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Welcome home, Twardowski: ND National Guardsman returns from Afghanistan as the Easter Bunny

The Twardowski family, from left, Tiahna, Madison, Kory, Emry, Jessie and Tyson gather at their Dickinson home after school Tuesday. Kory returned from a 10-month tour with the National Guard's 818th Engineer Company in Afghanistan last week.

Sgt. Kory Twardowski of Dickinson isn't the type of guy you'd expect to be described as cute, fuzzy and cuddly.

In the place Kory was for the past 10 months, facing the things he faced, there isn't any room for those things.

After he returned from a tour of duty half a world away last weekend, however, he went from being Sgt. Twardowski back to being dad -- and being dad meant dressing as a life-sized Easter Bunny.

"I'm one of those guys who wouldn't do something like that -- ever," Twardowski said. "This was something different though. My kids had waited more than 10 months to see me, so I was going to do it no matter how foolish it looked."

Twardowski, 35, returned home from Afghanistan -- a little later than most members of the National Guard's 818th Engineer Company -- to North Dakota soil last Friday and donned the bunny suit to surprise his four children during an Easter egg hunt Saturday at the Dickinson Recreation Center.

It would be safe to say that 14-year-old Tiahna, 10-year-old Madison, 7-year-old Tyson and 3-year-old Emry were more than a little surprised.

"They were just in shock," said Jessie Twardowski, Kory's wife. "Emry and Tyson just stood there stunned. They didn't even move. Madison cried, of course, and Tiahna just kind of stood there, too. It was emotional."

When the bunny arrived, Tiahna and Madison thought something was a little peculiar.

"We went up to hug him and he didn't hug us like an Easter Bunny normally would," Tiahna said. "We thought that was a little strange."

Most of his company -- which consists of about 100 guardsmen and is based out of Williston -- returned March 22. But Twardowski and Spc. Dillon Baer had volunteered to escort sensitive items, meaning they took a later flight back to the U.S.

"Getting back here, you just have so many emotions," Twardowski said. "It's kind of overwhelming, partly because of the structure that you have over there. When you come back, it's about paying bills and working, it's a change. I'm still adjusting, but it's just been really cool to be home with my family. In a way, it's not even real yet."

One of the first things Kory did once he returned to Dickinson was take his son to Pride Park to fly a remote-control helicopter that Tyson received for Christmas.

"Tyson didn't open it until I got back, so that was pretty special," Kory said. "That's something that I think we both were looking forward to."

A combat engineer in Afghanistan, Twardowski also served military tours in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 and recently re-enlisted, so it's possible he could go overseas again at some point.

"It's something that's always in the back of your mind, but we have a volunteer Army and a volunteer National Guard, so it's something that I signed up for," Twardowski said. "One thing that I think people sometimes forget is that the families of service men and women didn't sign up and it can be hard on them. I appreciate all the support that people have given me and my family. Here in North Dakota, you can tell people value their soldiers."

Though the past few days have been a whirlwind of bunny suits, Easter festivities, get-togethers and remote-control helicopter outings, Kory knows he's lucky to come home unscathed, at least physically.

On Dec. 3, his company lost two soldiers, Sgt. Darren Linde and Spc. Tyler Orgaard, after an improvised explosive device struck a vehicle the two were riding in while traveling in southern Afghanistan.

"Me being there on the scene when that happened, it was pretty crazy," Twardowski said. "December 3 was hard on all of us. Thankfully, I haven't had any nightmares since I've been here."

For now, Twardowski said he's getting used to all the little things that come along with civilian life. It's unlikely, however, he will be doing any of those things while wearing a fuzzy bunny suit.

"I think that was my one shot to get him in an Easter Bunny suit," Jessie said. "I don't think that's likely to happen again, but it was an amazing moment and it's amazing that he agreed to do it."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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