Home on leave

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What would you do if you were a member of the Albert Lea National Guard home on leave? Would you sleep in, spend time with loved ones, go out with friends, catch up on all of those not-so-recently released movies you’ve missed over the last couple of months?

Mike Nelson, 26, of National Guard Unit 2-135 out of Albert Lea has been doing just that and more during his 15-day leave.

&uot;I’ve just been at home relaxing, visiting family and friends,&uot; said Nelson.

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Nelson and the Albert Lea National Guard unit were deployed March 10, when they spent about 10 weeks in training at Fort Hood, Texas, before being stationed in Afghanistan. Right now his battalion is in Kosovo, said Nelson, but they have been working and living in Herat, Afghanistan.

&uot;We are there to win over the hearts and minds of those people, and it is progressing really well,&uot; he said. &uot;They want us there, especially in Herat, everyone is pretty friendly and you don’t feel uncomfortable or anything.&uot;

The friendly relationship that Nelson hinted at is enhanced by the kind of work they are doing. While there they serve as force protection for civil affairs, providing security at area hospitals, bridges, schools

and construction sites.

&uot;For one mission my mom sent me a bunch of Beanie Babies, and we were just swamped by kids,&uot; said Nelson. &uot;They kind of attacked me.&uot;

While the city of Herat is well off, the towns surrounding it are not as lucky, said Nelson. In outlying communities, running water is considered a luxury no one can afford and buildings are made of mud.

&uot;Whenever we go out on missions we try to bring things to the children,&uot; said Nelson. &uot;If you only see 10

kids at first and then leave to go get the packages, 50 more will show up. They come out of the woodwork.

&uot;I think that we are doing a good job over there, because the people want us there,&uot; he continued. &uot;We are making a lot of progress, we are giving these people things that they’ve never had before.&uot;

Nelson joined the National Guard in 2001 in order to get some money for college and tried not to think about where it might lead, and neither did his parents.

&uot;We weren’t real happy about it,&uot; said Fred Nelson, Mike’s father, &uot;but we support our country and after Sept. 11, we had to do something. We are concerned, but he is a big boy and he can take care of himself.&uot;

The most frightening experience Nelson has gone through since being gone was his recent flight back home.

&uot;Flying back I was on a C130, which doesn’t have any seats, only cargo nets, and they cram you in there,&uot; he explained. &uot;That flight was 10 hours long, and then I had another 18-hour flight from Kuwait back to the States. That one was commercial, so it was a little better, but I hate to fly.&uot;

For now Nelson doesn’t have to worry as he has a handful of days home before his flight back overseas.

&uot;It was hard to go, because I didn’t know what to expect,&uot; said Nelson, &uot;but it won’t be that bad going back, because I know what is going on.&uot;

Nelson may be comfortable returning to Herat, but reassuring his family he is safe there is another matter.

&uot;It has been fun having him home, I’d much rather him stay here,&uot; said Fred. &uot;We always worry, but all of those parents do, and the wives who have their husbands over there. There is nothing that we can do, so we just wait and hope. That is always the case when you have a situation like this.&uot;

Albert Lea National Guard Unit 2-135 is expected home in May


(Contact Jennifer Rogers at jennifer.rogers@albertleatribune.com or at 379-3439.)