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N.D. National Guard soldiers return to U.S.

About 40 North Dakota National Guard soldiers arrived at Fort McCoy, Wis., Tuesday -- following a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan -- to find mints on the pillows of their cots.

About 40 North Dakota National Guard soldiers arrived at Fort McCoy, Wis., Tuesday -- following a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan -- to find mints on the pillows of their cots.

The soldiers of RAID III (Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment) of the 1st Battalion, 1-188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, based in Grand Forks, landed in Wisconsin at about 12:30 p.m. They initially landed at Fort Bragg, N.C., early Tuesday morning but were delayed there for nearly 10 hours.

"Every soldier in this unit stepped up to serve their country by joining the Guard," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota National Guard adjutant general. "Furthermore, every soldier stepped up again to volunteer to serve on this deployment. This level of service and dedication is second to none, which became clear throughout this invaluable mission."

The initial flight plan had the soldiers arriving in Wisconsin at about midnight today. The airline housed the soldiers at a motel in North Carolina until the alternative flight to Wisconsin could be established.

The 1-188th, based in Grand Forks with units in Fargo and Bismarck, mobilized in January 2009. It is commanded by Capt. Amber Monette. The unit's senior enlisted soldier is 1st Sgt. George Overby.

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About 20 soldiers traveled from North Dakota to Fort McCoy to expedite the process so the soldiers can return home to North Dakota as soon as possible. That is expected to take several days. Once demobilization is complete, the soldiers will travel to locations throughout North Dakota by bus, which was considered to be faster than a flight from Minneapolis.

The 1-188th ADA-RAID IV unit, which mobilized in December, recently arrived in Afghanistan to assume RAID-III's missions. The RAID units conduct a high-tech monitoring mission in Afghanistan to protect other operating bases.

This is the second time the North Dakota National Guard has replaced soldiers from within its own unit in a combat zone, Sprynczynatyk said.

Fort McCoy is a U.S. Army base in west-central Wisconsin, about 35 miles east of LaCrosse, Wis., and about 175 miles southeast of the Twin Cities.

During demobilization, soldiers stay in Army barracks, plain two-story buildings with rows of cots in open bays. Wall rods and footlockers serve as closets, according to the Guard. Blankets are thin and there are no bedspreads.

But at least on the first night, they got mints on their pillows.

"It started about six years ago, said Lt. Col. Warren Pauling, officer in charge of the demobilization. "It began as a joke: 'We'll have mints on our pillows.' We started with hard candy, and somehow we've kept it up ever since."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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