Nearly one year ago, crowds swarmed the Huron Arena, teary-eyed and anxious for what the future held.

On Saturday, many of the same people again gathered in the large event center, shedding tears once more, but this time thankful to have their loved ones home from a 10-month deployment to the Middle East.

The 165 soldiers of the Huron-based 153rd Engineer Battalion and its Parkston-based Forward Support Company were welcomed home with praise and recognition on Saturday morning, and there were few empty seats to be found as Maj. Gen. Timothy Reisch, adjutant general of the South Dakota National Guard, addressed the soldiers during the unit’s deactivation ceremony.  

“Huron and Parkston are two of strongest National Guard communities we’ve got,” said Reisch, former commander of the 153rd. “... This mobilization that was just completed is just as significant to our history as any of the former world wars, I can tell you that.”

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard was scheduled to appear, but fell ill last minute, so South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels filled in. He brought humor to an otherwise serious ceremony, bringing a young boy, named Oscar, dressed in a military outfit on stage. To a roar of applause, Oscar identified his father who came home from deployment as Cmrd. Trent Bruce.

But Michels also took time to remind attendees that being a soldier is a serious job that affects the entire country.

“None of us in elected offices, none of us that have businesses, none of us that have dreams that we make possible, could make that possible without you men and women as soldiers saving us and keeping us under a civilian government and freedoms you’ve put your lives on the line for,” Michels said. “Thank you for our freedom.”

The troops returned to the United States from the Middle East earlier in September, landing in Fort Bliss, Texas. While there, they completed demobilization requirements.

The mission of the 153rd was to provide command and control of assigned or attached engineer units, while the FSC provided logistics and maintenance support.

Because the soldiers successfully completed those duties, they returned home safely to their families, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds said. But the soldiers couldn’t have been successful overseas without their families and friends at home, he said.

“When they mobilized this National Guard unit, they mobilized communities, so thank you to the communities, too,” Rounds said. “To (a soldier’s) spouse, there’s no such thing as a handbook you go by to figure out how to be a spouse of a member of the armed forces … but you do a marvelous job.”

And, to U.S. Sen. John Thune, the soldiers of the 153rd, along with the entire South Dakota National Guard, are the state’s “pride and joy.”

“We live in a free country, the greatest country on the whole planet because of the men and women and families willing to make it so,” Thune said. “We thank you for a job well done and a mission accomplished.”

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