Three of the four Wisconsin Army National Guard female Soldiers who worked alongside Army Special Forces troops in Afghanistan returned to Wisconsin Thursday night (March 15).
Senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders met 1st Lt. April Nelson, Westby, at the La Crosse Municipal Airport; Master Sgt. Karen Dumke, Waupun, at the Dane County Regional Airport; and Sgt. Kristen Elegeert, De Pere, at Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay. Sgt. Sonia Buchanan of Cottage Grove is speaking at the Special Operations Command Academic Week in Orlando, Fla., this week and will return to Wisconsin after she completes the demobilization process.
The four female Soldiers graduated the inaugural Cultural Support Training Course at Fort Bragg, N.C. last July, where they learned the basic capabilities to interact and communicate with Afghan women and children - a task deemed locally as culturally inappropriate for traditional Army special operations forces. Nelson, Dumke, Buchanan and Elegeert were among 240 females who signed up for the program. Only 106 were selected for assessment, and 59 of those attended the Cultural Support Team training.
"I'm not surprised we had the number that we had apply and, overall, succeed," said Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. "The Soldiers that we have in our command are of that caliber."
Nelson, who worked with the 3rd Special Forces Group Cultural Support Team, said it felt great to be back in an environment where she does not have to worry where she steps or who might be following her.
"What I got out of this experience is how to be selfless, how to react quickly and how to work well with people in a very male-dominated environment," Nelson said. "It changed my outlook on Special Forces, and the military overall."
Elegeert was the last person to exit the plane, carrying a knapsack on her back and a big smile on her face, when she arrived in Green Bay following a weather delay in Detroit. She shared deployment stories with family, friends and Wisconsin National Guard members - including Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin.
"She looked at me and said she wanted to volunteer for the next cultural support team rotation in the fall," said Col. Julie Gerety of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, who also greeted Elegeert at Green Bay.
Anderson expressed his pride in the four Soldiers for their accomplishments.
"There's always a sense of relief when they get home," Anderson said. "The family is relieved, and I share the same feelings knowing their significant accomplishments from this mission."