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Date, time for Able Company return nears

Bemidji residents will soon be able to take their Hero Hankies from their window displays and use them to wave soldiers into town.

Minnesota Army National Guard Public Relations Lt. Col. Kevin Olson has reported that the 150 soldiers in Bemidji-based Company A, 2nd Battalion, 136th Combined Arms Battalion 34th Infantry (Red Bull) Division will be among the last of the Minnesota Guard returning from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Olson said the National Guard won't disclose the specific time and date of the soldiers' return because of operational security issues. Besides, he said, the soldiers will arrive on military flights, not commercial aircraft, so their transportation won't run on a predictable timetable. However, Olson said to expect them home with the next two weeks.

Before returning to their detachments in Bemidji, Detroit Lakes and Alexandria, the soldiers will undergo demobilization tasks for about one week at Fort McCoy, Wis. He said families should not try to visit their soldiers at Fort McCoy because they would distract the men and women from their demobilization operations and possibly delay their homecomings. He said the National Guard's goal is to get the soldiers home as soon as possible.

The actual homecoming to Bemidji will be announced by press release a few days before the soldiers' arrival. At that time, well-wishers can wave their Hero Hankies, which are available for welcoming home the men and women serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Gayle Quistgaard, VisitBemidji executive director, said the hankies can be purchased in Bemidji at the Tourist Information Center, City Hall, National Guard Armory, MarketPlace Food & Drug and Lueken's Village Foods North and South stores. The margins of the hankies are wide to make room for autographs.

The hankies cost $2 each with proceeds going to the Enlisted Men's Club at the National Guard Armory.

The official National Guard Homecoming Celebration is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 25 on the Bemidji State University campus. At this celebration, the community will recognize Able Company soldiers and thank them and their loved ones for their selfless and dedicated service since their activation on Oct. 1, 2005, and subsequent extended deployment.

Soldiers from Able Company are not only from Bemidji, but from several communities around northern and central Minnesota including Red Lake, Walker, Cass Lake, Blackduck, Park Rapids, Laporte, Clearbrook, McIntosh, Erskine, Pengilly, Ada, Ponsford, International Falls, Moorhead, Hibbing, Little Falls, Buffalo, St. Paul, Brownsville, Lakeville and Bloomington; and Siren, Wis., and West Liberty, Ky.