FARGO, N.D. - After working for nearly a year in a combat zone, North Dakota National Guard Soldiers found themselves in the arms of family members this evening. The Guardsmen began returning on a series of flights today, with the first arriving at 4:10 p.m. in Fargo. The Soldiers continue to make their way home from their demobilization station at Fort Hood, Texas, this evening, with the latest flight expected at midnight in Bismarck. In all, about 70 Soldiers should be home before the day has ended.

"We are so pleased to safely welcome home the Soldiers of the 1-188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment," said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. "They did an outstanding job in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are proud of all they have accomplished on behalf of our state and nation. We thank them and their families for their distinguished service and wish them all the best as they enjoy this holiday season with their loved ones."

Dalrymple plans to greet Soldiers returning to Bismarck tonight, while Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, will welcome those returning to Grand Forks. Other Guard leaders will be at returns in Fargo and Minot.

"I couldn't be more thrilled to have these Soldiers home with their families in plenty of time for Christmas," Sprynczynatyk said. "They performed their mission very well overseas while their families made sacrifices here at home. It's a wonderful day when we can bring loved ones together again and thank them for all they did in service to our country."

The Soldiers served with North Dakota's 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment in three groups - two of which deployed to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. They departed North Dakota a year ago last week. Capt. Walyn S. Vannurden, of Cavalier, N.D., commanded both Afghanistan groups and 1st Sgt. Gregory P. Brockberg, of Moorhead, Minn., was the senior enlisted Soldier there. Sgt. 1st Class Michael Kraft, of Devils Lake, N.D., served as the senior leader in Iraq. Their Soldiers belong to units in Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck, but hail from 31 communities across North Dakota and into Minnesota.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,500 Soldiers and more than 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Currently, about a dozen North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while more than 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that's more than four times the national average.

High-resolution photos to accompany this release are available on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/ndguard. Navigate to the photo set titled "1-188th ADA Returns to ND." Additional photos will be added throughout tonight as additional flights return across the state.