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Ready for home

The troops are ready to come home.

"We can see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Minnesota National Guard Capt. Adam Gilbertson, company commander of Able Company, 2-136th, said via telephone Thursday afternoon.

After what will be 22 months away from home, the men "look forward to coming back and being a part of the community. It's just a long time to be gone," he said.

Although Gilbertson can't give exact dates, he said the men should be back in Detroit Lakes the last week of July.

As for their time in Iraq, he said the men are making headway with the natives.

"It really has been the soldiers' ability to engage the population here," he said has been the biggest accomplishment of the soldiers while in Iraq.

They have worked to rebuild water systems, septic systems and schools. Even in just the last six months, Gilbertson said, he and the troops have seen a difference in the Iraqis and their abilities to stand on their own.

"The ability to build that relationship" has been a great accomplishment, he said.

Besides the buildings and water improvements, the troops have aided in three medical operations, bringing in American and Iraqi doctors to help the townspeople.

The Detroit Lakes and Bemidji based troops are responsible for five towns ranging in population from 200 to 6,000. The area has lots of fishing and some agriculture.

While things are improving for the Iraqis, the 136th group has seen its share of loss as well.

Since losing two members of the team -- Josh Hanson and Greg Riewer -- Gilbertson said it's obviously been hard on the men.

"We'll never forget them, but also we have a job we have to continue here," he said.

"Morale is very good for the most part," he continued, saying that's not tied to losing the men. "We believe we are making a difference here. We see progress, especially to the west."

He said that Baghdad is a different story, but Al Anbar Province, where they are located, has seen a major change, "a complete reversal."

Once-hostile Sunni tribesmen have joined with the Americans to fight al-Qaida gunmen there.

A group of Marines will be coming to take over where the 136th leaves off in July. Gilbertson said the Marines will be there the end of this month to go through the "extensive" process of handing off the work.

Then the troops will return to the Detroit Lakes and Bemidji area within the next couple months. He said, of course, that's all subject to getting out of Iraq on time and demobilization at Fort McCoy, Wis.

"We appreciate the support from both Detroit Lakes and Bemidji. It's been a godsend," he said.