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Minnesota National Guard
Welcome Home! Walker, Laporte Soldiers return home after 16 months in Iraq

It was a homecoming many thought would never come

Twenty-two months after they first left Minnesota, 16 months of which were spent in combat zones in Iraq, 40 Soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard A Co 2nd Combined Arms Battalion 136th Infantry Red Dogs returned home Sunday afternoon, after a bus ride from Fort McCoy, Wis, to Bemidji

Six of the Soldiers on the bus that left Wisconsin about 5:30 am Sunday morning were from the Walker area

Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School graduates Eric Alger, David Nelson, Isaac Peck and Jeff Woodford, along with Kasey Kampfer of Laporte and Kris Kolkin of Cass Lake, were greeted by thousands who turned out on city streets, waving US flags and holding up "Welcome Home" signs

The welcome home was suppose to happen four months ago, but the Minnesota unit's tour was extended, making them the longest-serving unit in Operation Iraqi Freedom

The towns of Backus, Hackensack, Walker, Laporte and Bemidji came out in full force to welcome the troops home Between 300 and 400 people lined Highway 371 in Hackensack, while there were about 1,500 people in Walker

The motorcade was led by Minnesota State Highway Patrol, sheriff's departments, fire and ambulance crews, and Legion Riders

The bus arrived at John Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji shortly after 3 pm After a brief welcome from Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehman, First Sgt John Solberg addressed the Soldiers before dismissing them to their families

For the first time in 22 months, the Soldiers were home to stay, as cheers went up, long-awaited embraces were shared and tears were shed

"I saw a lot of people I wasn't expecting to see up here and on the streets of Walker," said Woodford who added, "It's great to be home" He, like so many of the Soldiers, had an emotional reunion with his parents and other family members, his girlfriend and friends "We didn't expect this much of a turnout Hackensack was huge, and we kind of assumed Walker would be the same thing It was unbelievable"

Peck, who now resides in Hibbing, said the experience was overwhelming

"It's awesome I knew there was going to be a turnout, but I didn't expect anything like this It's pretty amazing," he said "There had to be more people in Walker than the entire population" Greeting Peck in Bemidji were several family members, including his wife Toni and 16-month-old son Avery

"It's been tough being away," the 1999 graduate said, referring to not seeing his son for almost the entire first 16 months of his life Peck's last time home was last November, when he had two weeks of leave

Several family members and friends also turned out for Kampfer

"I don't even know how to describe it," Kampfer said when asked how it feels to be home "Seeing everybody here and how much they supported us is awesome"

The Laporte community also lined streets of their town to welcome home Kampfer, who received a Purple Heart after he was injured, but was able to return to duty

"I never knew that many people would come to that town It's a small town, but there were a lot of people there," he said "It was great to see all the people, and my family"

The last two area Soldiers who are expected to return home this week are Lt. Col. Gregg Parks, the unit's commander, and Aaron Reuter Parks will return to Walker Friday afternoon, while Reuter's return is not known

A celebration for the Red Bulls has been planned at Bemidji State University for Aug 25, while the date for a public welcome of the Walker-area Soldiers has not yet been set

These reunions have been happening around the state over the last few weeks, as Soldiers continue to return home

Nicole Feldhege, a member of B Company 134th Brigade and a Walker native, returned home from Fort McCoy last week She was part of a group of troops that arrived at Camp Ripley Friday

Since arriving in Iraq in March 2006, the unit was credited with reducing the attacks in the Anbar Province by about 80 percent, including detaining more than 300 Al Qaeda forces

by Dean Morrill, Editor, The Pilot-Independent
July 25, 2007
Article source: www.walkermn.com

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