Duluth-area families thrilled to have their soldiers back

Haley Siers bubbled with enthusiasm Monday. The 12-year-old's excitement was fueled by a call from her father, platoon Sgt. Tracy Siers of the 1-194th Army National Guard in Minnesota.

Haley Siers bubbled with enthusiasm Monday. The 12-year-old's excitement was fueled by a call from her father, platoon Sgt. Tracy Siers of the 1-194th Army National Guard in Minnesota.

"He told us he was in Fort McCoy somewhere and he's going to be home today," the Superior girl said. "I'm going to make him watch my volleyball game. It's going to be awesome."

The battalion was deployed to Iraq 15 months ago. They were welcomed home Monday with a ceremony in Woodbury, Minn.

Michelle Moen had been counting down the days until her husband, E-4 Specialist Chris Moen, returned.

"It's great to have him back home," she said.


The two have been married for two years, but have yet to celebrate an anniversary.

"Just under a year before I left I got married and had to leave my wife behind," Moen said. "That was difficult with her having to deal with work and school and being on her own for a while."

The Siers children reacted in various ways Monday.

"The 12-year-old came up and said 'hi,' " Tracy Siers said. "My youngest ones came up and mauled me."

Siers and his platoon of 40, based in Duluth, were stationed in the volatile al-Anbar province. From Ramadi in the east to five miles shy of the Syrian border in the west, "we were all over the place," Siers said.

"We were doing just about everything -- patrols, working with the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army," Siers said.

With their work to create emergency response battalions, the Northland soldiers helped bring stability.

"Ramadi, Haditha, Fallujah -- they were some of the most dangerous places in the world," Siers said. "When we got there it was ridiculous."


Bolstered by Marines and other forces, the deployment took on a different hue.

"Basically it became a 'hearts and minds' operation," Siers said. "We got the people to stand up and say, 'That's enough.' "

The platoon was spread out, Moen said.

"Because we didn't have enough guys to lock down a certain area we were kind of used for a few different things by different units," he said. "It was kind of difficult moving a lot and adjusting to the different missions."

The emergency response battalions are "militia made up of civilians from Ramadi who are sick of al-Qaeda," Moen said.

Eventually, the new Iraqi forces took the lead. They patrolled, made arrests and detained suspects on their own with U.S. troops along in advisory roles.

"That's the whole point; that's what we're trying to get to," Siers said. "That's what happened in al-Anbar."

Moen, who has been serving for about three years, warned there is no quick fix in Iraq.


"It's going to take a long time," he said. "There's a lot to do."

Letters and calls from home helped.

"It made our job easier, just knowing we were supported over there," Siers said.

While Siers was leading his troops in Iraq, his wife, Missy, was coordinating meals, practices, doctors' appointments and school for the children -- Haley; 6-year-old Autumn; Archer, 5; and 4-year-old Gabby.

"She's got a thousand things going," Siers said. "I don't know how she does it."

The family will have the next 30 days to spend together before Siers goes back to work full time. Siers watched Haley's game Monday.

"She did really good," he said.

Moen and his wife plan to celebrate their third anniversary together. Moen said he is going to try to get hired as a jailer at the Douglas County Jail and plans to enroll at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in January for law enforcement.


"They had all the kids from the school lined up outside cheering" in Woodbury, Moen said. "Quite a few people from my family were able to make it down there. It was nice to see them and have them bring me home."

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