BISMARCK, ND – Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) helped honor 75 North Dakota National Guard Soldiers for their service Iraq and Afghanistan at a Freedom Salute Ceremony in Grand Forks today.

The soldiers, who deployed in November 2009 returned in December 2010, represent more than 30 communities statewide and are members of the 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, based in Grand Forks. The ceremony also honored the soldiers’ family members, employers and military supporters.

“North Dakota National Guard soldiers play an important role in our nation’s military operations, especially in the last 10 years as the U.S. has led efforts to defend freedom and combat terrorism throughout the world,” Sen. Hoeven said. “These soldiers, their families and employers, endure many sacrifices and hardships on our behalf and we can’t do enough to thank and honor them for their service.”

Many of the soldiers were honored for their role in an historic mission for the North Dakota National Guard, operating for the first time the Sentinel Radar in combat situations. The troops operated the radar, which can alert short-range air-defense weapons to sites of hostile targets, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other soldiers operated the RAID (Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment) system in Afghanistan, the fourth such overseas mission for North Dakota Guardsmen.

The troops in Afghanistan were led by Capt. Walyn Vannurden, of Cavalier, N.D., and 1st Sgt. Gregory Brockberg, of Moorhead, Minn., and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Kraft in Iraq. Both Vannurden and Brockberg were honored with the Bronze Star Medal, the fourth highest Armed Forces combat award.