All hearts come home for ChristmasAbout a dozen of the soldiers serving with the Cloquet-based CRAZY Troop of the Army National Guard in Kuwait were lucky enough to come home for Christmas this week.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
While only a dozen or so of the soldiers serving with the Cloquet-based CRAZY Troop of the Army National Guard were lucky enough to come home for Christmas this week, Sgt. 1st Class Troy Smith said morale remains high for the remainder of those serving with the 1st Squadron, 95th Cavalry in Kuwait.
Smith, of Esko, was among the group of soldiers whose names were drawn in a random lottery last July, just three months after the unit was deployed to the Middle East. He and the others selected from this area arrived at the Duluth International Airport on a number of different flights on Monday. His 22-month-old son Cayden and wife Chelsey were both at the gate to welcome him, and they’d made a little sign for Cayden to hold that said, “My Daddy” on it.
“When I first came out,” related Smith, “my wife hugged me and Cayden didn’t see right away that it was me. But after he figured it out, he’s been following me around ever since!”
He said he plans to spend his time at home resting, holding his son, and enjoying lots of “cuddle time.”
Smith admitted the three-day trip home was a long one, from Kuwait, to Europe, to Atlanta, and then to Minneapolis.
“That stretch from Minneapolis to Duluth was absolutely the longest,” he said. “It seemed like we were never going to get there.”
In all, about 60 of the 94th Cavalry’s 500 members were selected from the lottery drawing to return home for Christmas. The soldiers are assigned to the Minnesota National Guard’s Red Bull Infantry Division, with two units in Duluth and one each in Cloquet, Pine City and Hibbing. Their usual job is reconnaissance and security in the field, so escorting convoys isn’t far from their mission.
Unit members are working out of heavily armored vehicles, called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks, designed in recent years to protect against roadside bombs better than previous vehicles.
The unit deployed in May and has been in Kuwait since summer. They are expected to return to the United States in May 2012, at which point they will be some of the last U.S. soldiers to see action in Iraq as part of Operation New Dawn, the code name for the draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Though the majority of the unit’s soldiers remain in Kuwait for the Christmas holiday, Smith said spirits remain high.
“Cloquet is lucky to have a lot of experienced leaders over there as well as a lot of young soldiers who listen to those leaders,” said Smith.
He said the troops have been receiving a lot of presents, decorations have been hung at the base, and there have been many Christmas programs by such groups as the USO.
“They do a good job over there at keeping spirits up and I think they are well prepared for the day,” said Smith.
He added things have been going very well for CRAZY Troop with their mission in the Middle East.
“Our Cloquet soldiers continue to produce the high-level product on the highways of Iraq,” said Smith. “It’s cool to be in the Middle East to watch [the draw- down of the troops] happen. We are watching the books of history being written right before our eyes.”
John Myers of Forum Communications contributed to this story.