Sgt. Scott Stroud had hopes of getting back home from Iraq in time for his daughter Mikayla's ninth birthday. But Stroud and 2,600 other Minnesota National Guard members aren't coming home in March as they'd expected.
As part of President Bush's decision to build up U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 troops, the Minnesota-based 1st Brigade Combat Team had its yearlong tour extended by up to 125 days.
Minnesota's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, said Thursday the team will be back no later than July, but it wasn't known if its mission will change. The citizen soldiers have been performing a wide variety of duties in all parts of Iraq.
Across Minnesota, families of Guard members who are going to be staying in Iraq longer than they'd hoped expressed a mixture of disappointment and pride Thursday.
Stroud's father, Rod Stroud, of Dalton, had hoped that the extension would be for only 30 to 60 days. The father exclaimed "oh for crying out loud" when he found out Thursday it would be twice as long. He said his son didn't know how long the extra tour would be when he e-mailed him earlier in the morning.
"He said that most people over there are kind of unhappy about it, but they're going to do what they have to do," Rod Stroud said.
Mikayla, who'll turn 9 on April 18th, is holding up "for the most part pretty good," her grandfather said. "He does get a chance to communicate once in a while. He spoke to her Monday evening."
Scott Stroud enlisted in the Guard after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and is one of two sons of Rod and Lois Stroud serving in Iraq. Maj. Shawn Stroud is in the regular Army.
"We know our sons would want the job done, and like my son said, `We'll do everything we have to,"' Rod Stroud said.
In Warren, Spc. Christopher Kliner's parents left up their Christmas tree expecting he'd be home in March.
"We'll still have a celebration even if he comes home in the summer or a later date," said his father, Robert Kliner. "We'll still have Christmas for him."
In Little Falls, Angie Budke, wife of Sgt. Kevin Budke, said she was "frustrated and sad," but hadn't had time to cry because she was still in shock. She said she'd just exchanged instant messages with her husband, who had been due to return stateside early -- in 45 days -- to help prepare for the rest of his unit's return.
"He said it's pretty bad over there," she said. "Everyone's really depressed, but they haven't got official word yet so they're still holding out hope."
The Budkes have a 19-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. Angie Budke said her husband had to miss their son's high school graduation, as well as his daughter's school sports. "He was looking forward to softball and now he's going to miss that too," she said.
In Hastings, Nancy Finley said she "totally" supports the president, even though it means a longer tour for her son, Sgt. Jaime Finley.
"My son says we're doing good stuff -- we need to be there to finish this ... or everyone who's given so much has done it in vain. I trust the military because they're the ones who are there," she said.
In Eden Valley, Julia McCann, mother of Sgt. John McCann, said she was proud of her son for volunteering to join the Guard but that the extension "really ticks me off. ...
"He's got three children at home and they miss their dad," she said, adding that she believes the 1st Brigade Combat Team has already done its duty. "Let someone else do their duty and go over there."
In Roseau, Linda Knetter said her son, Spc. Chuck Knetter, had warned her that the April return date wasn't set in stone.
"He told us straight out don't believe it until he gets on the plane for home," she said. "They try not to build up their enthusiasm too much for coming home because something can always go wrong where they have to stay longer."
In Foley, Connie Fox, wife of Sgt. Jared Fox, said she'd been on the phone with other Guard families on Thursday morning, and they were all expressing "concern and trying to get some answers as to what this means for our guys."
Her husband likely will also miss a birthday party -- their daughter will turn 2 on April 25th -- but as she put it, "we're in the military as a family."
Fox said they're both so committed to the military that after he's done with his Guard assignment he plans to join the active duty Air Force -- with her full support.
"I've always stood behind my soldier and I will always continue to stand behind my soldier," she said.
By Steve Karnowski, Associated Press Writer
AP reporter Archie Ingersoll contributed to this story from St. Paul.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)