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Sue and Larry Clatt sit together in their Cottage Grove home days after Larry returned from Iraq. (Bulletin photo by Patricia Drey Busse)

Being home in Cottage Grove after spending nine months in Iraq feels a little like waking up from a dream, said 1st Sgt. Larry Clatt.

"The time went fast, but yet it went slow, and all of a sudden I'm home, and it was just like, whoa," he said. "I feel a little third-wheelish."

Hearing that, his wife Sue Clatt was quick to offer to bring out the "honey-do list," which she said she was going to hold back until his second week at home.

"I've got stuff you can do, now that you ask," she said, half-jokingly.

Larry returned home Sunday, Jan. 24, among the first group of 250 Minnesota National Guard "Red Bull" soldiers. More than 1,000 34th Infantry Division soldiers were deployed to Iraq last year, and they're returning home in four groups.

Larry found out that he'd be deploying about a year in advance -- an "obnoxiously long" time to dread leaving his wife and 11- and 14-year-old sons.

The 22-year member of the 34th Infantry Division Band had never been deployed before, but he said he always knew it was a possibility.

"You're attached to a division, and if the division goes, we go," he said.

As First Sergeant of the band, Larry did more organizing than playing while based in Basra, Iraq. He arranged lodging, food and transportation for the different bands -- including two rock bands, a country band, brass quintet, saxophone group and ceremonial band -- that went out to military bases, mostly in southeastern Iraq.

A trumpeter and bassist, he did get some playing time if one of the groups needed a substitute because someone was on leave, he said.

The groups played about 400 gigs in eight months, many at smaller bases and security stations in isolated areas with 20 to 50 people stationed there, he said.

"They love it, because they don't get to hear a lot of live music," he said. "They were very well-received."

He said he didn't face a lot of danger, although he did learn after one helicopter ride that someone had tried to shoot the chopper down. The greatest risk, he said, was getting hit by rockets or mortars while on base. Still, he chose not to tell Sue about the helicopter incident until after he got home.

Back home, Sue -- who was a clarinet player for the 34th Infantry Division Band for 30 years before retiring three years ago -- said her sons picked up a lot of responsibilities while her husband was away, and that neighbors, friends and family helped a lot.

"I had people shoveling my driveway and I still don't know who did it," she said. "Or someone would just call up and say, 'I'm bringing you over a meal.' There was a lot like that that was just really wonderful."

Since Larry's return, the family had a belated Christmas celebration and has just been enjoying its time together.

Being away has made Larry appreciate the little things he said, and that people are what's most important.

"One of my things I'm going to really live by is 'Use the good china,'" he said. "Get out and do stuff; don't let excuses get in the way of living life to the fullest."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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