Waterloo Guard Unit Gets a Rousing Reception

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

Spec. Brad Friend of Cedar Falls returns home during a ceremony in Waterloo Tuesday June 18, 2013. Friend was deployed in Afghanistan. (LINH TA / Courier Reporter)

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By Dave Franzman

WATERLOO, Iowa — Loud cheers greeted about 50 members of a Waterloo-based Iowa Army National Guard unit Tuesday morning.

The members of Detachment 1, Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion left the same facility in Waterloo in July of 2012 for training and then a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They returned to a warm welcome from friends and family members left behind during the deployment.

Guard officials say welcome home ceremonies like the one at the Waterloo Airport guard facility are becoming less commonplace compared to a few years ago. Currently, only about 200 Iowa guard members are on active deployment overseas right now compared to thousands at the height of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of those units based in Johnston, Iowa will return home next month.

While relatively few Iowa guard members are deployed currently it’s still a significant sacrifice for those who are. Amanda Nelsestuen said her husband Mike was returning from a second deployment. So in five years of marriage, her husband has been gone for two of those years. His son Camden was born a month after he left on the latest deployment. So the ten-month-old has only seen his father in person for three days in all that time.

“We show pictures of daddy and talk about daddy and have daddy ready us books at night. But I can’t wait—we’re excited,” Nelsestuen said.

Guard commanders noted the unit conducted more than 650 medical evacuations and training flights while in Afghanistan. It was called important work. But for returning soldiers and families, the most important job now is getting back to a normal life.

One returning soldier, Ben Russell, said support from those remaining behind was critical.

“Luckily, when we leave home we have our spouses to take care of everything back home. They’re the stronghold and take care of us while we’re doing our jobs,” Russell said.

His wife, Meghan Russell, said she couldn’t have done it without help from support groups and families.

“We’ve been married for seven years and he’s been gone two and a half out of the seven,” she said.

The Russells said guard families are no stranger to sacrifice even if fewer are called to make a deployment these days. But with the unit back, it was time to make up for all that lost time with family and friends.

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