MANKATO — Their numbers weren’t as large as a group of troops who returned to the area during the weekend, but the homecoming was no less heartfelt for the 10 soldiers and their loved ones at the Mankato Armory Tuesday.
Sheila Smisek couldn’t hold back the tears as she saw the bus pulling in. She was waiting for Dustin Lowy, who lived with her family since he was a youngster.
“He’s my son’s best friend. We took him in when he was 8 and he’s lived with us since,” Smisek said.
“When I had breast cancer, he always came and laid on my bed to talk to me and he always fell asleep. This has been the longest year of my life — I just love him to death.”
A large contingent of family and friends turned out to welcome back Anthony Risk of St. Peter, who was deployed to Kuwait last August. He had been back for emergency leave in March after his sister, Beth Risk, and his wife, Kaitie, were in an automobile accident. His sister died of her injuries.
Kaitie, who was waiting with the couple’s 3-month-old son, Jayden, said she’s hoping that her husband, whose contract with the Army is up in 2013, won’t be deployed again.
“He’s been in since 2005. He was deployed to Korea in 2006, but otherwise we’ve been lucky,” she said.
Anthony Risk, a mechanic in the Army, will return to his job as a mechanic at Discount Tire later this summer. The Army provides three months of pay following the soldiers’ return home.
Tyler Neese also was getting reacquainted with his baby after stepping off the bus. “I’ve been gone for a year. We had her a month before I left,” he said of baby Ella, who was waiting with mom Carie Wilson.
“I have a lot to learn about her,” he said as he kissed his daughter.
Neese will be returning to Minnesota State University this fall where he is taking forestry and business management.
His deployment to Kuwait was his third. He was part of the long 22-month deployment to Iraq and then served another tour in Baghdad.
The troops are all part of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry of the Minnesota Army National Guard headquartered in Mankato.
A handful of soldiers returned to Mankato late Monday night and a larger group of about 35 are tentatively set to arrive Sunday at the Armory. The timing of that arrival isn’t yet known and could possibly be pushed to Monday.