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Minnesota National Guard
Chilly weather doesn't hamper warm welcome for returning soldiers

By Dan Nienaber Free Press Staff Writer

April 29, 2012 ST PETER -
A snappy breeze and frosty drops of rain didn't keep dozens of proud parents, siblings and friends from waiting along the streets of St Peter Sunday to welcome their soldiers home

Grant Wiest's father, stepmother, twin brother and five other siblings didn't think twice about heading for cover during the drizzle They just looked down Minnesota Avenue, also Highway 169, and waited They knew there were four buses coming and Grant, of Le Sueur, would be waiving from the passenger seat of number two

"We miss him and he's been gone long enough," his father, Lyle Wiest said "We're ready for him to be home"

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion 125th Field Artillery had been in Kuwait for about nine months Add in several weeks of training before they left and debriefing once they were back in the United States, and they were away from home for two weeks short of a year

The 70 or so soldiers returning to St Peter were among about 2,500 Minnesota soldiers who have been returning from deployments in Kuwait The St Peter soldiers and another group of area soldiers, which returned to New Ulm Sunday, are members of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team That group has the distinction of being the largest deployment of Minnesota National Guard soldiers since World War II

During their Kuwait deployment, the brigade was participating in Operation New Dawn, which, as the final phase of the Iraq War, involved moving US forces out of Iraq

Led by police squad cars, fire trucks and motorcycles, the buses made a quick trip around St Peter before pulling into the city's National Guard Armory Once the soldiers were off their buses, lined up and standing at a attention, it didn't take long to zip through the formalities and move on to the important business

The man who had called them to attention just seconds earlier didn't say much before he set the anxious men and women free

"Thanks for your service and good job," he said "Company dismissed"

Both the soldiers and the crowd around them responded with a cacophony of yeas and woo-hoos

One of the woo-hoos in the crowd came from Krystal Sprint of Mankato She was holding a bright green sign that said, "Felicia My hero My sister"

"She's my best friend and it was a long deployment," Sprint said after welcoming her sister, Felicia Vandenest, home

Vandenest was able to come home for a two-week leave during December, but she had to be back on duty just days before Christmas

"It was kind of like a teaser to come home and see all the lights then, boom, I was back in Kuwait," she said "It seems like it was all just a dream now You look back on it and so much happened and the days were so long it just flew by"

Vandenest planned to go home and enjoy a quiet dinner with her dad, Brian Vandenest of La Salle, and her sisters Sunday night The Southwest Minnesota State University student had no solid plans for the rest of the summer, except that she knows it will include a lot of grilling, camping and kicking back

"I'm going to school," she said "I have all summer to relax"
Article source
http://mankatofreepress.com/local/x157475799/Chilly-weather-doesn-t-hamper-warm-welcome-for-returning-soldiers



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