National Guard soldiers return from Afghanistan

A year ago Wednesday, Lt. Col. Mark Brewer said goodbye to his wife, Janet, and their four children and boarded a bus to Kansas.

In November, he left for Afghanistan.

When Brewer and seven other Illinois Army National Guard soldiers arrived at Camp Lincoln on Wednesday, he was greeted by his 6-year-old daughter, Analise, throwing her arms around his neck.

“She said earlier in the car that she wants to give him a big hug and not let him go,” said Brewer’s wife, Janet.

The soldiers were eight of about 100 Illinois Army National Guard soldiers serving in the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team who recently returned to Illinois. The soldiers are part of the largest overseas deployment of Illinois National Guardsmen since World War II. The deployment included 30 units from throughout the state.

Apart from two weeks in April, the family hadn’t seen Mark Brewer all year, Janet Brewer said.

They said they made it through with a lot of support from family and friends at West Side Christian Church, where they were headed after Thursday’s welcome home ceremony at Camp Lincoln.

“Probably the hardest thing was not being able to call him on the phone whenever I wanted,” Janet Brewer said.

She and Mark talked on the telephone once a week and were able to e-mail each other daily. However, because of where Brewer was stationed in Afghanistan, he wasn’t allowed to use a Web cam.

The Brewers’ 8-year-old son, Dillon, said he is excited to be able to play baseball and golf again with his father. Daughters Emily, 19, and Katie, 17, said they were just excited to see him back.

“This was unbelievable,” Mark Brewer said of the welcome home ceremony. “I didn’t think the day would ever come.”

Brewer described his year in Afghanistan as “the longest year and the shortest year at the same time.”

“It’s a humbling feeling to come back to a ceremony like this,” he said.

In Afghanistan, some of the soldiers formed Police Mentor Teams that trained Afghan National Police, according to the Illinois Army and Air National Guard. The teams also conducted patrols and security missions with the Afghan National Police.

Other groups formed teams that trained the Afghan National Army, according to the Illinois Army and Air National Guard. Four soldiers were killed in action during the units’ deployment in Afghanistan.

Those returning included soldiers from Troop A, 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry in Pontiac; Troop B, 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry in Dixon; Troop C, 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry in Aurora; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry in Kewanee; Joint Force Headquarters in Springfield; and soldiers from various units with the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry.