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Tribute honors 191st Military Police Company

Spc. Eric Jorgenson with the 191st Military Police Company based in Fargo was honored Sunday with a medal he never wanted to receive. "You never want a Purple Heart, but I'm honored to be able to wear it," Jorgenson said. Jorgenson was hit by shr...

Defender of Freedom
Marie Henderson pins a Defender of Freedom lapel pin onto her husband, Spc. Alphonse Henderson, who is holding his daughter Leilani, during the tribute Sunday for the 191st Military Police Company at the Fargodome. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Spc. Eric Jorgenson with the 191st Military Police Company based in Fargo was honored Sunday with a medal he never wanted to receive.

"You never want a Purple Heart, but I'm honored to be able to wear it," Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson was hit by shrapnel in his knee in an attack in Iraq in July 2008. He needed surgery to remove it.

Jorgenson was one of five soldiers to receive Purple Heart medals during a homecoming tribute and Freedom Salute Campaign ceremony for the 191st on Sunday at the Fargodome.

The others were: Sgt. Dane Severinson, Spc. Andrew Vanyo, Spc. Stan Manikowski and Spc. Aaron Zabka.

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Most of the 180 soldiers of the 191st returned home in January after spending a year deployed to Iraq. Fifteen soldiers extended their mobilizations, and 12 of those have recently returned home. The last three are expected home within the next four weeks.

"We are the land of the free because we are the home of the brave. You are the brave," Gov. John Hoeven told the soldiers.

The 191st Military Police Company is based in Fargo, with detachments in Bismarck and Mayville. Unit members represent more than 40 communities across the state.

It was the second or third deployment for 60 soldiers, Hoeven said.

"You did something that few Americans are called on to do," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "In every generation there are those who say, 'Take me. Let me sacrifice for our country's freedom.' "

State adjutant general, Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, and Capt. Benjamin Cleghorn, 191st Company commander, inducted Sgt. Megan Dockter and Sgt. Justina Bilby into the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, which recognizes exemplary performance by noncommissioned officers throughout the Army. The club was created in 1986 in recognition of the most decorated soldier in U.S. Army history.

"When we hit the ground, we hit it hard and we hit it running," Cleghorn said, mentioning some of the unit's achievements, including building and reopening 15 schools and training and advising 3,000 Iraqi police.

"Three million people in our areas regained their freedom," Cleghorn said. "Three million people couldn't thank us enough."

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While deployed, the 191st completed nearly 1,300 missions and traveled about 120,000 miles throughout the Baghdad area. Soldiers were recognized for their service with 23 Bronze Star Medals and 153 Army Commendation Medals. Many also were acknowledged for individual achievements.

"This is one fine record that you established," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. "To have you endure that kind of risk on our behalf and all come home again is a beautiful, beautiful achievement."

Sprynczynatyk said support from employers and family made a big difference in the soldiers' ability to focus on the mission.

Marie Henderson of Winnipeg held her sleeping 5-year-old daughter, Leilani, while her husband, Spc. Alphonse Henderson, placed a lapel pin on her shirt in a ceremony all soldiers participated in to acknowledge a spouse or significant other. Marie Henderson then transferred their daughter to her husband and pinned a Defender of Freedom pin to his fatigues.

She said it's nice to be recognized.

The 191st has been awarded the Combat Action Streamer, designated for units with 65 percent or more soldiers receiving the Combat Action Badge. The award recognizes soldiers who engage the enemy or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations.

"We called upon you to do a difficult task," Sprynczynatyk said. "You did it with honor, you did it with pride."

The Freedom Salute Campaign is one of the largest Army National Guard recognition endeavors in history, designed to publicly acknowledge Army Guard Soldiers and those who support them. The campaign started in December 2003.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

Defender of Freedom
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Major Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, right, present Spc. Eric Jorgenson with the Purple Heart medal during the Homecoming Tribute and Freedom Salute for the 191st Military Police Company Sunday at the Fargodome. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

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