A second Wisconsin Army National Guard high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) battery departed for Fort Bliss, Texas, en route to conducting a fire support mission in Afghanistan.
"An artillery battery being selected to perform an artillery mission overseas - does it get any better than that, Alpha Battery?" Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior noncommissioned officer, asked members of the Sussex, Wis.-based Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment during an April 2 sendoff ceremony held at the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee.
The mission is notable because, in the global war on terror, National Guard field artillery units have rarely been assigned field artillery missions. In fact, the first National Guard field artillery battery to do so was Battery A's sister unit from Plymouth, Wis.
"The training over the past year has been intense, challenging and fun - but most importantly, it has prepared us for the mission ahead," said Capt. Aaron Ammerman, Battery A commander. "I have no doubt that these gentlemen are ready for the next leg of the journey, and we'll raise the standards by which others will be measured. We will continue the long tradition of excellence the state of Wisconsin has built.
"I stand here today immensely proud to command such an outstanding group of capable, knowledgeable and dedicated individuals," he continued. "Together we have accomplished great things, and we are just hitting our stride."
Battery A has been training since August on core skills such as weapons, vehicles and combat lifesaving, along with language and anti-terrorism courses. The unit has also honed its artillery skills during three live-fire training events.
"The morale of this unit is pretty high," said 1st Sgt. Jason Grundel. "Most people are pretty excited for the mission because it is a field artillery mission."
That morale was not lost on the Wisconsin National Guard's senior leadership.
"Alpha Battery - the last few weeks have been tough on you, but you're ready," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general. "If you weren't ready, we wouldn't send you. I see that pride in your eyes and the confidence you have in each other."
Gov. Scott Walker agreed.
"You are well-prepared," Walker said. "You are the best of the best of the state. You are well-trained. You are going to do well and we look forward to seeing you back home."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the deputy adjutant general for Army, noted that it wasn't that long ago when Battery B was deploying to conduct the same mission in Afghanistan.
"At that time they commented that when the Army turns to an Army Guard organization to do a true shooting mission overseas, they turn to Wisconsin because we've got the best field artillery in the nation," Anderson said. "So guess what? They turned [to us] twice and came right back to Alpha Battery."
Anderson, a field artillery officer himself, expressed confidence in Battery A, and related comments he's received about the Wisconsin National Guard's reputation overseas.
"When we send Wisconsin Soldiers, we send the very best," he said.
Wisconsin National Guard leaders thanked family members and employers for supporting their Soldiers during the mobilization and upcoming deployment. Dunbar pledged his support to the families and the family readiness group volunteers.
"We'll do everything we can to support your families while you're gone so you can just focus on being a Soldier and get home safe," Dunbar said.
"One of the cornerstones to a successful deployment is constant, unwavering support from the home front, and the peace of mind that brings the Soldier," Ammerman said.
Another key to success is unit cohesiveness - in other words, working well together, particularly in a stressful environment.
"Watching the battery grow over the past several months has been one of the most amazing experiences I've ever been witness to," Ammerman said. "The last few weeks especially have been a significant catalyst in developing this unit into one of the most cohesive and tightest units I've ever been part of. The days recently at Fort McCoy were long and stressful at times, but we had Katy Perry sing-alongs in the range tower and daily magic shows to provide comic relief.
"The troops bonded well," Ammerman continued, "and I can whole-heartedly say we are a family. The experiences we've shared thus far have begun to build the stories and relationships that will endure a lifetime."
Grundel, who has previous deployment experience, said he has been offering sage advice to the 50-plus Soldiers in his battery who will deploy for the first time.
"One of the things I like to say is be fluid, because flexible is too rigid," Grundel said. "Changes are always going to happen, and you have to keep flowing."