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Soldier back from Iraq welcomes the snow

Brandon Diener preferred the local snow to sand in Iraq following his return from a tour of duty in Basra.1 / 3
Brandon Diener prepares for action in full combat gear during his recent tour of duty in Iraq. Diener served with the Red Bull Division of the Army National Guard and returned home Jan. 31. Photo submitted2 / 3
Brandon Diener, left, and a local citizen display an Iraqi flag that was retrieved after being discarded by British troops who occupied the base in Basra before the Americans took over. Photo submitted3 / 3

The snow and slush of last week was annoying to a lot of people but for Brandon Diener it was a welcome sight.

Diener, 23, Roberts, returned Jan. 31 from a tour of duty in Iraq with the 34th Infantry Red Bull Division of the Army National Guard where the temperatures topped out at 130 degrees and sand was everywhere.

He was stationed at Basra in South Iraq. "It got up to 130 degrees but it was 10 times worse because we were near the gulf and the humidity got up to 80 percent," he said during a conversation last week at a Hudson coffee shop.

Diener said with full combat gear on, sweat didn't flow in droplets but large globules.

The heat wasn't the only irritant. Unmanned rockets set off by insurgents were another.

"They had rockets with timers," he said. They were set up at quite a distance and aimed to go off at a future time when the insurgents figured American troops would be in a certain area, Diener explained.

"You could hear them hiss," he said, "and when they got close, you could hear the motors. When you heard the motors you were too close."

That was the case in July when three members of his unit were killed by an unmanned rocket hit. "That was tough," he said.

After the three were killed, Diener said orders came down for the troops not to congregate or gather in groups.

The use of any electronic device outside the base was prohibited also because improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can hone in on a signal from a cell phone, digital camera or the like. Because of this, he doesn't have any photos of civilian areas of Basra. "We could only take photos on base," he said.

Diener got a break from the war in September when he pulled 15 days leave for the birth of his child, Vivian, to his girlfriend Johanna Williams. "I missed the actual birth by two days," he said, but added he got home the same time the new mother came home from the hospital.

Diener, an E-4 Specialist, said he plans to do a full 20 years in the Army National Guard. "I love the military," he said. "I got to see the world."

He was stationed near where legend claims civilization began in the ancient world but years of war have taken a toll. "There were three rivers running through Basra and each one was a different color," he said. "I wouldn't go swimming in any of them."

Diener, a 2005 graduate of St. Croix Central High School, said he was working in a pizza place in Roberts when he decided to join the National Guard. His three-year anniversary date was the day he got back from overseas -- Jan. 31.

"I want to go to college and you can be full-time National Guard and get your college paid for. I also thought it was the right thing to do, to earn my citizenship," he said.

There may be some long-range benefits to his guard service. Diener said he worked with a lot of technology in his communications position while on active duty in Iraq that could help him get a higher-end job.

"The hardest part is finding a job," he said. "Over there (Iraq) I had a job, I knew what to do every day and I knew what I was being paid."