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Minnesota National Guard
Back in the U.S.A.

By FRITZ BUSCH Journal Staff Writer

CAMP DOUGLAS, Wis - Minnesota National Guard Specialist Josh Zupfer of New Ulm made his vacation plans before a chartered DC-10 landed at Volk Field Monday night as the sun began to set in central Wisconsin

After 20 months away from home on active duty and a record-setting 16 months of combat duty in Iraq, Zupfer and 11 of his fellow Soldiers plan to spend a few months apart from each other before uniting again for an October vacation together in Hawaii

"It's awesome to be back here It feels good to be back home,"� Zupfer said after turning in his M-16 rifle and making some cell phone calls

Zupfer was among about 260 Soldiers from the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery based in New Ulm; B Battery of Fairmont and C Company of Iowa Falls, Iowa, who rode the airplane for about 20 hours from Kuwait to Bangor, Maine before landing in Wisconsin

Everybody's got plans

Sgt Al Bonnifield of New Ulm wants to reunite with his family for the first time in 40 months, because one of his brothers also served in Iraq Then he'll vacation in Texas before returning to Minnesota to fish and duck hunt

"I just want to be myself again,"� Bonnifield explained

Craig "CJ" Schmidtke of New Ulm talked about his feelings

"I never realized how beautiful green grass and trees are It's good to be here The family and I will visit my wife's parents on Green Lake, then head to the woods up North,"� Schmidtke said

Scott Krzmarzick of New Ulm plans to travel to Florida to visit his sister and his new niece for the first time before returning to study business at Bethel College He's just one semester from graduation

Major Brad Ommodt of Odin plans take a couple weeks off before going to work by vacationing near Nisswa with his family

Soldiers left the 120-degree, but dry heat of Scania in Southern Iraq and spent a few days in Kuwait before flying back to the United States

In Kuwait, where Soldiers said the sand hangs in the air like fog, they enjoyed the culinary delights of McDonald's, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, Green Bean Coffee and Chinese food for the first time in nearby two years before flying to Maine where it was cool and green outside

Major General Rick Erlandson talked to the Soldiers briefly before they boarded buses to nearby Fort McCoy where they'll spent a week of medical exams, psychological counseling and other out-processing

Then, they'll before ride buses to their home armories and join their families

The process is part of Beyond The Yellow Ribbon, designed to track to Soldiers for three 30-day periods after they return home Events are scheduled 30 days apart to smooth the transition back to civilian life

Erlandson thanked the Soldiers for their record-setting service that he said set the bar high for others to follow

"You truly made a difference, doing a tremendous job with 500 days record-setting, continuous combat zone service that got national recognition You gave the nation of Iraq the opportunity for something better Don't let anybody tell you any different,"� Erlandson explained

He told Soldiers to take the time with their families slowly

"One day at a time You've changed and so have your loved ones They've made sacrifices too,"� Erlandson added

Soldiers were urged to take advantage of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program and all its resources

For more information, visit www.MinnesotaNationalGuard.org

Article source: http://www.nujournal.com/News/articles.asp?articleID=8118

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