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Andi Murphy, Published July 24 2010

Returning troops get warm welcome

For 131 troops who were stationed overseas in Kosovo, returning home to Fargo after 10 months was a happy reunion Friday at the Fargo Air Museum.

“Are you excited to see me?” 1st Lt. Luke Malheim asked his daughter Isabelle.

“Yeah,” the 4-year-old said before bashfully pressing her face into her father’s neck and hugging him tighter.

Being half a world away from his family was tough, said Malheim, one of about 650 North Dakota National Guard troops sent overseas last year for a peacekeeping mission.

In Kosovo, troops did patrols in the community and helped with security. They also worked with military from Sweden, Hungary and Germany, which was Malheim’s favorite experience, he said.

“I feel relieved,” wife Holly Malheim said. “Especially having a little one, it’s a long time. So we’re glad to have him back.”

Throughout Luke Malheim’s deployment, his family was in constant contact with him, thanks to Skype technology, which let Isabelle see her father’s face, Holly Malheim said.

Although Luke Malheim missed his daughter’s birthday, the family is going to plan family activities – maybe camping – before he has to ship off again, Holly Malheim said.

“I’m very proud that he’s my son, and I’m proud of what he’s done,” Luke Malheim’s mother, Kim Vedder, said. “It’s a wonderful feeling that everyone came out.”

As a mother, she was always wondering if her son was safe while he was gone, she said. To other families with loved ones overseas, they “just have to have a lot of faith in God,” Vedder said.

Camouflage-clad soldiers stood in groups with their family and friends. They smiled and posed for pictures with their cousins or grandparents. Some took off their heavy military backpacks and gave them to their sisters or brothers to wear.

A couple of children waved small American flags and held clusters of shiny “Welcome Home” and star-shaped balloons.

About a dozen Patriot Guard Riders sat on their motorcycles and watched the scene. Small American, POW and veteran flags hung from the seats of their Harleys and V-Star motorcycles.

“It’s a great experience to bring soldiers home,” Capt. Mark Topp said. “It’s a great experience to see them reuniting with their families after being away for a year.”

Topp served one tour in Iraq and two in Kosovo. He returned home three months ago but went back to Kosovo to escort troops home, he said.

When Topp returned, it was only his wife and young daughter who welcomed him home. The welcome home event at the Air Museum was an awesome site coordinated by military officials stationed in Fargo, he said.

“It takes a little bit of time to get back into how things are done (at home),” Topp said. “Within a couple of weeks, it’s like you never left.”

Today, more than 80 troops will arrive in Bismarck while more than 30 soldiers will arrive in smaller cities throughout the state. About 40 troops from North Dakota remain in Kosovo, but they are expected to return by month’s end.

In May, about 160 soldiers of the 231st Maneuver Task Force, based in Valley City, and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade returned home.

“We truly appreciate everything that they dedicate themselves for,” Ed “EJ” Foy Jr., a World War II Marine veteran, said.

Foy is a member of the North Dakota Patriot Guard Riders and rides a

V-Star Classic. He remembers there was no one to welcome him back from the war. He walked to his house after his long journey to the Fargo train station from the Pacific in the mid-1940s, he said.

“It always gives you that really appreciative, great feeling knowing that there are such great people that want to stand up for and defend this country – and all the super and great things it stands for,” Foy said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Andi Murphy at (701) 235-7311