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m4740 BC-MN-Iraq-GuardHomecom 3rdLd-Writethru 06-23 0447

Tears, cheers as Minn. Guard unit returns home

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AP Photos MNAH101-105, MNVIR101-102

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. (AP) — After more than a year in Iraq, a Minnesota National Guard company returned home Saturday to hugs, cheers and tears of joy.

American flags and yellow ribbons tied to streetlight posts lined the route and people held "Welcome Home Troops" signs as the bus caravan carrying the soldiers traveled through town to the IRA Civic Center, which was decorated with red, white and blue balloons.

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About 1,000 people were at the auditorium clapping and cheering as the soldiers entered, finally home after spending nearly 16 months in a combat zone.

"I don’t even recognize him, he’s grown so much," Janice Laurie of Grand Rapids said as she stood near her son, Spc. Michael Fosness, 21.

The Grand Rapids-based Charlie Company, Second Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry is part of the Guard’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which has served longer in combat than any other Minnesota unit since World War II. Most of the rest of the 2,600 troops in the team are expected to return home in waves in mid- to late July.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team was mobilized in the fall of 2005 for what was supposed to be a 12-month deployment. But President Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq has kept them there four months longer than initially planned.

While in Iraq, the 73 members of Charlie Company were responsible for escorting convoys, securing supply routes and protecting logistics bases.

"We are all here. We made it," said Capt. Eduardo Suarez of Golden Valley, company commander, as the crowd broke into roaring cheers. There was only one injury. Spec. Skeeter Tomczak of the Hibbing area returned home a couple of months ago and is expected to fully recover.

"It’s awesome to be here," Suarez said. "Our mission is complete."

But he noted that soldiers will encounter challenges adjusting to life at home.

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"Life as you knew it isn’t quite the same anymore. But you all can do it. We will fine our stride again here at home," Suarez said.

The soldiers and their families will be involved in National Guard reintegration training sessions called "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" for the next few months to help them adjust back to their civilian lives.

"I’m going to miss you," Suarez said to the soldiers, fighting back tears. "You’ve been like family the last two years."

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On the Net:

Minnesota National Guard: http://www.minnesotanationalguard.org

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