Charlie's Coming Home
By Tom Larson, Sun Tribune
The time that Morris-area National Guard soldiers have been away seems to have flown by. That is, for everyone but the troops and their anxious families.
Finally, the homecoming, the hugs, the welcome-home tears are close at hand.
The Guard's Charlie Battery troops are in the process of training their replacements and preparing to return to home, very possibly before Easter Sunday.
"We're getting excited to get out, and we want to get these (replacements) trained," said Spec. Josh Brummond, a Morris native who now lives in Alexandria. "We know we're getting down to the time when we can see our families again. But we want to know that when we leave, we left them in a good spot. Then we can get home."
The soldiers are deployed in Kuwait and carry out convoy security missions in Iraq. They are scheduled to end their year-long deployment in early April.
Readiness Officer Jason Peterson is busy putting together the details of their return, but said that, for security reasons, the official announcement of the homecoming won't be known until after the soldiers have left Kuwait.
There are 105 soldiers from the Morris and Ortonville areas comprising the Charlie Battery, and they are among 560 151st soldiers headquartered at Camp Virginia in Kuwait.
Their replacements, a Florida National Guard unit, have been in-country long enough to be answering the phones. And the Morris-area soldiers are feeling good about helping them, just like the Guardsmen from Hawaii helped them get ready for their mission about a year ago.
"It's a pride thing," said Sgt. First Class Brent Fuhrman, of Morris. "We're immensely proud of what we're doing here, and it kind of gives our guys an audience to show what they know. It's hard to explain to our families, but it's fun to train them in."
Spec. Michael Hoffman, a Morris native who lives in Starbuck, is a communications specialist for the Charlie Battery. He said the soldiers always keep in mind what they went through when they first arrived in Kuwait and learned what they would be doing during their time there.
"When we were first in-country, we knew very little," he said. "I put myself back in that mindset. We go over a little bit at a time so we don't overload them."
In fact, training the new soldiers has been going so well it's gotten some soldiers in a little trouble, said First Lt. Daniel Tengwall, with a laugh.
"With a new group, we've been quite busy," Tengwall said. "There's not a great big window to teach this stuff. I call my mom once a week or so and I get chewed out for not calling more often."
Training in the new Guardsmen, while continuing to carry out their convoy missions, has helped alleviate the anxiousness about Charlie Battery's impending return. But there are issues that need to be addressed.
First is the transition from mission to Main Street. Some of the soldiers in Charlie Battery were deployed before and know what coming home will entail. The others are learning from them.
"We've learned a lot from our brothers in arms," Fuhrman said.
"We've been talking about it since day one," said Sgt. First Class Doug Anderson. "We look at it like this: It's a period of life, we get through it and we go back to our regular lives. We don't stop being leaders and being soldiers. We just go back to being citizens."
The soldiers heaped praise on the Family Readiness Groups and Readiness Officers back home for helping.
"We can't say thank you enough for all they've done for us and our families," Anderson said.
When the soldiers become "regular Joes" again, they all have different priorities.
Anderson wants to get home to spend time with his family and friends, and he's also planning to run in the Fargo Marathon for the first time.
Fuhrman said he doesn't have a marathon in his future, but is looking forward to spending time with his wife and kids.
Brummond was married in January 2009 and very soon after was deployed. The couple has a honeymoon to Mexico planned, and Brummond has two brand new nieces he has yet to see.
"Like the rest of the community, families want to know when we're coming home," Brummond said. "The worst thing is not knowing when."
Hoffman said that, as a single man, he's got the time to head off for Florida with some friends.
"I'm going to lay on the beach for a week," he said.
Tengwall said he's got season tickets for Minnesota Twins games at the new Target Field, and he can't wait to return to see trees and lakes.
"You take that stuff for granted," Tengwall said. "Then you get here and it's sand, sand, sand."