News: North Dakota airmen mark brief reprieve from overseas missions
FARGO, N.D. - For the first time in about 11 years, no North Dakota air National Guard Airmen are deployed overseas.
Last night, Capt. Nathan Lagred, with the 119th Medical Group, returned to Fargo from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan. With his return, North Dakota Air Guardsmen begin a short break in overseas missions for the unit known as the Happy Hooligans.
While leaders expect the hiatus to be brief, it offers time to pause and reflect on what the numerous overlapping deployments have meant for the North Dakota airmen and their families.
"Our Happy Hooligans have been serving with pride and distinction in the Global War on Terrorism, starting with some of the first missions on 9/11 and continuing through today," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. "Through it all, their families have served, too. While challenging for our Guard families, these missions have made a major impact on our state, nation and world."
Within hours of the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, North Dakota Air Guardsmen were in the skies over Washington, D.C., providing a damage assessment of the Pentagon and patrolling other areas along the East Coast in an effort to prevent any other potential attacks. The alert missions continued around the clock for months to come. Before long, overseas missions began in earnest, too.
In 2001, 688 North Dakota Air National Guardsmen mobilized stateside for 30 days or longer. Firefighters with the unit, which was the 119th Fighter Wing at that time, were the first to deploy overseas after 9/11, leaving in January 2002 for Afghanistan. After six months there, they were sent to the Minot Air Force Base for another six months of active-duty service, rounding out a yearlong mobilization.
Since 2001, about 2,400 North Dakota Air National Guard members have served in the Global War on Terrorism. Their roles varied, from coordinating security for Iraq's prime minister to helping establish the Iraqi Air Force. Some brought medical aid to coalition forces while others helped process the remains of fallen warriors on their way home for the last time.
"We train our entire careers to practice in a combat setting, and there I was actually in a tent hospital," Capt. Karin Halverson recalled of her deployment to Iraq. "Our base took fire. We saw helicopters dropping off wounded all day long. And, I met a lot of amazing people."
Other missions have included defusing bombs as explosive ordnance disposal technicians and providing fuel to the numerous aircraft in the area of operations.
"I was there during the surge, and we were constantly breaking fuel consumption records," Chief Master Sgt. John Nordquist recalled of his time in Iraq.
In 2009, the Guard's 177th Airlift Squadron deployed pilots, maintenance personnel and several of the unit's C-21 Lear jets to Qatar, marking the first time the North Dakota Air National Guard deployed aircraft to a theater of war. Their experience and dedication came through, and after just two months of performing the mission, North Dakota airmen accepted the Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit of the Month Award in June 2009.
"Our airmen's duties have been varied and distinct," said Col. Rick Gibney, 119th Wing commander. "The nation knows when they need the best, that North Dakota will out-perform any expectations."
Some airmen have served time and time again; 108 North Dakota National Guard airmen have served on five or more mobilizations exceeding 30 days since 9/11.
Even today, as a break in airmen overseas is observed, the missions continue. Airmen fly MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft that operate in other countries from here in North Dakota. Others maintain security of the nation's nuclear arsenal near Minot, N.D., while serving with the Guard's 219th Security Forces Squadron. Air Guardsmen remain on duty 24/7 in Fargo, as well, for security as well as aircraft and maintenance missions. Even when stateside, some celebrate holidays while on duty, sharing meals with their military "family" in a dining facility on base rather than with their own families at home.
All airmen know and expect the sacrifices that come with serving one's communities, state and nation. Of those serving today, 422 have enlisted since 9/11. The remaining members of the North Dakota Air National Guard - a force that exceeds 1,000 Airmen - have chosen to remain in uniform since that fateful day by extending their service contracts.
Editor's Note: Please note that those in the Air National Guard are referred to as "airmen," not "soldiers," which is the proper term for those who serve in the Army National Guard. Thank you!
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,900 soldiers and about 2,400 airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. About 70 percent of all members serving today have joined since that time. Currently, nearly 200 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while more than 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that's more than four times the national average.