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Minnesota National Guard
Thousands welcome troops home to Bemidji

Thousands of appreciative well wishers lined the streets of Bemidji Sunday afternoon to welcome home members of the Minnesota National Guard A Co 2nd Combined Arms Battalion 136th Infantry who have been serving in Iraq Their bus, escorted by State Patrol, County Sheriff's deputies and Bemidji police and fire personnel, arrived about 3 pm at the south end of town and made its way to the John Glas Fieldhouse at Bemidji State University, where dozens of Patriot Guard members stood at attention

The troops were welcomed by Mayor Richard Lehmann and then dismissed by 1st Sgt Jon Solberg The Soldiers reported seeing huge crowds from city to city along their route to Bemidji

Emotional reunions followed as the Guard members embraced family and friends Sisters Lucy, 3, and Lauren Omberg, 6, were dressed all in red, white and blue and held colorful signs welcoming home their daddy

Lucy was just a baby when Clayton Omberg went to Iraq He was home for Thanksgiving last year but otherwise has talked to his daughters and his wife, Amanda, through a webcam over the Internet

"Lauren has a lot of apprehension," Amanda said before the troops arrived "He's been deployed before I don't think she thinks he's going to stay home"

Later, Clayton gathered two very happy little girls up in his arms, noting that Laura had gotten heavier

"He's a good dad," Amanda said proudly

The Ombergs aren't quite home yet They live in Lakeville, Minn, just south of the Twin Cities Clayton, who graduated from high school in Cass Lake, works at the Mall of America in Bloomington as a maintenance technician

"I stayed with the Bemidji unit because they're such great guys," he said "I drive five hours every drill weekend"

In addition to the family and friends here at home, about 20 people came from the Twin Cities to welcome Clayton home

"There were people all over, welcoming us home, pretty much from Brainerd on," he said "Every little town, they were out there supporting us"

One of the adjustments Clayton will have to make is to dress himself again, he said, noting his camouflage attire "These aren't going on again until they have to"

Guardsman Brad Wagner gave his wife, Laura, a long-awaited kiss after the troops were dismissed, and embraced his children, Ben, 12, Madi, 9, and Jack, 5

"It's a little overwhelming," he said

Chris Jaranson met his niece, 2-week-old McKenzee Lausche, the daughter of his sister, Nicole Lausche

"That's great," Jaranson said "I'm an uncle"

Jaranson had never even seen a picture of McKenzee, but had heard her cry over the telephone, said Lausche, whose husband, Travis, was an active duty Soldier in Iraq from 2004-05

Cpl Michael Klasse held his nephew, Landon Waldvogel, 3-1/2 months old

"It's just wonderful," Klasse said of arriving home to family and friends "I'm very anxious to do as little as possible"

"The community has been unbelievable," said Staff Sgt Seth Martell, who works full time at the Bemidji National Guard Armory

Martell the Soldiers' return and the welcome went without a hitch He received only three phone calls Sunday, and they were all merely updates The only hitch was that they arrived slightly later than expected, but to those who welcomed them, it was worth the wait

"These family members -- you heard the screaming," Martell said "This is something they wanted for a long time"

The approximately 200 Soldiers in A Company were deployed in October 2005 for a one-year service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but their deployment was extended The Bemidji-based Soldiers were among 2,600 in the biggest National Guard call-up since World War II

There were no fatalities in the Bemidji detachment, although some Soldiers were wounded, some of them seriously The Detroit Lakes detachment lost Greg Riewer of Frazee, Minn, and Joshua Hanson of Dent, Minn

Guardsman Eric Alger wore a pair of black bracelets on his wrist in honor of each of the fallen Soldiers Most of his fellow Guardsmen also were wearing the bracelets, he said

The support the Soldiers received during their return home speaks volumes about the people of northern Minnesota, Martell said

"Whether you're for the war or against the war, it really doesn't matter," he said "You support the group It speaks to what this community is all about"

Martell noted that so many entities took part in the welcome of the troops: Bemidji Police Department, Bemidji Fire Department, Beltrami County Sheriff's Office, Minnesota State Patrol, the Patriot Guard, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Junior ROTC from Bemidji High School, Boy Scouts, Hubbard County Sheriff's Office, Cass County Sheriff's Office, Walker Police Department, Walker Fire Department, Walker EMT, Legion Riders, Bemidji State University and RP Broadcasting

"All these groups made it happen," Martell said

A citywide public celebration is planned for Aug 25

Laurie Swenson Bemidji Pioneer
Published Sunday, July 22, 2007

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