Welcome home

16 Diné among returning N.M. National Guard soldiers

By Diane J. Schmidt
Special to the Times

RIO RANCHO, N.M., Dec. 22, 2011

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(Special to the Times - Diane J. Schmidt)

TOP:Sgt. Bernadette Toledo, with her son Isaiah, 6, and daughter Autumn, 2 1/2, from Torreon, N.M., was among the New Mexico National Guard soldiers who returned from a yearlong tour of duty in Kosovo.

BOTTOM: First Lt. Winston Holyan, left, of Tohatchi, N.M., and Master Sgt. Eugene Tapahonso, from Shiprock, were among National Guard soldiers who were welcomed home Tuesday after a yearlong tour in Kosovo.

A big welcome home ceremony for New Mexico's National Guards returning from a yearlong deployment to Kosovo was held Tuesday at the Santa Ana Star Center.

Returning home were the 111th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Rio Rancho Unit), and the 126th Military Police (Albuquerque unit). The unit administrator estimated there were 16 Navajos in the groups.

According to the New Mexico National Guard Office of Public Affairs, "In recent years the New Mexico National Guard has deployed to Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Cuba and there are currently 82 (NM) Guardsmen deployed to the Southwest border mission."

The units served in the Republic of Kosovo, a country that most recently received recognition in 2008 but is a region of the Balkans in Europe that has been fought over since the beginning of recorded history.

The welcome home event was hosted by the 111th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

Army Col. Michael D. Schwartz, commander of the 111th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), and his troops have held responsibility since April for the Multinational Battle Group East, along with units from nine other nations, in support of the NATO mission.

Schwarz that since 2004 there had been no major problems in Kosovo. However, tensions erupted in September at a border crossing and the New Mexico National Guard troops saw action.

Task Force Capt. Shane Lauritzen during his remarks said, he "never expected to get a call that shots were fired at a remote forward guard."

He commended the guardsmen who he said showed the utmost restraint in not firing into the crowd, which could otherwise have become a more serious international incident.

First Lt. Winston Holyan of Tohatchi, N.M., who is Tl'óg’ (Zia Clan), born for Tábaahá (Water's Edge Clan), with the National Guard's 126th Military Police Company, said the soldiers fired over the heads of a rioting crowd.

The way he understood it, "Rioters were using a dump truck to attach a hook and cable to tear down a perimeter. Most of the people that stood up (during the welcome home ceremony, to be honored) were MPs that knew something needed to be done.

"When they (some in the mob) started throwing rocks, pipe bombs, we couldn't just shoot into the crowd," he said. "We shot over their heads," which stopped the disturbance.

Holyan, seated next to his platoon sergeant, Sgt. Lacey Macias, of Lovington, N.M., during the ceremony, said Macias returned with shrapnel in his leg as a result of one of the pipe bombs thrown during the September event.

Sgt. Bernadette Toledo, who is Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms People Clan), born for Tód’ch'’i'nii (Bitter Water Clan), from Torreon, N.M., said she has been in the military for 11 years.

She was on active duty in the army in Korea at the DMZ for four years and reenlisted with the National Guard for a year in Kosovo, where she worked in human resources.

She left her 15-month old daughter in her parents' care, while her son stayed with her fiancé.

She said that, yes, her daughter was in shock to see her on her return and recognized her.

"She's talking now and everything," Toledo said. "My mother did a great job."

Toledo is glad to be home.

"I would love to be able to find a job and be close to my parents in Torreon," she said.

Her parents, Bennie and Dorothy Toledo, were not able to attend the event because they were busy looking after things at home.

"They're very concerned for their livestock, the sheep, the horses, the goats," Toledo explained.

Toledo's plans now include continuing her online multi-disciplinary studies through Grantham University to earn her associates degree and then perhaps get into teaching.

While she expects she would be able to find work at one of the military bases in the area she would really like to find work near home but says that "it's who you know."

Her son now attends kindergarten at Na'neelzhiin o'lta'.

Task Force Capt. Lauritzen lauded Toledo saying, "I had to kick Toledo out of the office, she worked so hard. She was so dedicated in providing HR support for the entire headquarters and administrative staff of the division."

Toledo modestly admitted that was true, adding under her breath, "Well there really wasn't anything else to do there except work."

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