Though small in number, a Wisconsin Army National Guard unit is doing big things in Afghanistan.
The seven Soldiers of Detachment 52 of the Operational Support Airlift Command, based in Madison, Wisconsin, deployed to Afghanistan in March, and since then the unit has had the important mission of shuttling high-level personnel through the skies of Afghanistan aboard a C26 fixed-wing aircraft.
Every day begins with pre-flight planning, aircraft inspections and then takeoff to various destinations around the country as requested. The destinations could include ceremonies, troop visits, memorials to fallen service members or regional emergencies, but according to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Paul Phelps, the Soldiers of Detachment 52 take pride in completing as many missions as possible.
Phelps, one of the detachment's pilots, said via e-mail that daily operations have been smooth and the unit has gotten into a rhythm since arriving in theater. Each day brings its mission requirements, administrative tasks, unit classes, physical fitness training, and unit bonding, he said.
"The balance of this rhythm produces professional results, positive attitudes and bonding laughter from every unit member," he wrote. "Needless to say, unit cohesion is strong and morale is high."
Some of the best moments of the deployment have been the experiences shared with his fellow Soldiers, Phelps said. From celebrating birthdays and sharing meal times together, the unit has grown close, which takes on an added significance given the distance from family and loved ones.
"The worst/most challenging thing about Afghanistan is being away from our families, friends and loved ones back home," Phelps wrote. "Celebrating hot apple pie topped with Baskin-Robbins vanilla ice cream after dinner has been a nightly, morale-boosting ritual for the group."
Detachment 52 Soldiers have kept in touch with their families via Skype, e-mails, care packages and the occasional telephone call, and Phelps said he and the rest of the unit was grateful for the amount of support from the homefront.
"Support from home has been fantastic," he wrote, noting the care packages and words of encouragement received from family, friends, churches, schools, veterans organizations and other service organizations.
"It feels great to be appreciated and cared for so much," he said.
As for Afghanistan, Phelps said flying high over the country has given him a unique, reflective perspective on a country where the United States has waged war for almost 13 years.
"It's mind-boggling to see numerous, primitive homes and villages dotting the remote slopes, valleys and landscape throughout the country," he said. "There are no power lines, paved streets, grocery stores, underground water or sewer services. Gravel trails wind to single-story clay homes with small plots containing gardens, animals and outhouses. As we quietly reflect on these observations from high above, it's humbling to realize how fortunate and blessed our lifestyles are back in America."
Asked what was most rewarding about his unit's deployment to Afghanistan, Phelps said, "The inner feeling that we are fulfilling our part of service to our country and to the creation of a safer world for our children and the people of Afghanistan."
Phelps had one more message Detachment 52 wanted to send home.
"We would like to thank everyone back home for the tremendous support they have given us," he wrote. "The success we've experienced so far is due to the combined efforts of our families, employers, the Wisconsin Army National Guard and the Soldiers within our unit. Mission success is truly a multifaceted team effort."
Detachment 52 deployed to Afghanistan last spring where it began flying day and night all-weather airlift missions transporting critical personnel throughout the region in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The unit conducted its mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas.