Welcome home to the ‘Dirty 30’: Kansas guardsmen return home from Afghanistan

Paola, Kan. -- The “Dirty 30” are back in Paola, Kansas.

For the last 11 months, 30 Kansas National Guardsmen in the 130th Battalion were deployed overseas in Afghanistan as part of the New War on Terror.

Paola is a town of roughly 5,500 people. For almost a year, it’s been missing 28 of them.

That changed this week. Most of the Dirty 30 arrived home Thursday afternoon. And on Saturday, more than 11 months after they were deployed, they were dismissed.

Families packed the American Legion Hall off Delaware Street. In the Legion Hall’s main room, 28 of the guardsmen packed the stage. All waited to hear the glorious word: “dismissed.”

Ben Nicks sat in the front row. His 99-year-old eyes saw it all, including his grandson in his military uniform on that stage.

“This is his third term of Service in the Middle East,” Nicks said proudly after the ceremony.

“That was a matter of joy,” the World War II veteran said. “Watching him and all the rest of his combat troop that served over there.”

Nicks initially enlisted with the 130th himself in January 1941. His service lasted until Aug. 6, 1945, ending in the Pacific Ocean -- 8,000 miles away from Paola.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Nicks saw his grandfather from his perch on the stage.

“He’s a great man,” the younger Nicks said. “I look up to him very much.”

Staff Sgt. Nicks said he joined the 130th in part because of his grandfather and his stories. His tour took the younger Nicks roughly 8,000 miles away from Paola as well.

“Obviously,” Andrew said, “with me having a family, it’s going to take me away from home. It can be tough to balance that and a career and home life.”

He noted the thing he missed the most during his deployment was his now-five year old son, Alex.

“But,” he continued, “it’s one of those things that I personally feel I need to do, so I make that sacrifice, I make that commitment to make it work.”

This was the third mission in 15 years for the members, and they made history: They are the second field artillery team since World War II to be used while they were deployed. That means they were shooting rockets and missiles at targets dozens of miles away.

Capt. Matthew Nordquist said the battalion hit all of its 296 targets during its deployment.

Now, the younger Nicks and the rest of the 130th will go back to their families and their jobs. It will be a world much different than what they came from. Though, Nicks points out, he’s done it twice before.

“I’m going to go back to work and continue living our lives,” he said. “Enjoy living back in Kansas and back in America.”

And with that, he left to help his 99-year-old grandfather, his inspiration, get into his car.

All 30 of the Dirty 30 guardsmen are back in the United States now. However, two of them did not make it to Saturday’s ceremony. They are working through medical issues but should be home soon.