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Sherri Richards, Published September 12 2010

Happy Hooligans honored for their service to the US

The line of airmen curved around the massive hangar: men and women being honored for serving their country and their state. It was a salute to these Happy Hooligans and their family members.

More than 250 airmen were honored during the Hometown Heroes Salute on Saturday morning at the North Dakota Air National Guard base in north Fargo.

These airmen were deployed 30 or more consecutive days between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2008. Many have been deployed multiple times around the world.

Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, was a day for remembrance. But at this event, the focus was on congratulating and thanking these heroes.

“Today, we’re not here to dwell on the tragedies of Sept. 11,” said Col. Rick Gibney, commander of the 119th Wing in Fargo. “We are here instead to recognize all that has happened since then. We are here to salute the many airmen of the 119th Wing who have since raised their hands, many times, and volunteered to deploy in the defense of our nation.”

One by one, the airmen crossed a stage with a backdrop of an American flag and shook hands with Gibney, Gov. John Hoeven, North Dakota Adjutant General Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk and former wing commander Col. Robert Becklund.

Each airman will receive a framed letter. Their spouse will receive a pen-and-pencil set, and their children engraved dog tags.

Following the ceremony, airmen and their families celebrated Family Day at the base. Sprynczynatyk said the connection was fitting.

“If it weren’t for the family members and the support they provide, we wouldn’t be able to do the job that’s asked of us,” he said.

Since 9/11, the Air Guard has had 1,800 deployments. Next year, the Hometown Heroes Salute ceremony will honor airmen deployed Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010.

Col. Mike Wobbema was deployed to Iraq exactly 365 days, from January 2007 to January 2008. His mission was to create the programs that would train an Iraqi air force.

“I think it’s nice for the airmen to get that recognition for their efforts,” he said. “Especially in this arena, to get the recognition in front of their peers and with their peers.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556