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Every Minnesotan who signs up for the National Guard knows their service comes with risk. Sometimes it is the risk of deployment to an active combat mission overseas. A look at the Minnesota National Guard's "Our Fallen" page includes a roster of those who died in faraway lands: Fallujah, Baghdad, Bagram.

Sometimes, the risk is closer to home. But the sacrifice can be the same.

Three of Minnesota's best died Thursday when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter they were flying out of St. Cloud crashed. The crew had lost communications with the Guard just moments into what should have been a routine maintenance flight. The nearly seven-ton craft plummeted onto a farmer's field, becoming a tangled mass of metal.

The names of the crew members were being withheld until family members had been notified. But they will be added to the list of the fallen, having died in the service of their state and nation.

Minnesota Guard members have a dual mission. Yes, they are called out in times of state emergency. They have helped in blizzards, wildfires, storms, floods and tornadoes. They've also been deployed to active combat in hot spots around the world, playing important roles in missions to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere.

Tragically, some lost their lives in those missions. But somehow the pain is even sharper when those lives are lost so close to home, so close to the holidays that they would have celebrated with their loved ones.

Gov. Tim Walz, a 24-year member in the Army National Guard, canceled a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony that was to have taken place Thursday. Instead, in an emotion-choked statement, he confirmed the deaths and offered his condolences. "My heart breaks for all the families, the friends and fellow soldiers," he said. "The coming days will be dark and difficult."

We join in the grief of the families and friends of the fallen. We are reminded anew of the fragility of life and of the commitment and courage of the brave men and women who voluntarily give of their time to serve and protect us all.

Minnesota owes them its deepest thanks.