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The tears began flowing almost immediately when a grinning Logan Carmichael surprised mom Connie last Tuesday at work. He'd just returned from Iraq on a two-week leave. Dad Russ kept the visit a secret. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Soldier's surprise return brings joy, tears

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When Logan Carmichael returned from Iraq for a surprise visit with his Park Rapids family last Tuesday, he had no way of knowing the base he was initially deployed from would be a more dangerous place than the war zone he left.

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Logan, an Army combat medic and 2002 Park Rapids Area High School graduate, was in the same processing center in April that was the scene of a mass shooting Nov. 5 at a Fort Hood, Texas, Army post.

"I would most definitely have been called to respond" if he had been on his home base when the shootings occurred, he said.

When his active duty in Sadr City, "one of the worst cities in Iraq right now," ends in February 2010, Logan will return to Fort Hood. It's the largest active duty base in the country.

He has no qualms about returning.

"It was one guy that went crazy," an isolated incident, he says. "You can't live your life in fear."

Logan, 25, had a more arduous journey to his military enlistment than most kids his age.

The fall after graduation, he was rollerblading when he fell and hurt his shoulder. No big deal.

But the pain persisted and he finally saw a doctor.

"You've got a triple heart murmur," the physician told him. He was taken to a Fargo hospital, where he underwent open-heart surgery for a hole in his heart.

Then the agonizing wait began during his recuperation. He was mechanically inclined, so passed the time working with his hands.

He needed a five-year waiting period and a medical waiver to join up. When five years passed, the National Guard said no. Logan was crushed.

The Army finally said yes. But Logan's heart surgery had not only given him a new lease on life, it gave him a new career path. His military specialty would be in medicine, developed from the keen interest he'd taken in his surgery and recovery. He'd work with his hands, not fixing machines, but fixing people.

He underwent basic training, then training to be a medic. Two weeks after his medical training, he was deployed from Fort Hood.

He works at an aid station, tending to the more mundane ailments and occasionally the bad ones.

Then there are the patrols.

"We do route clearance, looking for suspicious activity," he explained, nonchalantly, adding that he "looks for bombs."

Although he's prohibited from getting into the details, he said rapidly moving vehicles approaching convoys can be considered "suspicious activity" and "someone pulling out a cell phone. They can be used to trigger IEDs," he said. An IED is an improvised explosive device.

He admits some of his colleagues become frightened after hostile incidents, but said, "I haven't been scared. We hear mortars weekly. You get used to it."

He said there are moments of boredom, followed by moments of terror. He's learned to deal with both.

"We keep ourselves entertained," he said. He plays flag football, poker and watches football Sunday nights.

Then there's the Friday night fights.

Soldiers put on the boxing gloves, pads and helmets and work out a little aggression, cheered on by their squad members. It's a good diversion from the war, he said.

When he's at the aid station, if it's a quiet shift, he passes the time on the Internet, watching movies or training. He keeps in touch with his family through social networking sites.

It was that inactivity on his Facebook page that led mom Connie to worry about her son two weeks ago. She kept fussing that it wasn't like Logan to stop posting updates. Worried about his well-being, she had no idea her son had embarked on a six-day journey home.

"What the hell!" she exclaimed when her son surprised her at work Tuesday noon, then caught herself swearing. Nobody pointed out her grammatical slip of the tongue. The mother and child reunion was tear-filled and joyous. Her husband Russ knew Logan was coming home, and had known for a while.

Russ patted himself on the back. He'd kept a hard secret to muffle, then immediately went into husband mode.

"You're not mad at me?" he asked his wife.

"I like surprises, especially good ones," she said. All's forgiven.

Logan will spend his two-week leave catching up with friends and family. This week he'll go out deer hunting.

He has more than four more years of active duty in the Army and says it's too early to say if he will make it a career.

He'll get some brief down time when he returns to Fort Hood in February, and possibly prepare for another deployment after that.

Afghanistan is not out of the question.

"Every once in awhile it gets lonely," he said of being overseas. "You miss your family and friends."

He also admitted he never tires of Mom and Dad signing off each e-mail with "stay safe" or "be careful."

"I'm always safe; I'm always careful," he said.

But it's good to hear it over and over and over, he said.

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