SPEARFISH — Consider it done!
That is the message Capt. Allen Godsell left members of the 842nd Engineer Company with as he read the order releasing the local soldiers from active duty status Thursday. It is the message that was emblazoned on many T-shirts, as family members hugged their loved ones at the Donald E. Young Center, and it was the overarching message of the day as the community welcomed back their heroes.
Activated on Sept. 20, 2011, Godsell, who is the commander of the 842nd, said it was indeed a year of spectacular service. But before he elaborated on their year of service, Godsell tipped his hat to all the families who took care of business while their loved ones were in theater.
“Job well done back home,” he said. “You really took care of business and allowed our soldiers to focus on the mission first. Without you doing what you did back here, we could not have done what we did over there, which was nothing less than spectacular.”
While in Afghanistan, Godsell said the 842nd did not have a typical deployment. Immediately upon arriving, the unit was split into three different groups that were under three different commands. At different times through the course of deployment, the 842nd managed five platoons that totaled 246 personnel. To complete its mission, the 842nd worked in conjunction with the German, Norwegian and Polish armies. The platoons were on their own most of the time, Godsell said, but a testament to their hard work and dedication could be seen in the quality of work they left behind.
While gone, the 842nd Engineering Company conducted service at 58 different locations, completed 275 miles of road construction and improvement, traveled 16,000 convoy miles, maintained 445 pieces of equipment, and much more.
Overall, the total value of engineering effects from the 842nd was $21,512,575, and the unit completed a total of 711 missions.
The unit brought home 11 Bronze Stars, 103 Army Commendation Medals, 22 Army Achievement Medals, 12 Combat Action Badges, among other badges and honors.
But, Godsell said, the single most significant achievement of the unit’s deployment was training the Afghan army.
“I can tell you from my position that the Afghan army is better,” Godsell said. “The last legacy of the 842nd in Afghanistan will not be operating bases built or torn down. It will be the knowledge that the Afghan army can hold its own, and the Afghan people can have control of their country back and that we were there as they started to turn that corner.”
Gov. Dennis Daugaard was on hand to welcome his soldiers back. Daugaard, who earlier this year visited the 842nd soldiers during a trip he took to Kuwait and Afghanistan, said he witnessed the danger the soldiers faced while they were away. The experience, he said, made him thankful to be an American.
“Wherever we traveled we had to wear body armor and helmets,” Daugaard said. “We traveled with machine guns, and it was a more sobering place to be. It reminded me how lucky we all are to be born in America. It also reminded me that the reason I don’t have to worry about body armor and helmets, machine guns and convoys, is because you worried about that. So I want to say ‘thank you,’ on behalf of all of South Dakota, for your courage and your service.”
But the day that honored so many local heroes was about more than the service overseas. It was also about the families who kept the home fires burning. At the end of the day, the reunification of families was the most important as husbands kissed wives, tiny arms wrapped around uniformed necks, mothers and fathers welcomed home grown children, and extended family members shared the joy.
Justin Ruen, of Rapid City, was all smiles as he struggled to keep his active 7-month-old son on his lap. Jordan was born while Ruen was in Afghanistan, and except for a short stint of leave last May, this is the first time he has gotten to hold his son. Jordan was one of nine babies born while their dads were deployed with the 842nd.
“It’s good to be home because I can see the difference from when I was here on leave (in May),” Ruen said.
Frank Bartlett hugged his 4-, 7- and 10-year-old children close to him, and watched proudly as his 13-year-old daughter, Nicole Bartlett, sing the National Anthem to open the deactivation ceremony. But before the ceremony got underway, he listened attentively as 4-year-old Jennifer talked excitedly, and nonstop, about how much she missed him. Among her favorite topics to tell her daddy about — the new 3-month-old puppy the family had just acquired.
“How much taller are you since daddy’s been gone?” Bartlett asked his 4-year old. “You’re getting so tall!”
Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch summed up the day’s excitement to thundering applause when he said, “We have 160 of our best South Dakota guardsmen who have been gone for a year and are back home, and I want to welcome you back to the state of South Dakota.”