Hundreds of families across Minnesota are celebrating the best Christmas present ever — their soldiers are back home.
Tears of joy were seen on the faces of the families and soldiers of the Cambridge-based 850th Horizontal Engineer Company during a Welcome Home ceremony held Dec. 22 at Cambridge-Isanti High School.
The 140 soldiers of the 850th HEC returned to Minnesota after an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan. The 850th HEC of the Minnesota National Guard is a horizontal construction company in the U.S. Army and headquartered in Cambridge, with the 682nd Engineer Battalion as their higher headquarters based in Willmar.
The soldiers were greeted with patriotic signs along Highway 65 and in the city of Cambridge, and when they arrived at the high school members of the Patriot Guard waved American flags, and fire trucks from Cambridge, Rush City and Zimmerman hung a large American flag at the top of its ladder trucks.
“I am extremely proud of these soldiers,” said Army Capt. Michael Thompson, 850th Horizontal Engineer Company Commander. “Our soldiers hit the ground running when we arrived in Afghanistan. One of our most notable achievements was the repair and improvement of an alternate supply route which enabled us to divert convoys from a main supple route that routinely received enemy contact. The 850th executed this task with speed and precision despite the constant threat of enemy attacks.”
Additionally, the unit cleared mine fields, repaired various roads networks, improved drainage and flow control issues, deconstructed non-essential bases as well a built a resiliency center, a gym and multiple guard towers.
Soldiers from the 850th HEC represent 100 communities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, with one soldier living as far away as Texas.
Six soldiers from Isanti who were deployed included Sgt. Thomas Gehrke, Sgt. Mitchell Perry, Spc. Davis Sjoberg and Sgt. Derek Zoerb; four from Cambridge included Spc. Alexander Kelley, Spc. Christoffer Lund and Spc. Kevin Nickel, Jr.; Pfc. Jesse Pearson, from Braham, and one soldier from Dalbo. (Not all the soldiers’ names are listed as some didn’t want to be named).
The soldiers were commended for their service.
“Thank you for all your work,” said 1st Sgt. Jeffry Taylor. “You guys did a wonderful job during your deployment to Afghanistan. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of soldiers to take with me. Welcome home, and you are free to leave and head home to spend the holidays with your families.”
The Unit appreciated the support it received while deployed.
“We would like to thank everyone who supported us during our deployment, especially Isanti County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, the Patriot Guard and our families,” Thompson said. “We felt your support and it made our mission over in Afghanistan that much easier.”
The average age of the deploying soldiers was 27 years old. The youngest soldier was 18 and the oldest was 55. This was the first deployment for 73 percent (110) of the 140 soldiers. Twenty-six percent (39) have previously deployed. For some, this was the second, third and/or fourth deployment.
Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer was moved to tears during the ceremony. Palmer was part of a large contingency of law enforcement that escorted the troops back into Cambridge.
“This is one of those days you’ll always remember,” Palmer said. “Your heart is so filled with gratitude. We’ve seen families crying, and babies reuniting with their parents. We have to always remember the thankfulness we feel right now, and always offer our continued support for our troops.”