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Just in time for Christmas, 14 soldiers of the Utah National Guard returned home to Utah today after serving nearly 12 months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

First Lt. Will Biesinger is glad to complete his mission in Afghanistan. His family expected him home next month. "Santa Claus came early this year. He came early and unannounced to Afghanistan for security reasons. We just jumped in the sleigh with him and came home," he said.

Now it's time to hug those too young to understand and share emotions with those who will never forget. "It's been a shopping marathon that had to happen. We were going to have Christmas in January, but we're ready. Now it feels like Christmas," Beisinger's wife, Julie, said.

In Afghanistan last fall, the 14 soldiers made up an Embedded Training Team. They mentored a new battalion in the Afghan National Army so they could take on the Taliban.

"They're starting to become more and more aggressive, especially along the Pakistani border. It is a dangerous situation," Maj. Tyler Smith told us.

The guardsmen also worked with local soldiers to build a brand new base next to a massive reservoir. "I think that we were able to win the hearts and minds of the local populous and truly help drive the insurgents out of the area we were working in," Beisinger said.

More than a dozen troops, American and French, died in same area in the summer. "We pause and reflect on those that did not make it. There are some of our fellow soldiers that didn't make it, but all of us from Utah are back safe," Smith said.

The Utah troops left Afghanistan early to make way for more troops. "It hasn't been easy, but it's over now," Smith's wife, Maurine, said.

The new mission for the soldiers: a shopping blitz for Christmas. The families may be ready now, but the soldiers have some work to do.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com
E-mail: tcallan@ksl.com

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Jed Boal and Tom Callan

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