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Home at last

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, which included eight soldiers from Superior, were 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.

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The two have been married for two years, but have yet to celebrate an anniversary. Moen had to go on assignment just before their first anniversary, and he returned exactly one week after their second.

"It's difficult, but we made it," Moen said.

The Siers children didn't know how to react Monday.

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

Eventually, they realized that dad was home to stay.

Siers and his platoon of 40 men, 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.

Their job description was also eclectic.

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

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

They were set up after sheiks and Iraqi leaders decided to stand up to insurgents, Siers said.

Eventually, the new Iraqi forces took the point position. 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."

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Sier's men, who lived at Iraqi police stations in the community, saw first-hand the fruits of their labor.

"Everybody knew we were making a difference," Siers said.

But, Moen 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.

But the deployment exacted a price. A year and a half isn't so long in the eyes of an adult. A lot can happen in that time if you're a child.

"I missed my son learning to ride a two-wheel bike," Siers said. "My youngest daughter is talking like crazy now."

It's the little things -- softball games, volleyball games, family time -- that he missed most.

While Siers was leading his troops in Iraq, his wife Missy was coordinating meals, practices, doctor's 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. He will be part of the minutiae of daily life, although right now it hasn't quite sunk in.

Siers watched Haley's game Monday, though.

"She did really good," he said.

Today, he and his wife will ferry two children to doctor's appointments. And Haley has already hinted that she plans to beat her father in a game of one-on-one volleyball one of these days.

For Moen, he and his wife plan to celebrate their third anniversary together. Until then, they will continue their lives, Moen said, and "carry on where we left off."

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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