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Minnesota National Guard
At last, they're home

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn - The Turchi family, of Eveleth, parked their RV in the Grand Rapids civic center's lot Friday night and made banners by flashlight for their returning Soldier Brenda Winkelaar, of Tower, was up until 2 am, driven by a sudden urge to clean her son's room Janice Laurie, of Esko, cooked her son's favorite food - turkey soup

Families and friends filled the civic center arena Saturday to welcome home 73 Soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard's Charlie Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry

The unit, which is based in Grand Rapids, was on active duty for 22 months - 16 on combat duty in Iraq It was part of a group of 2,600 Minnesota National Guard Soldiers deployed in March 2006 and is the first of that group to return home The Minnesota group deployed in 2006 is the longest-serving military unit fighting the war, according to the Minnesota National Guard The rest of the unit is expected to return in waves next month

Charlie Company entered the civic center to "Stars and Stripes," played by a brass band, and to shouts: "They're coming Here they come They're here" The Soldiers walked in single file, wearing desert camouflage uniforms and solemn faces Then, they stood in a six-line formation in front of their leader, Capt Eduardo Suarez, of Golden Valley, as the crowd whistled, cheered, snapped pictures, cried, hugged and shouted out their names

But everyone except babies quieted after a few moments as they strained to hear what Suarez had to say about "their men" After asking for a moment of silence to acknowledge Soldiers still in combat, he described his unit as a model for others in its courage, determination and diligence carrying out its work "You were the best there," he said

The unit was stationed at the Anaconda base, north of Baghdad The Soldiers' duties included escorting convoys, securing supply routes and protecting logistics bases They completed about 300 reconnaissance missions and drove a total of 30,000 miles But the number 73 is what matters the most, Suarez said That's how many Soldiers went to Iraq - and returned - under his command

"We're all here," he told the crowd

After they were officially dismissed, the Soldiers were free to reunite with loved ones who had waited at home through the deployment and an unexpected extension of the unit's tour announced in January

"I just wanted to touch him," said Janice Laurie, mother of Spc Michael Fossness, 21, of Esko "Everybody has been saying, 'You must feel so much better with him back in the States' But I just had to touch him"

Laurie said the war changed her son in many ways His face is thinner, his voice is lower and he's focused on plans for his future

"He had that boy look before, and now he looks like a man," she said "And before he left, he didn't know what he wanted to do on a particular night"

Now, she said, he talks about "when he gets married and has children," and wants to become a doctor through an Air Force program

Her son said the Soldiers were excited, too, as they entered the city and glimpsed yellow ribbons tied to every light pole, US flags and banners, like the one hanging from someone's front porch that said: "Thank you for our freedom"

"And everything smells so good," Fossness said "I can smell the trees and the grass in the air It's gorgeous"

The crowd number was hard to estimate, but many Soldiers were greeted by at least four family members and friends - and some were met by as many as 20

Spc Joseph Turchi's family decorated the civic center with several homemade banners His dad, Dale Turchi, wrote "48 Love Ya Tonz" on one The 48 referred to his son's number for high school football The words were the ones he wrote at the end of every e-mail he sent to his son

The Turchi family had two members serving in Iraq simultaneously Joe Turchi's sister's husband, Staff Sgt Robert Kiscaden, 35, was called to active duty about a week before he was His sister is Naomi Kiscaden, 30, a nurse at St Cloud Hospital She and her husband, who serves with a Bloomington-based unit expected to return around July 21, have a daughter, Elli, almost 2 She was born three months before her father was called to active duty and has learned to walk and talk during his absence

To help her daughter learn to recognize her daddy, Kiscaden made her a "little daddy," a soft, doll-size figure of her dad in uniform She created "little daddy," with a photograph of him transferred onto fabric

Robert Kiscaden, who has been awarded a Bronze Star in Iraq, served in the Gulf War in 1991 and in Bosnia in 2003, three months after he and his wife were married

"We've been pretty much apart more than together," Naomi Kiscaden said "I'm excited my brother is home, of course, and anxious for my husband at the same time He has one more month It's not over"

Elli, she said, has carried "little daddy" around so much that his image is fading as the fabric wears thin

Ellen Tomson can be reached at etomson@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5455

Ellen Tomson,
June 23, 2007
Source: http://www.twincities.com

View the 1/34th BCT Return Press Release

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