‘A great bunch of heroes’Crazy Troop soldiers return from year-long deployment to Iraq and Kuwait
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
As the rain poured down outside the Cloquet Armory on Wednesday, one of the members of the throng awaiting the return of the soldiers from the Cloquet-based Crazy Troop of the U.S. Army National Guard gazed into the darkening skies and commented, “It’s a beautiful day!”
That was much the prevailing sentiment as the second rank of local soldiers returned home to the Northland after a year-long deployment to the Middle East. The troops of the 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry successfully completed 250,000 miles in Iraq in their mission to escort American supplies out of that country in support of Operation New Dawn. The mission of these Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers supported the largest logistical movement of military equipment since World War II.
First to return home were eight local soldiers who arrived at the Cloquet National Guard on Sunday. Among them was 21-year-old Army Specialist Jonathon Hjelle of Saginaw, who hugged his mom before being whisked away to surprise his fiancée, Ashley Ojutkangas, at Evergreen Knoll where she works. Hjelle, with a bouquet of flowers in hand, waited alongside several family members on the steps inside Evergreen Knoll before they all stampeded around the corner to hide, realizing she would be coming down the steps at any moment. The couple is planning to wed on June 16.
The majority of the soldiers from Crazy Troop, approximately 80 of them, arrived mid-morning on Wednesday. They were greeted with flags, posters and cheering family members, friends and supporters who lined Cloquet Avenue and Armory Road as a police escort led their two motor coaches through the community to a rousing homecoming. Among those awaiting the much-anticipated arrival were many children and babies – some who were only newborns when the soldiers of Crazy Troop deployed last spring – as well as wives, husbands, parents, community members and even a few family dogs.
Supporters streamed into the Armory in time to welcome the soldiers as they departed from their buses and fell into formation. Captain Michael Boelk then welcomed everyone and made a few brief remarks.
“This is a great bunch of heroes,” he said. “I’m a fortunate man, because I took 130 soldiers over there – and I brought 130 soldiers home.”
His remark was met by a round of thunderous applause.
“They were ready for it, and they did their job well,” concluded Boelk before dismissing the unit into the welcoming arms of their families.
On hand to serve lunch to those gathered were members of the local posts of the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, along with their auxiliaries.
“This is truly a case of veterans helping veterans,” said Retired Commander Dennis Picconatto of Esko.
As the crowd continued to mull around and get reacquainted, one of the soldiers found himself faced with the most pressing dilemma of the moment as his mother came up to him and asked, “What do you want to do first – eat lunch or go home and change clothes?”