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Area troops returning home

Army National Guard troops based in Moorhead and several northwestern Minnesota cities will arrive home Friday after serving nearly six months overseas as part of a NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

Army National Guard troops based in Moorhead and several northwestern Minnesota cities will arrive home Friday after serving nearly six months overseas as part of a NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

Minnesota National Guard officials said Wednesday that 112 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment will arrive by bus in Moorhead about 2 p.m.

Most of the troops are from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, based in Moorhead and Fergus Falls, with about 15 each coming from B Company based in Crookston and Thief River Falls, and C Company based in Detroit Lakes and Bemidji, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Gary Olson.

The troops are now going through processing at Fort McCoy, Wis.

"We're really looking forward to a big turnout to welcome the guys home," Olson said. "It's been a long eight months. It's important for the community to welcome their sons and fathers and brothers home."

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Another 220 guardsmen with companies B and C are still in Bosnia completing their mission. They have moved from outlying bases to Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia. They should return by March, Olson said.

Another 100 troops from A Company are in Kosovo for peacekeeping, Olson said. Those troops, based in Alexandria and East St. Paul, will return in September, he said.

The 136th will be met at Eighth Street South and Interstate 94 in Moorhead, then be escorted to the armory by police, fire and sheriff's department vehicles and an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, said Guard spokesman Capt. John Dorin.

"Our vision is to have as many people stacked up on that street as possible," Dorin said.

The Minnesota Guardsmen were called up June 23 and trained until September, when they were sent to Bosnia as part of the stabilization force that has maintained peace in the country since it's bitter 1992-95 war of secession from the former Yugoslavia.

Starting the process

In other Guard news, a small advance group for the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion of the North Dakota National Guard is now at Fort Carson, Colo., preparing the way for that group to return from Iraq. The 142nd, which has its headquarters in Fargo, also has a company based at Camp Ripley, Minn.

Sgt. First Class Rob Keller, a spokesman for the North Dakota Guard, said the group of about 10 soldiers will get paperwork, housing and equipment storage prepared for their comrades, now starting to stage their return in Kuwait.

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"It will help streamline the demobilization process, vs. just showing up cold turkey at Fort Carson," Keller said Wednesday.

Worked out of a job

The 2/136th, part of the 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division, started its early return thanks to a decision by NATO to cutback from 12,000 soldiers in its stabilization force to 7,000 soldiers.

Olson said the success that his troops saw in their mission helped senior commanders reach the decision to cut back on the troops needed in Bosnia.

"Our guys have really contributed to our success," Olson said. "The guys, no matter what we asked them to do, they stepped up to the plate and made things happen."

The 2/136th brought in 30 tons of weapons that had been kept in hiding since Bosnia's war, Olson said. That was nearly three times as many as three previous groups of troops had gathered, he said. That number should hit 35-40 tons of rifles, machine guns, grenades and ammunition by the time the last of his battalion comes home, he said.

In addition, they ran more than 2,800 patrols in all weather, day and night, logging more than 500,000 miles with just one minor traffic accident.

The Minnesota Guard troops also distributed about $50,000 in needed school supplies and other humanitarian aid to needy Bosnians, he said.

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Olson praised the family readiness groups and area employers for their help. Plus, despite the deployments, recruiting has pushed the battalion to 811 troops, well above its authorized strength of 738, he said. (The majority of the troops not deployed overseas were still going through training, Olson said.)

"It's been a phenomenal year for us," he said.

Home by mid-March?

Keller said there is no date set for getting the bulk of North Dakota's troops back from Iraq, which also includes the Bismarck-based 957th Multi-Role Bridge Co.

"We theoretically should see soldiers start arriving back in North Dakota on or about the 15th of March. The caveat is, there's 110,000 soldiers coming into Kuwait and Iraq and 130,000 soldiers leaving," Keller said. "You're going to have this bottleneck, but I think the military is doing an awesome job of coordinating the movement."

Keller said most of the equipment for the 142nd and 957th is in Kuwait or will be shortly. He expects that some soldiers will be flown to Fort Carson in early March.

"It's kind of like looking at the end of a long tunnel. In the eyes of the 142nd and the 957th, that light is getting very, very bright, and it's not the train coming. We're very excited about that," Keller said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583 and Joy Anderson at (701) 241-5556

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