The Pierre-based National Guard unit — the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion — returned home Wednesday after an 11-month deployment in the Middle East.

The 152nd CSSB arrived in the U.S. on June 6. The soldiers underwent demobilization requirements at Fort Hood, Texas, before being reunited with their families in South Dakota.

July 27, 2019 was the deployment ceremony conducted in Pierre for the 69 individuals pulled from 29 surrounding communities to go into harm’s way.

On June 24, the soldiers arrived at the Pierre Airport on a commercial jet at approximately 3:30 p.m. Family members were not supposed to greet the arrival of the plane, though downplaying any such emotion-filled meeting was not easily done by some, and some family members had gathered at the fence. A motorcade parade, of sorts — consisting of two busses, seven law enforcement vehicles, 15-plus veteran organization motorcycles, and various personal vehicles — drove from the airport to the T.F. Riggs High School gymnasium parking lot.

Members of the unit immediately met with their family members. They had until just before 5 p.m. for reuniting, then the official welcome home ceremony was set for the gym. Because of social distancing, though, the unit had just spent 15 days in quarantine, plus the audience was limited to soldiers and their immediate family members, as well as South Dakota National Guard leadership. The ceremony was live streamed for the public via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SouthDakotaNationalGuard.

Generically speaking, the unit had provided multi-functional logistics and support operations for U.S. and coalition forces in the Middle East. Specifically, “The unit conducted logistics operations primarily in Iraq and Kuwait, and had a few soldiers working in some other countries for short periods — Syria/Jordan,” said Anthony Deiss, speaking for the National Guard. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any specific mission details, but I would say they coordinated for movement of soldiers around the region, providing different classes of supplies to U.S. and coalition forces, realigned equipment across the region and turned in equipment for units.”

Welcome home speakers included Gov. Kristi Noem, Maj. Gen. Jeff Marlette — adjutant general for the South Dakota National Guard, and Lt. Col. David Moore.

At the long-ago send-off day, Marlette had said, “These are our citizen soldiers about to go off to war. You remember the day they left, the day they return, and the impact that has on your life. The reality is you — family, friends, neighbors — serve right alongside of us.”

Of the 69 local Guardsmen, this was the second deployment for 22 of them and the third deployment for 10 of them. This was the second mobilization for the 152nd CSSB since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The unit first deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013.

At least one soldier had a daughter born just months before the unit left. Two soldiers — Dave Moore and Albert LittleElk — had children born to them while on deployment. The unit included 16 women. While there, some members created a softball team which won a tournament among NATO-member teams. Temperatures there reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon, yet the nights could get cold; one camp of South Dakota soldiers even experienced snow.

In his speech, Marlette thanked the communities and families of the soldiers. He also thanked Kari Bauman, family readiness group head volunteer, who organized support and communications of the family members in South Dakota during the unit’s deployment.

“Soldiers, when needed you raised your hand and said ‘I will be there,” Marlene said. “You came back to a different country than you left. Some want to call it the ‘new normal’ — it is not normal. It takes adjustments and time for those adjustments. But, remember, we are extremely proud of you. You have brought honor.”

“We thought of you and prayed for you every day,” Noem said. “We know you were protected, and you know your jobs. There are simple words such as hope, peace, and honor that you exemplify. Thank you. Get some rest and enjoy your families.”

“The 152nd is home,” exclaimed Moore, who then briefly summarized the deployment. “We had rocket attacks, insurgents, rocket attacks, the corona pandemic, more rocket attacks, a delay of 30 days waiting for replacements, 15 days of quarantine. Our soldiers never wavered, completed their tasks, and accomplished their mission.” Moore praised some of the many “selfless acts” of unit members: talking to other-unit soldiers in mental distress and thus probably saving their lives; giving all their current cash to area civilians working at the camps; searching for and finding missing soldiers during rocket attacks, using life-saving skills on the wounded. During the first major rocket attack, three other-unit soldiers were killed and more were wounded. “During all this, you are the best and strongest unit,” said Moore.

The welcome home ceremony concluded with a roll call that was “loud and proud.” Each soldier came forward with a “Here, 1st Sergeant!” Each shook hands with the speakers and others, some even exchanging bear hugs. Then, the members of the 152nd were released from duty. They are on pass/leave, and not scheduled for drill attendance until the first weekend in September.

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