A brass band piped music through an Alerus Center ballroom on Sunday as members of the North Dakota Army National Guard officially, finally came home.
The event was held to honor the return of about 200 soldiers from a yearlong air defense mission in Washington, D.C., which lasted from March 2017 until February. Top state officials, including Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., offered remarks thanking them for their service, a gesture underscored by one speaker's reminder that roughly half a dozen of the soldiers had children born during their deployment.
Sgt. Scott Leidholm, a Fargo resident, said his youngest child was just one month old when he deployed, leaving two children with his wife, Theta. Speaking shortly after the event concluded, he recalled his time in Washington, where he "monitored the air picture," and he described how difficult that kind of absence from a family can be - and how good it is to come home.
"(it's) a lot of relief, knowing that you're there for everybody - my wife, my kids - so I can rely on them, they can rely on me, and we don't have to be talking over the phone," he said.
The event came shortly after the U.S. participated in a joint strike against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for its apparent use of chemical weapons in a years-long civil war. Both Burgum and Hoeven praised military members' service, exemplified by the returning soldiers, for making those recent maneuvers possible.
"We can and we will exert our will when we believe that we need to," Hoeven said. "We're able to do that because of you."
North Dakota National Guard Adjutant General Alan Dohrmann praised the soldiers' work on the mission. It's the second time this decade this battalion has been deployed in Washington for air defense, he said, and both times the group has done the state proud.
"(And) I don't care if the mission is clearing roadside bombs in Iraq or guarding the national capital region," he said. "You've been away from home for a year, you've been away from your family. Just getting everybody back home safe and sound, reunited with their families is just an incredible feeling."