Iowa National Guard members once had hot desert as far as the eye could see. Now the only sand will be in sandtraps. Members of the longest-serving unit in Operation Iraqi Freedom are being honored this weekend. The First Battalion, 133rd Infantry, is taking over the Eagle Ridge Golf Resort in Galena, Illinois, on Saturday.

Don Pleau, the resort’s spokesman, says the 18-hole golf tournament for the troops will start at 11 o’clock and will be followed by a dinner buffet with several keynote speakers addressing the "Ironman Battalion." Among the guests, Brigadier General William Weir, Sergeant Major of the Army Jack Tilley and Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Ron Dardis. Pleau says the golf course will only be open to the 150 or so golfing soldiers during the special event.

Pleau says the course will be lined with American flags and the troops will be bringing in a variety of their vehicles to show off, adding, "The entire event is just for them." The battalion has soldiers from Guard units based in Waterloo, Dubuque, Oelwein, Iowa Falls and Charles City — with soldiers hailing from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Pleau says this is something the employees of the resort have wanted to do for the troops for a long time.

He says: "The message we’re trying to send is a thank you. These men and women volunteered. They were deployed in Iraq. We want to bring attention to their service, to their patriotism and just a heart-felt thank you for what they do for our country."

The 600-member unit returned from duty in July of 2007 after a 22-month deployment which included 16 months in Iraq. They served 725 days, the longest an Iowa Guard unit has been deployed since World War Two. Pleau says the golf course itself is appropriately named for the military duffers.

The course is nicknamed "The General," after Civil War general and former President Ulysses S. Grant, who once had a home in Galena. The front-nine is known as "The Court Martial" and the back-nine is called "The Assassination" as it’s such a challenging course. Pleau says it’s been listed as one of America’s top 100 public play courses since it opened a decade ago.