Gov. Scott Walker and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined families and friends in sending off a small but unique unit for an important mission to Afghanistan.
Detachment 52 Operational Support Airlift Command, consisting of six warrant officer pilots and a noncommissioned officer in charge of flight operations, will fly a C26 two-engine airplane to deliver critical personnel throughout Afghanistan and the surrounding region in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
According to Detachment 52 commander Chief Warrant Officer 4 Arthur Hebblewhite, the deployment won't be much different from what the pilots did stateside.
"We get people to where they want to go," he explained at the March 6 sendoff ceremony. "There may not be an airline service [in Afghanistan] and there may not be any roads, there's probably one, maybe two mountain ranges in between, but we're still going to get them there."
Command Chief Warrant Officer John Freeman, the top warrant officer in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said Detachment 52 was selected for this mission based on their efficiency and effectiveness.
"That goes without saying," Freeman told the deploying unit, "because you are a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, the best National Guard state in the country. I know you guys will do great things while deployed."
Freeman explained that warrant officers serve at all echelons of the Army as technical experts, combat leaders, trainers, coaches, problem solvers and advisors. Hebblewhite remarked that consisting almost entirely of warrant officers was not the only notable aspect of his unit.
"You've probably noticed we're not the youngest group Wisconsin has sent," Hebblewhite said. "I'm not going to call them old - we're well seasoned. Between the six of us we have over 50,000 flying hours. That's a lot of aviation experience. But that's just the start - these guys are true professionals."
"They are the bearers of the Army values, competent and committed leaders," Freeman said. "That is the very reason Det52 was picked for this mission. We've never let anybody down on our deployments, and I know for a fact you guys will set the standard for the future."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the deputy adjutant general for Army, spoke of riding frequently in the C26 for official business and his confidence in its pilots.
"I know you have as much a vested interest in that plane landing as I do," he said. "Great things come in small packages, and I think that's absolutely the case when we're talking about with Detachment 52. In every case when Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers go overseas, to an individual and as an organization you set the standard when it comes to performance [and] mission execution overseas."
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, spoke about the pain of separation.
"I want you to know that I fully realize the difficulty of sitting there today as we're about to send your loved ones overseas into a hostile environment, a combat zone for a combat mission," Dunbar said. "Probably the last thing for you on your to-do list is to send your father or husband overseas. I understand. I want you to know that the mission this country is engaged in is an important mission or they wouldn't have the Army involved, and the Army wouldn't ask the Wisconsin Army National Guard to get involved. They ask us to get involved because we're the best at what we do. These men are the best at what they do, or we wouldn't send them into this zone."
Dunbar and Gov. Scott Walker shared their confidence in the unit.
"This mission is yet another prime example not only of the importance of the Guard here in the state but how incredibly important it is to our nation's defense," Walker said, "and how important it is to continue to have a strong National Guard as part of an overall Department of Defense strategy that we're set at a minimum at least higher than we were before Sept. 11, 2001.
"You are the best of the best," Walker continued, "and yet again you are called up to serve not only your state but your country, and we appreciate that."
Hebblewhite thanked the family members and friends at the ceremony.
"Your support means the world to us," he said. "I look forward to seeing all you folks here in about nine months when we come back."