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Published May 17 2010

North Dakota soldiers get ‘Salute’ for service in Afghanistan

Forty members of the North Dakota Army National Guard have been back from Afghanistan for nearly four months, but on Sunday, it was their time to be recognized and thanked for their service.

About 200 family members, friends, community members and fellow Guard members came together Sunday morning in Fargo to pay tribute to the 43 members of the Guard’s 1st Battalion 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, who spent a yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan that ended in January.

The soldiers were part of the third group of the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment, or RAID, a mission that’s been dominated by North Dakota National Guard members’ participation and leadership.

“The surveillance mission we do over there is incredibly important,” North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said during the Freedom Salute ceremony for the soldiers. “It’s about keeping our soldiers safe, and because of what you do, you save lives in Afghanistan.”

Using sensor technology, the Guard soldiers worked to protect forward operating bases in Afghanistan that house U.S. and coalition forces. They were based out of Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and five other operating bases in Afghanistan.

Three of the 43 soldiers in the regiment volunteered for another yearlong tour and are currently participating in the fourth RAID mission there.

Sunday’s ceremony was part of the Freedom Salute campaign, which originated in December 2003 as a way to recognize those Army National Guard soldiers who are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and assist in homeland security efforts in the United States.

“It’s a great feeling. I really don’t have words to express it,” said Sgt. Jorge Elizondo of Grand Forks.

This was Elizondo’s second overseas deployment, and like him, more than half of the soldiers were on their second or third overseas deployment.

“Now that you’re back, settled down and on with your lives, we want to take this time to really communicate from the bottom of our hearts how incredibly grateful we are for your service,” Rep. Earl Pomeroy told the Guard members. “I hope you sense it in a very real, tangible way, the extraordinary gratitude that North Dakotans have for the service you provide.”

The soldiers were presented with various awards in honor of their service. Awards also were given to the soldiers’ spouses and children in recognition of their support for their loved ones who serve.

“We ask a lot of our soldiers, but they always come through, and they demonstrate a patriotism that is so valuable to this nation,” said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. “Our nation is forever grateful to each of you.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541