Military and local officials on Sunday honored a group of Alexandria-based National Guard soldiers who served in Afghanistan during America's final year there.

About 65 members of Charlie Battery in the 1st Battalion of the 194th Field Artillery Regiment left Alexandria on Aug. 3, 2020, went to Fort Bliss, Texas, to quarantine for two weeks, then trained in Oklahoma before shipping out to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

They returned home Aug. 3, and got a couple of months to relax and spend time with their families before returning to Alexandria for the welcome-home ceremony, said Lt. William Hermanson, a platoon leader for the group and also a Camp Ripley public affairs officer.

Bagram Air Force Base has historically taken quite a bit of enemy fire over its 20-year history, but it had slowed down by the time the Alexandria-based troops arrived, Hermanson said.

Still, alarms would occasionally sound and soldiers would dive for bunkers. The biggest excitement, he said, was Dec. 19, when five rockets were fired at the base. Everyone took cover, he said, and the Alexandria unit was responsible for shooting down the rockets. They shot down four of them, he said; the fifth fell short and exploded in a muddy field. Nobody was injured that he knew of, he said.

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“We had been training for it for three months and were ready for it," Hermanson said. "Looking back on it, it probably was a high stress situation but it didn’t feel like it.”

Some members of their unit went to Iraq for a time to support military operations there, he said.

The battery left Afghanistan in late July, about a month before all U.S. troops pulled out of the country.

Most members of the Alexandria-based troop live somewhere else in Minnesota, he said. They divide their training between the armory in Alexandria and Camp Ripley. Their main job is artillery, and they train primarily on Howitzers, although their job in Afghanistan didn't involve Howitzers at all. Besides rockets, they also intercepted artillery and mortar attacks.

They also got a chance to mingle with NATO troops from other countries, including Mongolia, Georgia, Romania and Great Britain. It was fun learning words in their language, he said, as well as their approaches toward training. While U.S. soldiers tend to focus their fitness efforts on heavy lifting and running fast, other nations focus more on whole-body fitness, he said, eating less fat and trying to protect their knees and backs for later in life.

“It was an honor to be able to serve and be over there and be a part of history and be able to serve our country,” he said. “We want to thank our families too because they served as much as we did.”

That included his own family, his wife and three young children.

Now that their group is back in Minnesota, Minnesota National Guard members are being used domestically at short-staffed hospitals and long-term care facilities. Members who returned with him from Afghanistan are now volunteering for that duty. Those members receive their standard duty pay and housing.

"We are always training and preparing and are always ready for whatever the nation calls for us to do," he said.