Soldier on bin Laden: ‘I’m happy they got him finally’Nearly 200 members of a South Dakota National Guard unit were welcomed home Tuesday and praised after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, with the governor and their commander also spreading thanks to the community during a homecoming celebration.
By: Wayne Ortman, Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS — Nearly 200 members of a South Dakota National Guard unit were welcomed home Tuesday and praised after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, with the governor and their commander also spreading thanks to the community during a homecoming celebration.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard told members of the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade that their friends and relatives made sacrifices the past year to keep things going at home.
“When someone signs up to be a member of the National Guard, the whole family signs up,” Daugaard said.
The unit was stationed in Kabul, where troops provided various support services for U.S. and coalition military bases. The 191 members come from eastern South Dakota and the Black Hills area.
The unit’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ted Johnson, asked family members to be patient as the soldiers transition to civilian life. He also applauded employers for their support.
“It’s a huge deal that when they come home, their job is waiting for them,” Johnson said.
Only the governor made brief mention of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. military forces, saying the special forces team and the South Dakota unit share the traits of persistence, hard work, resourcefulness and courage.
“I’m happy they got him finally,” said Spc. Leonard Paulson, who made his first deployment in four years as a National Guard member.
“But there will always be a threat,” said Paulson, a welder by trade and a communications specialist in the unit. “I don’t think al-Qaida will drop down because of that.”
“It feels pretty good to be back in the USA,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steve Nelson, who spoke with The Daily Republic Tuesday on his way home to Mitchell after the welcome home ceremonies.
This is Nelson’s third overseas deployment, he said.
Other area soldiers headed home Tuesday included Staff Sgt. Don Kranz, of Mount Vernon; and Maj. Brian Phinney and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jay Schreurs, both of Mitchell.
The 196th returned to the United States last week and was going through the demobilization process at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin when word came of bin Laden’s death at a compound in Pakistan.
“It’s a great feeling that that chapter is at least closed,” said Maj. Corey Norris, a fulltime National Guard member in Rapid City who worked in law enforcement and firefighting during his deployment. “It gave me great satisfaction, even though we weren’t directly responsible, that we as a unit supported those people and in that way had a part in the success.”
It was the second deployment and the first overseas deployment for Norris.
“It was weird going from our safety and security and freedoms to see what little they have,” he said. “It makes you appreciate what we have. It’s uplifting to see the progress. You can see your effort is making a difference for the Afghans.”
The brigade has made a successful transformation from an artillery unit four years ago to a unit that provides support for other troops in areas of security, training, supplies and housing.
The role change required new training and new qualifications in what the state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, called a “complicated reorganization” that produced a meritorious award for its work in Kabul.
“That is a testament to the leadership and the quality of soldiers in this unit,” Reisch said.
It was the second deployment for 74 of the unit’s members, the third deployment for 20, and the fourth deployment for five of them.
Reisch said 13 National Guard units of varying size in South Dakota could be called up by mid-2013.
— Daily Republic reporter Ross Dolan contributed to this story.
AP Photo Theodore Johnson, commander of the South Dakota National Guard’s 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, speaks Tuesday at a homecoming ceremony at the Augustana College Elmen Center in Sioux Falls.