It was a very joyous
week in Alexandria back in July when the National
Guard First Brigade Combat Team, nicknamed the Red Bulls, returned home from a
22-month deployment in Iraq.
That day marked the end of the longest deployment of any combat group to serve
including the 125 days more than originally planned. The soldiers left Iraq in mid-July, but spent several days in a reintegration
process at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
The first half of the
unit arrived in the Alex area Sunday, July 22, to be escorted by law
enforcement and fire trucks in a parade from Interstate 94 to Citizens Field,
where a short ceremony was held. The AlexandriaEcho Press
reported that “After the ceremony, a chain link fence — not half
the world — separated soldiers from their families and friends as they hugged
and talked through happy tears.” The second half returned Friday, July 27, to the
same exciting welcome.
During that week, Alexandria dentist Dr.
Erick Nolting contacted the unit’s advocate and organized a “Dental Days for
Returning Soldiers”. Dr. Nolting and all of his staff volunteered to see any of
the men and women of the
unit who wished to have dental treatment. The first of these days was held Friday, August 3. The
soldiers received exams, prophys, necessary X-rays, fillings, crowns — in
short, whatever they needed.
The day was very
rewarding for all concerned. The soldiers were very glad to be home and were
looking forward to returning to normal life and planning for the future,
whatever that future might be. What that might mean in the first blush of
arriving home varied widely. One young man was planning to finish a pole shed
he had started before he was deployed. Another had decided to attend college
instead of returning to his former job of installing in-ground swimming pools.
Another reflected upon a difficult two years in the service and said he would
need to get re-acclimated to “regular life”. He paused and said, “We all need
to get back to normal.” Each of the soldiers was very appreciative of the care that
was given him or her. Every last one of them smiled a lot and thanked everyone,
and all of them commented that they were surprised there was no charge. Each
time Dr. Nolting told them, “This is the least we can do. Because of what you
do for us, we are free to do what we do. Thank you!”
What they saw in these
young people convinced the participants that our nation has a bright future. Speaking
for the group, Dr. Nolting said simply, “Thank you to all the members of the
First Brigade Combat Team, and all who have served in the armed forces. We are
all in your debt.”