Minnesota Guard Families Prepare for Homecoming Many members of Minnesota's National Guard will come home this year after multiple and extended tours in Iraq. Families are preparing for the return of their loved ones. For some, returning to civilian life won't be easy.
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Minnesota Guard Families Prepare for Homecoming

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Minnesota Guard Families Prepare for Homecoming

Minnesota Guard Families Prepare for Homecoming

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Twenty-six hundred soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard should have come home from Iraq this month. Instead, members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team had their tour extended until July. This is the longest brigade-level deployment in the history of the National Guard - 22 months, almost half the length of the Iraq war. So Minnesota has started preparing for what the military calls reintegration - helping soldiers return to the lives they left behind.

Here's NPR's John McChesney.

(Soundbite of radio program)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: Ten forty-one in the morning, you're listening 830 WCCO. Twenty-two degrees outside. We are broadcasting live from the National Guard Training Facility at Camp Ripley as part of our Bringing Minnesota Home campaign. It's...

JOHN MCCHESNEY: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has a weekly radio program. And last week, he broadcast from the National Guard's home base, Camp Ripley. On the line from Iraq was Colonel David Elicerio, the brigade commander.

And the governor had a question about the troop's homecoming.

Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): One of the things that we can best address for them is part of a reintegration effort.

Colonel DAVID ELICERIO (Brigade Commander, Iraq): The first and most important one of all is our families. We want to get back to being normal, and I'm afraid after being gone for 22 months, many of us have forgotten what normal is.

MCCHESNEY: And normal family life is a moving target.

Unidentified Child: Mommy, (unintelligible).

Ms. JODY KRAMER(ph): No.

MCCHESNEY: Jody Kramer has run a farm in the southwestern corner of Minnesota while her husband, a captain, has been gone. She talks to us in her kitchen, surrounded by her children.

Ms. KRAMER: We're going to have some trouble, I think, because he's been commanding over 100 soldiers, and they do what he tells them to do. I have six children that I have been trying to command, and I'm sure we use different techniques. Things have changed. My kids have matured two years, and they've probably even matured more than two years just because of the situation they're in. And I've changed.

MCCHESNEY: And Ruby Powent(ph), age nine, daughter of Daisy and Chief Warrant Officer Scott says they'll have more pancakes when her dad comes home. But as she glances at her mom, she says she's a little worried.

RUBY POWENT: I think the mornings, I'd be scared. I remember when he visited, I was scared of him in morning. More scared of him than you in the morning. He was more barky in the morning, and I must have forgot about that.

Major General LARRY SHELLITO (Adjutant General, Minnesota National Guard): They're going to come back with issues.

MCCHESNEY: Major General Larry Shellito commands the Minnesota National Guard. He says the 22 months deployment - he calls the four-month extension a sucker punch - will make reentry exceptionally difficult.

Maj. Gen. SHELLITO: The problem is when they come back home, they'll get the hugs and kisses. They'll drink their favorite beer that they couldn't drink over there. They'll get mama's favorite meal cooked for them two or three times. Then about a week later, everyone goes back to work. Kids go back to school, and they're home alone.

MCCHESNEY: And alone can really mean alone in rural Minnesota. The 1st Brigade Combat Team comes from 87 of the state's 89 counties, many of them quite isolated. Normal military policy gives a soldier a full 90 days off to reconnect at home after deployment. But Minnesota isn't taking any chances. Soldiers will be required to check in several times over those three months. Families, General Shellito says, can't always spot emerging psychological problems.

Maj. Gen. SHELLITO: Mama can't look him in the eye. Wife can't look him in the eye. She'll know something's wrong. But I tell you, those buddies, those battle buddies, they'll know when he's happy, when he's sad, when he's lying, or whatever.

MCCHESNEY: The Minnesota National Guard also runs family reintegration academies around the state designed to deal with a plateful of issues ranging from taxes, to insurance, to children. But those can have an unintended side effect. Linda Anderson lives in the country near the tiny town of Princeton.

Ms. LINDA ANDERSON: And then you go to all these Beyond the Yellow Ribbon meetings and all these family reintegration seminars, and you hear about post-traumatic stress disorder and combat operational stress and financial problems and, you know, reigniting your marriage. And it's like you hear all the bad things that could happen. To get you ready for your happy homecoming, it's like, holy smokes, isn't this going to be fun?

MCCHESNEY: Minnesota's 1st Brigade Combat Team is supposed to return in July. But as yet, no hard date has been set for their homecoming.

John McChesney, NPR News.

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