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Hero's welcome greets troops

Joshua Pena of Willmar hugs his children Joshua, 2, and Maya, 4, Friday when he returned with troops who arrived in Olivia. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

OLIVIA -- Olivia and neighboring communities joined to offer a noisy and jubilant hero's welcome to the first returning troops with the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery on Friday morning.

The 111 troops with Battery B based in Olivia and Madison waved and gave thumbs up signals from their four busses as they rolled into Olivia at 10 a.m. They were the first of 550 troops making their way home from Fort McCoy, Wis., Friday and today.

People lining U.S. Highway 212 in Olivia waved flags and cheered above the blare of sirens and horns from a couple dozen squad cars, fire trucks and ambulance rigs leading the charter busses.

The 56 troops from Madison continued on to a hero's welcome there, while family and friends of the 55 Olivia-based soldiers packed the BOLD High School Gym.

The jubilation was all about the fact that the troops were all returning home safely from their one-year deployment.

"We're excited and happy that everything went as well as it did,'' said Susie Lang as she, her husband Andrew and son Elliot lined up to welcome the troops.

"Flawlessly,'' is how Capt. Jamie Thompson, commander of the battery, described the soldiers' performance during a welcome home ceremony in the school. Based in Kuwait, the troops provided convoy escort security throughout Iraq. They completed 591 combat missions and traveled more than 1.9 million miles without accident or injury.

"Overwhelming,'' said Terry Hammerschmidt, Bird Island, of the welcome home he and the other soldiers experienced.

This was his second deployment to Iraq. Conditions in Iraq were a "lot better'' during this second tour, said Hammerschmidt, but one thing was no different: the separation from family. "It's a difficult thing when you want to be at home to help and you can't,'' he said. "It's frustrating.''

He started to make up for it by hugging his 10½ month-old daughter, Ava, her two older siblings and his wife Vonnie.

Nearly two dozen people were holding "welcome home Andy'' signs to greet Guardsman Andy Tepfer of Danube as he stepped off the bus. His wife of one year, Mandy, and mother, Annie Tepfer, were among those who shed tears of joy at his return.

Annie Tepfer said she thought about her son every day. "You don't know how much he is a part of you through every day," she said. Tepfer said she felt relieved when she knew her son had returned safely to Fort McCoy, but nothing matched the happiness of having him home.

"There is nothing better than to know your child is safe,'' she said.

For Daegan Glesne of Willmar, there was nothing better than knowing his dad was home safely. Specialist Eric Glesne of Willmar had surprised his 8-year-old son Daegan last November by popping into his classroom at the Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar just after returning home for a short leave.

This time, there were no surprises for either. "Very happy,'' said Eric Glesne of being reunited with his family.

His mother Lorna said phone calls, e-mails and lots of support from Family Readiness Groups helped her and husband Marvin through the past year.

"These men from Olivia are by far the best people I ever want to support or be a part of,'' said 1st Sgt. Marty Wold during the celebration in a packed BOLD High School Gymnasium.

Wold and Thompson pointed out that the troops had performed flawlessly on missions that had taken them to Mosul in northern Iraq "and everywhere in between.''

Yet Wold cautioned that some "tough miles" still lie ahead. He urged the soldiers and their families and friends to be patient and to work together to help make the re-integration as successful as their mission had been.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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