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Auburn Marine comes home to where the heart is

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The war in Afghanistan has ended for now for U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Tim Bergenstock of Auburn. He flew back to California last week and was reunited with his family after serving in one of Afghanistan’s danger zones. Bergenstock, 21, was part of the battalion that took over in a section of the battle-scarred Sangin District of Helmand Province from another battalion that also contained a soldier with Auburn roots. Sgt. James Finney, an Auburn native and squad leader, had been wounded in a tour of duty that started in late September 2010 and ended April 22. Bergenstock, who grew up in Auburn and is a 2009 Placer High graduate, arrived in Sangin as Finney was leaving. They never met but both were in the thick of the same continual fight, going out on patrols and dealing with bullets and land mines. Finney was wounded by a land mine while Bergenstock was given the role of sweeping for mines with his platoon, going out on 145 missions, finding about 20 mines on his own, and ending his tour of duty with no explosions and no casualties. Bergenstock’s homecoming party was supposed to occur Thursday evening but was put off when a series of flights that started at Camp Leather Neck in Afghanistan and hopped to Kurdistan, then Alaska, were delayed. “You’re always thinking about hanging out with your friends and family,” Bergenstock said, about his tour in Afghanistan. “I love the town and growing up here. When I was thinking about Auburn, it was like heaven to where I was.” Afghanistan international forces now number 130,000, with about 104,000 military personnel from the U.S. With a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, homecomings have been woven into the social fabric of Auburn and Placer County during that time. While no figures are available on how many Placer County residents serve in Afghanistan, an extrapolation of the total number of U.S. service personnel there indicates more than 100 may be on duty at any one time. “We forget a war is going on there,” Bergenstock said. “I have to admit that before being deployed, I had no idea what was happening in the Sangin District. Marines are fighting and dying every day.” At the same time, Bergenstock said soldier’s spirits were raised by letters and packages – sometimes from total strangers supporting them. “To get one from a random stranger, it’s like Christmas,” Bergenstock said. “That’s our fuel, that’s our motivation.” Before they left, his battalion learned that a school had been started again in one town that was a particularly dangerous area when they arrived. “It made us feel we were able to accomplish something,” he said. Auburn’s Scott Bergenstock, Tim’s father, said that it seemed as if he thought of his son every minute of every day. Bergenstock’s mother, Allie Billat of Weimar, said his deployment had been hard psychologically. “You kiss him goodbye and know he might be one of the ones whose number comes up,” Billat said. “When he came back, I felt happy and I felt sad. And I felt guilty. My heart breaks for the boys who don’t get to do this reunion. It’s a surreal experience to see him walk up and see that smile on his face.” With two years to go on a four-year contract with the Marines, Bergenstock said that he’s unsure where he will be deployed next. It could be Afghanistan again. Or it could be aboard a ship or as an instructor, he said. After that, Bergenstock – who said he was in constant demand to create tattoos for fellow Marines – said he’s considering returning to school for a potential career in art and animation.