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Forum staff reports, Published December 05 2010

North Dakota soldiers back on U.S. soil from Iraq and Afghanistan

FARGO – About 70 soldiers from the North Dakota Army National Guard are back on U.S. soil today after nearly a year in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Grand Forks-based 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment mobilized in three groups in November 2009.

With their return, the number of North Dakota Guardsmen serving overseas has reached a low not seen since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Guard said in a news release. About a dozen soldiers and airmen remain deployed in locations across the globe.

The 1-188th soldiers are expected back in North Dakota within a week, and the Guard’s public affairs office will publish arrival times when they’re finalized. A smaller group of soldiers returned to North Dakota last month ahead of the main group.

The deployment was a first-of-its-kind mission for two of the 1-188th groups. They operated the Sentinel Radar, which can alert short-range air defense weapons to sites of hostile targets. About 25 soldiers were in Afghanistan and eight in Iraq for that mission.

The third group of about 40 soldiers used the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) tower system in Afghanistan to protect forward operating bases. It was the fourth such mission for the 1-188th.

Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota’s adjutant general, and other senior leaders met the returning soldiers to thank them for their service as they deplaned in Fort Hood, Texas, the news release stated.

“For the past year, these soldiers have been saving lives of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Sprynczynatyk stated in the release. “In the meantime, their families have been stepping up to new roles in their absence. Their service, both our soldiers and their families, has benefited the U.S. and our allies, and we owe them our sincerest thanks.”

Capt. Walyn Vannurden of Cavalier commanded both Afghanistan groups, and 1st Sgt. Gregory Brockberg of Moorhead was the senior enlisted soldier there. Sgt. 1st Class Michael Kraft of Devils Lake served as the senior leader in Iraq.

The soldiers belong to units in Grand Forks as well as Fargo and Bismarck, and hail from 31 communities across North Dakota and Minnesota, the release stated.