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Group aims to bring soldiers home for holidays

Josh and Jordan Colemer are counting the days until their father, Lt. David Colemer, returns home for Christmas from military training in southern Mississippi.

Josh and Jordan Colemer are counting the days until their father, Lt. David Colemer, returns home for Christmas from military training in southern Mississippi.

It will likely be the last holiday Josh, 10, and Jordan, 5, spend with him until 2007.

Colemer and other members of their Moorhead-based National Guard unit - 2nd Battalion/136th Infantry - were deployed Oct. 4 for six months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss., followed by a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq.

The unit has 10 days off over Christmas, and many families like the Colemers are hoping for one last reunion before soldiers head to Iraq.

The military has lined up buses for members of the 2nd Battalion/136th Infantry, but the soldiers are required to cover the cost of a $270 ticket. Taking a charter bus for the 22-hour drive from Mississippi to Moorhead will get soldiers home faster, said Krista Colemer, wife of David Colemer.

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But deployment has put a financial burden on some families. So they've joined forces to raise money to bring their soldiers home for the holidays.

The Family Readiness Group of Moorhead hopes to raise $25,000 - or $100 per family - in Operation Happy Holidays. The group's mission is to ensure families spend the holidays together.

"For most people, this will be the last time to see their soldiers before they head out," said Kimberly Biby of Moorhead, secretary for the Family Readiness Group.

The 18-month deployment will be the longest of David Colemer's military career. He was deployed to Bosnia for a nine-month peace-keeping mission and has served 17 years in the military - five with Moorhead's National Guard unit.

Having him home for Christmas before his yearlong deployment is priceless, Krista Colemer said. "Holidays are the hardest because you do things as a family," she said.

Four-year-old Katelyn Dathe wished she had turned 5 before her father, Master Sgt. Gary Dathe, was deployed with the unit. She knows he won't be able to celebrate her birthday in April, although she keeps asking her mother, Kristina Dathe, if he'll be home next Christmas.

"This is our only for-sure time we'll get to see him, so it's a really big deal," said Kristina Dathe, who lives in Fargo with her daughter and two sons, Zach, 9, and Alex, 7.

Gary Dathe has been with the Moorhead unit for more than 10 years. He was deployed to Iraq for nine months during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s as part of an active-duty Army unit.

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Kristina Dathe said military personnel get two weeks' leave during overseas deployment, but the time off isn't guaranteed.

This makes her family's time together over the holidays that much more important, she said.

"It will be huge for the kids," she said. "My daughter may not be able to comprehend how long he will be gone."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Joe Whetham at (701) 241-5557

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