A hot gymnasium in Corning was the setting for one of a dozen homecoming ceremonies last night (Monday) and today, welcoming back some 700 Iowa National Guard troops from a year of duty in Afghanistan. The 40 soldiers who returned to Corning helped provide security and support as part of Task Force 168. One soldier, Specialist Rick James of Villisca, says it’s great to be home but he will miss some things about Afghanistan. Brigadier General Mark Zirkelbach, Deputy Adjutant General of the Iowa Army National Guard, says he’s proud of what the troops accomplished during their tour of duty. The general says Task Force 168 organized, conducted and participated in more than 12,000 missions, yet they suffered just three combat casualties, all of which came during one mission. 22-year-old Specialist James Kearney III of Emerson was killed in action. Twenty-nine-year-old Specialist Ken Lukes, of Protivin, lost his arm, and 22-year-old Specialist Michael Johnson, of Red Oak, was injured — all during an ambush on November, 1, 2004. Zirkelbach says any casualty is regrettable, but that three casualties in 12,000 missions is “absolutely remarkable.” He credits the soldiers’ training and instincts for preventing any further losses. Staff Sergeant Charlie Misner, from Griswold, agreed that their training was, for the most part helpful, but experience is the true “teacher” of lessons, in times of war. Misner has three-years left in his stint with the Guard, and during that time, he says he wants to pass on his knowledge to the younger troops. His buddies in the Montgomery County Secondary Roads Department want him back at work, but for now, Misner says he’s going to take some time off and get reacquainted with his family.
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