1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment – ND's most-deployed unit – returns from another mission
Members return to Grand Forks, Fargo and region after serving for nearly 14 months to protect the nation's capital.
GRAND FORKS – More than 200 members of the North Dakota Army National Guard, who last summer were sent to the Washington, D.C., area to provide air defense for the capital city, returned last week after being away for more than a year.
Staff Sgt. Dane Kruger, who served with the 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, was one of them.
This was the third time the 1-188th ADA was deployed to the National Capital Region (NCR), but it was a first for Kruger, from Grand Forks. He said it was a unique experience.
“It was great to be in a place that's still inside the country,” he said, noting his next deployment will be overseas. “We could go out and see a bunch of historical monuments. I love stuff like that.”
Something else that was different about this mission: It was a longer deployment than usual, said Capt. Joshua Baneck.
Normally, deployments are nine to 12 months – except in some cases during conflict – but this one, including training, was nearly 14 months. The regiment, comprising 225 service members, was deployed on June 6, 2021, and returned last Saturday, July 23.
In total, 122 returned to Fargo, 81 to Grand Forks, and 11 to various other locations. The rest stayed in D.C. to help transition the next unit.
There is much the servicemen could not say about their mission, but basically they worked with Department of Defense agencies to provide early-warning, ground-based aerial surveillance to ensure air space protection within and outside the NCR. The mission was part of Operation Noble Eagle, an enduring mission that started after the terrorist attacks in September 2001 to ensure security in the region.
It’s a rotating mission, said Maj. Alan Roehric, battalion commander, noting the regiment previously served in the D.C. area in 2013-14 and 2017-18, and will likely return in the future. In total, it was the 12th mobilization for the 188th since 2004, according to statements made by Gov. Doug Burgum at the Alerus Center before the guard members left last year, “making it the most-deployed unit in the North Dakota Army National Guard.”
Their report after returning home this time: All went well.
The mission, Baneck said, had nothing to do with what happened on Jan. 6, 2021 – though a shadow of that episode at the Capitol still looms over the historic city.
Baneck, a battalion leader who was in charge of about 120 members, said one challenge was mobilizing amid protests, such as truck convoys.
“There wasn't really much that happened, but there was always the news release saying there’s going to be a gathering here or there,” he said. “Having to deal with that, and making contingency plans, was a challenge.”
Another challenge was navigating an ongoing pandemic, though members were thankful that over the deployment period the threats of infection had lessened.
“It was way better for us than it was for the previous unit, but it was something that we always had to keep in mind,” Baneck said.
Kruger, who served as a squad leader, tried to stay out of the District of Columbia as much as possible due to all of the people there, tourists and otherwise, but said most of the people he did meet were friendly.
This mission also was unique to him because he comes from the 191st Military Police Company and volunteered for the mission.
“It was different because this wasn't the unit that I belong to,” he said. “I volunteered for this – and so it was challenging, in a way, to learn a new job while being mobilized.”
He continued: “It doesn't matter what the mission is, it’s something that I hold near and dear to me. It’s something that wherever I’m needed, I’ve always tried to accept that challenge and do the most for my state, the country, the people that surround me.”
Maj. Roehric said he is pleased with the work of the state’s National Guard members – and how they completed it.
“It was my first time in the National Capital Region,” he said, noting about 50% of the soldiers were on their second rotation to the D.C. area, and some even on their third. “Overall, it was a good experience. We had a really good battalion. … I couldn't be more proud of the soldiers that served during this year-long rotation. They just knocked it out of the park. I would say I would expect nothing less, but they always impress me and make things better.
“We did some different things out there that really hadn't been done before. They were always engaged and willing to take on different approaches to the mission.”
Outside of mission tasks, soldiers had the opportunity to participate in challenges different than they experience in North Dakota – such as competing in a Norwegian foot march to earn a foreign proficiency badge. They also completed more than 4,000 hours of volunteer work across the NCR.
“I think from that perspective, they were pretty pleased just for extra things to do,” Roehric said. “But from a mission perspective, what's memorable is we went there to do a mission that was asked of us, we did it, and we did it well – we did it better than well. We're very impressed with our group from North Dakota.”
This also was Kruger’s first time to the D.C. area – though Baneck had visited previously. Kruger enjoyed the Vietnam War Memorial and National Mall – which includes the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
For Baneck, there was this: He had the opportunity to visit Fort McHenry National Monument, a place historically marked by the War of 1812 and where the Star Spangled Banner was written by a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key.
While held prisoner on a British ship in Baltimore Harbor on Sept. 14, 1814, Key laid his eyes upon a 15-star flag that waved on a 90-foot pole during the British bombardment of the fort. The next morning, in the dawn’s early light, he noticed the flag had survived the onslaught. Taking pen to paper, Key wrote the immortal words to what has become the country’s National Anthem: “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free/And the home of the brave?”
After visiting Fort McHenry, Baneck said he can better envision what took place on that historic night so long ago.
“Now when I hear those words,” he said of the song, “I think of that fort.”