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Dave Olson, Published January 29 2010

Demobilized, energized: Returning Guard soldiers hungry for normalcy

FORT McCOY, Wis. - After a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, E-4 Spc. Forrest Wells of the North Dakota Army National Guard had his culinary future in Fargo all mapped out.

“I’m going to get some Subway,” Wells said Thursday after having lunch at Fort McCoy, which he hopes was his last Army meal for a while.

Wells and about 40 other guardsmen later boarded buses bound for North Dakota, where homecoming celebrations awaited them in Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck.

Wells and fellow members of the 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed in early 2009 to Afghanistan, where their mission was to monitor high-tech cameras and other equipment to watch for enemy activity near forward operating bases.

Their stint in Afghanistan now up, they arrived in Wisconsin on Tuesday and spent the next several days going through demobilization, a process that largely involved a lot of paperwork.

Time to relax

On Thursday, the soldiers received a visit at Fort McCoy from Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, who congratulated them on “a very successful deployment, a very safe deployment.”

He then gave each soldier a special coin, which he said is a military ritual with a long-standing history.

Another Guard commander, Col. Robert Walton, welcomed the soldiers back with advice on making the transition to civilian life a smooth one.

“Take time to relax,” he said.

“You gotta relax,” he stressed, “because you’ve been going 90 miles an hour for so long.”

Walton encouraged the soldiers to check on each other frequently and to offer help if they sense a buddy is having difficulty adjusting.

“It’s extremely important to touch base,” he said.

‘Behind the wire’

The North Dakota soldiers were “behind the wire” for most of their deployment in Afghanistan and didn’t mingle much with the country’s population, said Capt. Amber Monette, the unit’s commander.

Afghanistan is very underdeveloped and dotted with small villages, not cities, she said.

Because there are few media outlets, Monette said many Afghans don’t know what is going on in the country.

American and coalition forces attempt to explain to people their reasons for being there by dropping leaflets and broadcasting radio messages, she said.

The Taliban also works to win people to its side and uses money as an inducement, she said.

But, she added, most of the people realize the danger the Taliban pose.

Eating lunch with her fellow soldiers Thursday, Monette said most were eager for the same things.

“To see their family and friends – and relaxation,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555