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Still serving: North Dakota contributes high numbers to military

When Sgt. Cody Hlavka deployed to Afghanistan in February, his son Sorren was only a few weeks old. But now, the little blond-haired boy is 9 months old and already learning to walk and talk. Sorren wore camouflage pants--just like his dad's unif...

Sgt. Cody Hlavka reconnects with his 5-month-old baby Sorren Hlavka and wife Kathy McDanal at the Grand Forks International Airport upon returning home from a deployment with the North Dakota National Guard to Afghanistan. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Sgt. Cody Hlavka reconnects with his 5-month-old baby Sorren Hlavka and wife Kathy McDanal at the Grand Forks International Airport upon returning home from a deployment with the North Dakota National Guard to Afghanistan. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

When Sgt. Cody Hlavka deployed to Afghanistan in February, his son Sorren was only a few weeks old.

But now, the little blond-haired boy is 9 months old and already learning to walk and talk.

Sorren wore camouflage pants-just like his dad's uniform-while he and mother Kathy McDanal, of East Grand Forks, waited to be reunited with the Army sergeant Wednesday, Nov. 14.

For McDanal, this was just part of the routine. She and Hlavka met in basic training and married several years later. They were both deployed in Afghanistan at the same time, although in different parts of the country.

McDanal and Hlavka grew up in military backgrounds and said it's part of why they decided to join the military.

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In Minnesota, there are 602 active duty soldiers, the most recent data from the federal Defense Manpower Data Center said. There are 21,474 military members in Minnesota total, including reserve and civilian.

In North Dakota, there are 7,440 active duty soldiers and 13,472 total military members, according to the DMDC.

Census data show there are over 53,000 veterans living in North Dakota and nearly 367,000 in Minnesota.

Bill Prokopyk, a spokesman for the North Dakota National Guard said the number of active duty military members has decreased slightly since the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts first began.

Across the country, about 2.8 million people serve in the military and 220,000 are deployed overseas, the DMDC report showed. About 16 percent of all active-duty soldiers are deployed. In 2016 there were around 190,000 soldiers deployed, which was the lowest number in about 40 years, DMDC data showed.

Fewer members are being deployed for overseas missions and the number of fatalities has subsequently decreased.

Hlavka was one of 15 members of the North Dakota Army National Guard's 191st Military Police Company that returned home on Nov. 14.

Tresa Greywater said she was nervous when she found out her husband, Devin, would be deployed. And just one day after he left, she found out she was pregnant.

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"I think she was my saving grace, honestly" she said. "I was losing my mind and then I found out the day after he left that I was pregnant and it was kind of like OK, I can do this now because I have to."

Devin was granted leave for their daughter Allie's birth, and Tresa said he made it back to Devils Lake just in time. He spent the next few weeks with his family but then returned to Afghanistan to complete his tour.

On Wednesday, Tresa and the couple's 8-year-old son, Taylor Longie, held up signs as they waited at the Grand Forks International Airport. Written in large print, Tresa's sign read "My hero and my heart."

As Devin headed through the sliding doors he hugged his family, kissed his wife and held his daughter for the first time in weeks-he'd finally made it home for good and home for the holidays.

Sgt. Devin Greywater catches up with his 1-month-old daughter, Allie Greywater, his wife Tresa Greywater, and son 8-year-old Taylor Longie recently at the Grand Forks International Airport where Greywater and two other National Guard soldiers returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Sgt. Devin Greywater catches up with his 1-month-old daughter, Allie Greywater, his wife Tresa Greywater, and son 8-year-old Taylor Longie recently at the Grand Forks International Airport where Greywater and two other National Guard soldiers returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

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