Wisconsin National Guard
Nearly 30 West Bend-based Soldiers returned home to family and friends Saturday, marking the end of their year-long mobilization and the end of an era for the Wisconsin National Guard.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 135th General Aviation Support Battalion left Iraq early this month and spent the last several days demobilizing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin National Guard leaders, family and friends, and other veteran supporters welcomed home Wisconsin's newest combat veterans during a ceremony at the West Bend armory Nov. 19.
"I want you to know this is the last Wisconsin National Guard unit to come home from Iraq," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, drawing applause from the crowd. "They were safe, they were smart, and they did a great job."
The Soldiers, who spent about nine months in northern Iraq providing medevac support, hail from detachments of companies C, D and E of the 2nd Battalion, 135th GSAB - which is comprised of National Guard Soldiers from several states.
"I was just with those guys for a whole year and I shared everything with them," said Capt. Mark Sier, medevac pilot. "It means a lot and makes me very proud."
Capt. Randall Ramm, officer in charge of the Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers on the deployment, extended thanks to the Soldiers' family and friends.
"Over the last 52 weeks, your Soldiers have accomplished an extraordinary amount," Ramm said.
Walker recognized the Soldiers' great work as well - citing the unit's quick six-minute daytime and nine-minute nighttime response from when they received a call for help to the time they were in the air.
"You got up and made sure someone's life was saved," Walker said. "Thank you for the incredibly well done job."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, praised the Soldiers for their work overseas, and also recognized the job families and friends did at home.
"They could not do what they had to do without your support over these last 52 weeks," Anderson said.
Part of that support was made possible by members of the West Bend Family Readiness Group, which supports the families of all four aviation units in West Bend. The FRG kept in touch with families throughout the deployment process - at one point creating an event on Facebook dubbed, "Deployments suck, let's eat." The lighthearted humor goes a long way to pulling together as a bigger family.
"Knowing there is somebody else who understands is half the issue right there," said Mya Brown, an FRG volunteer.
There was a multitude of support shown at the ceremony. In addition to leadership, family and friends, members of the Patriot Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and the 132nd Army Band were all present to welcome home the Soldiers.
The Wisconsin National Guard has deployed nearly 10,000 Soldiers and Airmen in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn since 2003.
"As a leader, I believe what we've accomplished in Iraq … has been extraordinary," Dunbar said.
Although the West-Bend service members are the state's last to serve in Iraq, nearly 10,000 Soldiers and Airmen have deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. Since 2003, Wisconsin Guard members have conducted numerous missions in Iraq – including medevac transport, route clearance, detainee operations, base defense, close air support for ground operations and in-flight refueling missions. In the eight years since operations began in Iraq, nine Wisconsin Guard members made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, every unit in the Wisconsin Guard has deployed forces in support of the global war on terror, many more than once. While operations in Iraq are drawing to a close, the Wisconsin National Guard still has more than 350 Soldiers and Airmen on active duty, including approximately 60 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and about 180 heading to Kosovo for the NATO-led peace keeping mission there.
But for the Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 135th GASB, their mission is complete.
"We got out of there and did something that's never been done before - closing down Iraq." Ramm said.