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With mixed emotions, Heises retiring from National Guard careers

"Bittersweet" is how Master Sergeants Christopher and Monica Heise are describing the final days of their military careers as members of the 119th Fighter Wing, North Dakota Air National Guard.

The West Fargo couple is officially relinquishing ties after a combined service record of 41-plus years.

The pair say they are making the move simply because both feel "the timing is right" at this juncture in their lives, and the need to be more involved with their children's activities. Monica completed her final guard drill in March with her last in-office day April 10; while for Chris it becomes real next week, as April 30 marks his last day on the job. A special guard retirement party was held on their behalf April 14.

Both are West Fargo natives and graduates of West Fargo High School, Chris in 1986, and Monica in 1987. Ironically, the pair didn't meet until after they began serving in the Guard. They were married in 1994 and are the parents of two children, Anthony, 10, and Mariah, 6.

Chris entered military service in March 1986, joining the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo. He spent his entire military career with the 119th Civil Engineer Squadron. During his tenure he was involved in a number of areas, performing active duty in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991 and again for Operation Nobel Eagle in 2001; active duty in support of the North Dakota blizzard and floods in 1997; and a more recent deployment in 2005 to Gulfport, Miss., in support of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Chris also had the distinction of being selected the 119th Civil Engineer Squadron's First Sergeant in 2004; was chosen as the 119th Fighter Wings' First Sergeant of the Year for 2006; and was last year's recipient of the George W. Bush Outstanding Employer Supporting Traditional Air National Guard Members Award. In addition, he served as a voluntary member of the North Dakota Air National Guard's Honor Guard.

Monica also joined the North Dakota National Guard in 1986, but as a member of the Army National Guard. She transferred to the North Dakota Air National Guard in 1995 and began working with the 119th Mission Support Flight. She was activated twice because of the Sept. 11, 2001 incident, and served on Title 10 for nearly two years in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

As a total Guard family, the Heises' involvement also included participating in the majority of the activities sponsored by Family Readiness Group. In turn, they have been equally as active in the civilian community. Chris has managed his own insurance agency with American Family Insurance since 1994; referees many high school and college level basketball games; and is a member of the West Fargo AMVETS Post No. 8 and the Arab Patrol with the El Zagal Shrine Temple. Monica is employed by Upstream (a travel-related business) and also handles scorekeeping duties for basketball games within the community. "We have always strived to consistently portray a professional image of the N.D. National Guard, whether we were serving on duty or actively supporting the community off duty," Chris said. "And we will continue to support and praise the National Guard long after we retire."

Those who have worked alongside the Heises say they are a shining example of a family that serves its country and community with dignity and ease.

This point was further driven home last year by way of a prestigious honor bestowed on the entire Heise family - the North Dakota National Guard's Air Family of the Year.

In acknowledging the award, North Dakota Adjutant General, Major General David A. Sprynczynatyk said in part, "What a wonderful opportunity for our organization to look at an entire military family, rather than just the service member. The Heise family solidifies my belief that the North Dakota National Guard has the best people working for the greatest organization in the country. I see the great work they have done, and no doubt, continue to do, for their squadrons and wing, their community and the nation. While the military services recruit and retain good men and women, we must not forget to retain the already established military family by recognizing the importance of their quality of life. What the Heise family has accomplished, as evident in their nomination, embodies the concept that military families are the basis of an effective defense force; sacrificing time, providing mutual support, and protecting our land for the freedom we so love and enjoy. Thank you Monica and Christopher for your contributions to the North Dakota National Guard."

In retrospect, Chris and Monica said they were both shocked and honored by the award. "We've been so lucky. We were so happy that our peers would select us," Monica said, "and also so humbled, because we felt that everybody else also deserved the recognition. The Hooligans are a great unit to be with, and a whole family in itself."

On that note, the Heises also commend their children and their parents, who they say are deserving of recognition in their own right.

"Our children have been so understanding about our weekends away for duty," Chris and Monica said. "That's all they've ever known." Both agree it's also fortunate that their parents live so close by, because that's where Anthony and Mariah have spent Guard weekend each month, one day with each set of grandparents, Harvey and Rosemary Heise, Mapleton, and Lloyd and Joan Anderson of West Fargo. "They've always been there for us and that has meant so much," Chris added.

All in all, their retirement will take a little bit of getting used to the Heises agree. "We're ready and we're not," Monica said. "We're really going to miss the people and the friendships and we are very proud to have done our duty serving our country, so much so I would encourage anyone else thinking about it to give it a try."

Monica said she experienced mixed emotions her last day, April 10. "I was actually so busy taking care of last minute details that I didn't have time to reflect during the day, so it was very surreal as I drove off base. I remember feeling proud of my accomplishment of being a member of the National Guard for over 20 years and happy that I was going to be able to spend another weekend a month with my kids. I also felt a little sad knowing that I wasn't going to be directly involved in the military anymore, especially since there are a lot of things going on in our world today. I have always been very proud of wearing the uniform and I do not have any regrets about joining the military when I was 17."

Chris told those gathered at the April 14 retirement party that what he'll miss most are the relationships he's made the last 21 years. "I moved out of my parent's home when I was 18 and have been married 13 years, so I have been with the Guard longer than anything else. Because of this, it's hard saying a military goodbye. The Guard has been so much like a family to me. We work hard, we play hard. I've truly loved the competition. I always said team was never spelled with the letter "I" and I truly believe this is the best unit around. I am proud to be able to say I was a member. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you all for letting me be a part of your team."

Needless to say, that feeling of family and thankfulness is mutual. Col. Robert Becklund, unit commander for Chris and Monica, said the pair will be sorely missed by fellow guard members and staff. "The Heises are superb individuals who have always conveyed only the utmost professionalism in their military service. They will always be remembered for only the highest set of standards they always strived to achieve. This was always reflected in the work they performed, and in the recognition they've received, including the Family of the Year award. Our organization will be losing a lot when they leave. Both of them have been fantastic to be associated with and we want to wish them only the best."