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Minneapolis Guard wing makes return

Few pay attention to speeches as families reunite

By Patrick Howe

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Girlfriends in summer dresses. Husbands with toddlers on piggyback. Grandparents waving flags. Champagne. A uniformed brass band.

America offered its greetings and its rewards to the 150 men and women of the Minnesota National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing who returned home Thursday after four months of flying missions in the Persian Gulf region.

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"All six airplanes are back. Nobody got hurt. We didn't lose a soul," said Dave Caldren, a flight engineer from Lakeville who was greeted by his wife, son and a dozen friends. "It's just awesome to be back in the U.S.A."

"It's been a long four months," said his wife, Lynn, as she filled her husband's glass with champagne. Twice, she said, the families had been told, wrongly, their loved ones were coming home. "This time I said, 'Dave, call me when you're on your way because we just can't handle another letdown.'"

It was the Minnesota National Guard's largest deployment to date and included most of the Wing's C-130 aircraft. But Wing commander Col. Terry Trip said another 102 from the 133rd are still deployed, most of them in southwest Asia.

The actual homecoming was the stuff of a Norman Rockwell picture. Six snub-nosed C-130 cargo planes made as graceful a swoop onto the runway of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport as the ungainly vehicles are capable of.

Soon American flags appeared from the tops of the planes. Then, all at once, the families were set free to dash, crisscrossing one another, across the tarmac into the arms of their uniformed mothers, fathers, daughters, husbands and wives.

"If anyone here did not have chills when the members of the 133rd stepped off those aircraft, then you don't have a pulse," U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad observed during a ceremony for the returnees.

He and other politicians gave speeches of welcome, but the truth is that few were listening.

There was too much hugging to do, too many stories to tell, and too much lost time to be made up.

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