops," she said.

Michael Carlson died Jan. 24, 2005, after the Bradley he was riding in rolled over backwards into water. According to the Families United For Our Troops and Their Mission Web site (, "Seven soldiers were in the Bradley; five died, including Michael. A rescue unit was able to save two other soldiers, in large part because before he died, Michael was able to partly pry open the hatch in the vehicle."

It's that legacy and Michael's desire to defend the United States and help rebuild Iraq that keeps his mother traveling.

"The troops need to know they have our complete support," she said,

Families United is an organization Maj. Chuck Larson founded while he was serving in Iraq. The organization seeks Gold Star (families who have lost a family member) and Blue Star (families of someone currently serving or veterans) families to help support the mission.

Dunaway agreed to spread the message because he spent time in Iraq and the good things that were being done there weren't publicized as much as the bad. He said he saw schools open, hospital quality improve and water lines put in just in the months he was there.

A country that had been taken and nearly killed by Saddam Hussein is being converted into "a country that we repaired and Iraqis are starting to own their county again," he said.

He said that people who say they don't support the war yet they support the troops are using twisted logic.

"They're gonna have to make a decision," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Dunaway and Carlson agreed that if the war on terrorism in Iraq isn't finished, "we're going to be fighting this at home," Dunaway said.

"The mission is much bigger than freeing the people."

Carlson said in their travels thus far, they've been met with "overwhelming support, very encouraging."

"We (Families United) have grown in the last couple weeks, and hopefully, it will snowball from there," Carlson said.

The tour is being sponsored by conservative activist group Progress For America, in conjunction with a TV ad campaign running in Minnesota called "Midwest Heroes."

The campaign has been criticized by Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman, among others, as more "political spin" than truth.

"A commercial featuring veterans of the war in Iraq began airing here, telling viewers that the war in Iraq is against the terrorists of 9/11 and that it is going swimmingly," Coleman wrote Feb. 12.

Others, including the right-leaning Power Line blog, say the critics are out of line:

"It's hard to imagine a less controversial exercise of freedom of speech than this message of support (in the TV ad) by three servicemen who have returned from active duty in Iraq, for their mission there," Power Line said in its Feb. 12 edition.