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North Dakota National Guard troops based in Bismarck and Grand Forks arrive home

GRAND FORKS - A 37-member unit of the North Dakota National Guard hit stateside Wednesday after spending exactly one year "boots on the ground," fighting in the war in Afghanistan.

GRAND FORKS - A 37-member unit of the North Dakota National Guard hit stateside Wednesday after spending exactly one year "boots on the ground," fighting in the war in Afghanistan.

The unit flew into Fort Hood, Texas, late Wednesday afternoon, where they will spend about a week "demobilizing," and then return to North Dakota. Two had arrived earlier and were on hand to greet the others.

The soldiers are members of the Guard's 1-188th Air Defense Artillery Battalion's Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) unit, which is split-based between Bismarck and Grand Forks.

The two members of the unit who returned early did so on emergency leave. There were no casualties in the unit.

Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hornbaker, 32, and his step-daughter, Spc. Kelli Kuznia, came home early when his infant grandson - her nephew - died suddenly late last year, Hornbaker said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Fort Hood. He and Kuznia traveled to Texas to greet their comrades Wednesday, along with a contingent of Guard commanders, including Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general for the state Guard.


The unit went on active duty in November 2006, and arrived in Afghanistan Jan. 23, 2007, said Sgt. Amy Willson of the Guard's communications office, who was part of the greeting group.

The unit is commanded by Maj. Jonathan Erickson, Bismarck, and the senior non-commissioned officer is 1st Sgt. John Waters, of Emerado, N.D. Like many, Hornbaker and Kuznia were attached to other Guard units but volunteered to deploy with the RAID unit.

Hornbaker, 32, works full-time for the Guard at Camp Grafton near Devils Lake, as does Kuznia. The unit has six women soldiers.

The unit split into four-soldier teams, which were assigned to coalition forward operating bases and other bases to provide surveillance and security using high-tech lenses, including night-vision and spotting scopes.

The lenses would be mounted on towers about 100 feet tall, and could be moved to show 360-degrees by RAID members operating from controlled facilities on the ground, Hornbaker explained. "On many occasions, we were under mortar and rocket attack," he said. And they helped stop attacks on the bases from time to time. They would forward information from their lenses to the "battle space commander," running things at each base, sometimes in real time during attacks, Hornbaker said.

"Basically, we had the ability to give the eyes - not the ears - for our battle space commander so he can fight the war," Hornbaker said.

The teams lived in small, four-person wooden huts.

He and other Guard soldiers would interact with Afghanis on a daily basis, often drinking tea with them.


"From what I know, we are doing a good job over there," Hornbaker said. "All our guys are positive, doing a good job providing some type of stability for Afghanistan."

It was great having a close relative serving with him, Hornbaker said, but he did have added concern. "I worried about her and she worried about me. We were located in two different areas, primarily, during the whole year . . . We are both in the military and know what we have to do. And now it's nice to be home and safe and healthy."

Earlier this month, 187 members of the Guard's 191st Military Police Company left for Fort Dix, N.J., to begin active duty. Within a month, they are expected to be on the ground in Iraq, providing security for U.S. troops.

More than 4,000 members of the North Dakota National Guard have been called to federal active duty, mostly in Iraq or Afghanistan, since Sept. 11, 2001. About 325 state Guard soldiers are on active duty now.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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