Massive crowd welcomes home soldiers from a one-year tour in the Mideast
MORRIS -- Brian Jorgenson of Montevideo has missed his only daughter's first two birthdays, but he'll be home for the third. Jorgenson, 35, is happy to be back in Minnesota, holding his little girl, Mathea, after being in Iraq for nearly a year. ...
MORRIS -- Brian Jorgenson of Montevideo has missed his only daughter's first two birthdays, but he'll be home for the third.
Jorgenson, 35, is happy to be back in Minnesota, holding his little girl, Mathea, after being in Iraq for nearly a year. He is a member of Company C of the 1-151st Field Artillery of the Minnesota National Guard. He and 145 other soldiers returned to west central Minnesota Sunday night.
"Not having to worry about a mortar round coming in and ruining the day is nice," he said as his wife, Rita, stood nearby.
The company is made up of soldiers from the Morris, Madison, Ortonville, Montevideo and Appleton areas.
They were greeted by people all along the highway from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to Morris Sunday night and were recognized for their service in Iraq Monday night.
A ceremony at the University of Minnesota Morris campus nearly filled the bleachers in the 2,500-capacity gymnasium. Several military and government leaders attended including Congressman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, adjutant general of the state of Minnesota, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who came from an awards ceremony in the Twin Cities and got in about 50 minutes after the ceremony started.
The speakers emphasized the sacrifice both the soldiers and their families have made throughout the past year. A wreath in front of the stage was in memory of the soldiers who died in Baghdad in February -- Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, 24, of Alexandria, Staff Sgt. David Day, 25, of St. Louis Park and 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, 24, of Tracy. It also recognized two other company soldiers who died in the past year, but not in combat -- John Bauer and Scott Anderson.
Shellito said people often hear how wonderful the soldiers are and he offered proof. He visited them in Iraq in April and heard good things from senior leadership there.
"Never once in their presence did I feel afraid, never once in their presence did I feel they didn't have their act together," he said.
He said when he returned to the United States 33 years ago he was prepared for the unwelcoming atmosphere for soldiers. The soldiers should remember how warmly they were welcomed home, he told them. He asked them to close their eyes and listen.
The crowd applauded, cheered, whistled and stamped their feet on the bleachers for nearly a minute as the soldiers sat in the middle of the gym and listened.
He encouraged them to talk about their experiences and urged them to lead the country.
"This country needs you," Shellito said.
Capt. Troy Fink, the company's commander, passed a Minnesota flag to Pawlenty. It was flag the governor gave to the company to take to Iraq.
Pawlenty said the United States wouldn't be the "great country we have" without people like those in Company C. Freedom is not free, he said.
Shellito said before the ceremony that there are mixed feelings when soldiers come home without their full company. He said they need to embrace their feeling of loss and not supress them.
"They want to be happy that they are home, but they know some close friends didn't come home," he said.
Guard member J.J. Christopherson of Appleton said seeing his family is a "dream come true."
"You're living out your nightmare and come home to paradise," he said.