JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — More than 150 members of the Alaska Army National Guard assigned to the 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, stepped off the aircraft at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport April 4 and closed the book on another completed mission.It was a luminous spring evening in Anchorage as they returned from a Kosovo peacekeeping mission. The golden Alaskan sun flickered through an eerily vacant North Terminal at the airport. More than 10 months had passed since the Soldiers tasted Alaska’s fresh mountain air. They were finally home.Due to COVID-19 pandemic safeguards, customary welcome parties were not inside to greet them. Thunderous cheers were replaced by a warm “welcome home,” and “great job,” by the Alaska Army Guard’s top leadership as Soldiers descended stairs into the terminal.The Soldiers arrived at a stream of green Army duffel bags flowing into the luggage claim. They eagerly waited to grab their own. A handshake was exchanged for an elbow tap and an embrace for a hand-wave. Nevertheless, the pride of a job well done and the excitement of arriving home still radiated from the faces of the Guard members as they parted the exit doors of the airport.“I couldn’t be happier and excited to see my family today, said Sgt. Justin Kompkoff, an infantryman and Anchorage native assigned to Bravo Company, 1-297th IN. “It’s surreal. I’m so relieved this deployment is over and I look forward to a relaxing period of leave.”Soldiers local to Anchorage and surrounding areas emptied the terminal and poured into the parking lot to the find their loved ones. Fathers and mothers passionately embraced their children, friends, and family. Loving partners greeted each other with ecstatic affection.The homecoming was dissimilar to what most U.S. Soldiers experience after deployment. COVID-19 measures caused demobilization to be cut short. Before arriving in Alaska, the Soldiers underwent mandatory quarantine for 14 days in El Paso, Texas, at the Army’s Fort Bliss after returning from Kosovo.Many heavy hearts were lifted in Anchorage after reuniting with loved ones and experiencing the comfort of being home, but for some, the journey was not over. Soldiers from outlying areas of Alaska like Bethel, Fairbanks, Valdez and several remote villages departed the airport on commercial buses and were taken to nearby housing, to continue strict COVID-19 isolation measures before departing the following day.On April 5, 10 of the Guard members flew to Bethel, a coastal, western Alaskan rural hub, via an Alaska Air National Guard HC-130 Combat King II aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron. An Army Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, then flew the Soldiers to their isolated home villages of Aniak, Chevak, Kasigluk, Kwigillingok and Tuluksak.Every returning Soldier must follow COVID-19 precautionary measures, including an additional 14 days of quarantine in their Alaskan homes.The Kosovo mission began in the grueling Texas heat at Fort Bliss during the 1-297th’s pre-mobilization. From there, the unit departed on an 8,000-mile flight to Europe, where it would support a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo that began in June 1999.“With Kosovo’s history of ethnic conflict, it’s important for the U.S. to have a visible presence to deter hostilities,” said Lt. Col. Samuel Scott, 1-297th IN commander.One of the battalion’s primary tasks in Kosovo was to monitor the country’s administrative border lines and ports of entry to provide freedom of movement and a safe environment for the people of Kosovo. Soldiers worked with Kosovo law enforcement to combat illegal activity like smuggling and sex trafficking.Unit accomplishments included 56 enlisted Soldiers graduating the Army’s Basic Leadership Course required for promotion to noncommissioned officer. Approximately 70 Soldiers were also promoted in Kosovo. Physical fitness standards improved battalion-wide, reaching as high as 100 percent.Community relations were a vital part of not only securing information, but developing relationships and helping the surrounding municipalities with local projects like building churches and food distribution.“It was a great first deployment for me, and our guys worked very hard,” said Spc. Trae Curtis, an infantryman, North Pole resident, and University of Alaska Anchorage student from Alpha Co., 1-297th. “Working with our NATO partners and building relationships with the people of Kosovo was a truly rewarding experience.”For more National Guard news: http://www.nationalguard.mil/National Guard Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNationalGuard/National Guard Twitter: https://twitter.com/usnationalguardNational Guard COVID-19 Response: https://www.nationalguard.mil/coronavirus/Coronavirus (COVID-19): https://www.coronavirus.gov/Latest from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/COVID-19 Response: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/albums/72157713483827538