MADISON, Wis. — Three Wisconsin Army National Guard pilots bid farewell to their families Mar. 9 at a small sendoff ceremony before leaving for Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will complete pre-deployment training prior to heading to Afghanistan.
The Soldiers of Detachment 5, 641st Aviation, Operational Support Airlift, based out of Army Aviation Support Facility 2 in Madison, Wisconsin, will join up with Hawaii National Guard C-26 aviators to transport critical personnel throughout Afghanistan and the surrounding region in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel.
“It’s a hard day saying goodbye to your Soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, to the families in attendance. “Certainly they are well trained. They are very professional. They’re ready to do their mission, but it’s always tough for the families seeing them go.”
Maj. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general, echoed Conde’s sentiments, and agreed that these Soldiers are ready for their mission.
“I’ve had the pleasure, and the honor, and the privilege to ride with these gentlemen multiple trips around the country,” Anderson said. “Their professionalism, their capabilities, their competence as pilots is second to none.”
Anderson mentioned that the deploying Soldiers have more than 29,000 flying hours logged between them.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, said it was extraordinary to have that level of experience.
“I can tell you that there is nobody better prepared to go overseas than these three soldiers right here,” he added.
“We do this mission every day of the week,” said, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Billy Dart, one of the deploying pilots. “We fly a lot. We fly all over the country, so this’ll really be no different except for we’ll be in a combat zone.”
This will be Dart’s second deployment. He deployed in 2011 to Iraq doing a similar mission flying UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters instead of the C-26 airplane he will be flying in Afghanistan.
This is also the second deployment for Chief Warrant Officer 5 Arthur Hebblewhite, who was in Afghanistan in 2014 performing the same mission. While he felt ready to go, he also said it was a bittersweet day having to say goodbye to his family.
Dunbar took time to talk to each of the families before the sendoff ceremony began, personally thanking each of them for their sacrifice.
“I see the pride you all feel in these Soldiers and what they do for our country,” Dunbar said during the ceremony.
Hebblewhite’s wife, Rebecca, said it is hard to say goodbye even when you’ve been through it before. Still, she is proud of her husband and his unit.
“Their unit does a phenomenal job, and they always do everything that’s necessary to go above and beyond,” she said.
The Wisconsin National Guard remains heavily engaged fulfilling its mission as a key component of the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. Three other Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 5 deployed to Afghanistan in November, and Soldiers from the 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East in September. Approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January, and approximately 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison from a deployment to Korea. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well. Last spring, approximately 120 Soldiers from the 32nd Military Police Company returned from a deployment to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin National Guard has been busy fulfilling its other mission as the state’s first military responder in times of emergency. Last fall, the Wisconsin National Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding over the summer in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.