Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office
Senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders greeted the last group of Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers deployed in Iraq upon their arrival in the United States Sunday (Nov. 13).
Approximately 30 West Bend-based Soldiers of detachments for companies C, D and E of the 2nd Battalion, 135th General Aviation Support Battalion - comprised of National Guard Soldiers from several states - served about nine months in northern Iraq providing medevac support. As bases closed in advance of the Dec. 31 troop withdrawal, personnel and aircraft relocated. Sunday's arrival at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., was the latest relocation for the aviation unit, and one that puts them one step closer to home.
"We were the last ones out of northern Iraq," said Staff Sgt. Craig Hoffman of Beaver Dam, Wis., a flight medic completing his first deployment. "We actually shut off the lights."
"As the bases were closing, we were slowly becoming an Alamo," said Capt. Randall Ramm of Sun Prairie, Wis., officer in charge of the Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers on the deployment. "In fact, that's exactly what they called it in Mosul."
The tempo of operations was slower than many had anticipated, but Ramm and others in the unit indicated that fewer medevac requests was a good thing, as it meant fewer people were getting injured.
"A lot of it was accidents, just typical Soldier injuries like tent poles falling on Soldiers," Ramm explained. "Not a lot of combat injuries - all was calm on the Eastern front."
But the drop in missions did not translate into a decline in standards, he said. In fact, response times in Iraq were faster than the 15-minute standard - receiving the call to liftoff - Wisconsin medevac crews had trained to.
"If you take any longer than 10 [minutes], even at night, something is wrong," he said. "Our standards were six minutes during the day and eight minutes at night, and that's from a dead sleep. You're running, not walking. We got very good at that."
Ramm thanked Nebraska National Guard Soldiers who were part of the deployment for sharing their experience from a previous medevac deployment in Iraq.
Sgt. Cristina Masterjohn of Hartford, Wis., a communications specialist, said they learned not to become complacent during the deployment.
"You never know when [missions] can happen," she said.
Spc. Cassandra Weiss of West Bend, Wis., said she and other Soldiers ended up doing more than one job.
"We did a lot of helping out - we did some maintenance, we did some ops [mission planning and tasking]," she said.
Weiss and Masterjohn said they took advantage of the slower schedule to take online classes together. Senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders urged them to apply that same attitude to the demobilization process.
"You have a serious mission to do this week, and that's to pay attention and to listen," said State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper. "I know you're probably focused on a state that's a little farther west, but please, focus while you're here, do what you've got to do, and we'll get you back to Wisconsin as fast as we possibly can."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, praised the returning Soldiers.
"You all can be extremely proud of what you accomplished, especially as you were at the tail end of U.S. forces coming home from Iraq," he said. "You can be proud of what you accomplished as a Soldier, but you can also be proud of what you've accomplished as a unit."
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, said the feedback he received suggested the deployed Soldiers performed magnificently in difficult conditions.
"You had the opposite experience of what a lot of Guardsmen experienced," he said. "They got overseas and the [forward operating base] got bigger and better. For you it got smaller and smaller.
"I don't know where you were on Friday," Dunbar continued, "but it was Veterans Day. From one veteran to a group of returning combat veterans - and maybe for some of you, the first time - happy Veterans Day. It is a magnificent legacy that we share, and our nation, our state and this world is better for the veterans that come from the United States of America."
Ramm and Hoffman said they planned to apply what they learned from this Iraq War deployment into future unit training. Masterjohn said her immediate plans include spending time with her brothers at their hunting shack.
"I'm going to try on clothes and hang out with my mom," Weiss said. "Got to be a girl, and let the hair down."