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10th homecoming for Guard unit: Soldiers say they were happy to serve, but happy to be home, too

FNS Photo by Eric Hylden Spc. Chris Lee of the 1st Battalion 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment based in Grand Forks, is greeted by his fiancee, Taryn Kalberer, and his daughter, Brystol Lee, as the troops return to Grand Forks on Tuesday after a yearlong deployment defending the airspace over Washington, D.C.

GRAND FORKS — A yearlong deployment to protect the nation’s capital was something of a family affair for Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Nelson.

Nelson and sons, 23-year-old Spec. Derek Nelson and 20-year-old Spec. Casey Nelson, returned home Tuesday from their deployment with the North Dakota Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.

“It’s pretty awesome,” the elder Nelson said after the 132 soldiers landed at Grand Forks International Airport on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m pretty proud of all of my kids.”

While it’s the first time the National Guard officer has been deployed at the same time as two of his sons, he previously had been deployed with Derek in Kosovo.

“It’s been really tough,” Dawn Nelson said after greeting her husband and two eldest sons Tuesday afternoon. “I feel like I’m getting used to it.”

Also on hand to greet the soldier family were younger brothers, Pfc. Hunter Nelson and 16-year-old Nick Nelson, and other family members.

The latest mission was part of Operation Noble Eagle, a mission that includes defending the airspace over the Washington, D.C., area.

This was the 10th deployment for the 1-188th since 2004, the most of any North Dakota Guard unit, with portions of the battalion previously serving on two separate missions in Iraq, six in Afghanistan and one in Kosovo.

The unit is headquartered in Grand Forks with units in Bismarck and Fargo. Its members come from 27 North Dakota communities and 12 communities in neighboring states.

Close to home

While the soldiers said the latest deployment was just as important as any overseas, returning soldiers welcomed the stay in Washington.

“Being closer to home and being able to Skype with my kids and keep in contact has been great,” said Staff Sgt. Chris McNeely, Grand Forks, who was greeted by his wife, Reanna, 4-year-old daughter MiKayla, and 2-year-old son, Cayden.

JoAnn Riske of Forest River was on hand to greet her daughter, Sgt. Kathryn Duben, as she got off the charter plane.

“This was her first deployment,” Riske said. “Thank God, she was stateside.”

“I loved it,” said her daughter, a nurse with Sanford Health in Fargo. “We were protecting the nation’s capital and the area.”

As for the Nelson family, they’re looking forward to getting back to their normal routines.

Derek and Casey plan to return to the University of North Dakota this fall.

“It was a great year,” Derek said, “We had duty, but we also had fun, like snowball fights. But it’s nice to come home and have a good support system.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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