Two groups of Red Arrow Soldiers returned to Wisconsin last week after an 11-month deployment - one to Wisconsin's Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, Jan. 22, and a smaller group to Dane County Regional Airport Jan. 24.
Twenty-seven Soldiers returned with the first group, while four returned with the second. Both were part of the 32nd Military Engagement Team and 32nd Base Defense Operations Center, which deployed to Kuwait and Jordan last February.
Waiting to greet them at both locations were flag-waving supporters, family members, senior National Guard leaders and fellow Soldiers and Airmen.
"Well, it feels like it's been a long journey, but we're here," said Col. David Monk, the commander of the 32nd Military Engagement Team [MET] and the 32nd Base Defense Operations Center [BDOC].
Both the MET and BDOC were deployed simultaneously to the Middle East where they carried out missions specific to each unit. The MET travelled throughout the region and helped build military partnerships, share best practices and reinforce positive relations with leaders in the region while the BDOC focused on security and camp operations there.
"I cannot express enough how important your support has been during this deployment," Monk said about the tremendous support from families back home.
"I am extremely proud and thankful for the opportunity to command such a great unit for such an amazing mission," he said.
The two units' missions were split between the countries of Kuwait and Jordan with travel to nine countries in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Monk explained some of the unit's accomplishments while they were deployed.
The BDOC team augmented operations of Camp Arifjan to support efforts throughout the region and skillfully managed, tracked and supported deploying and redeploying forces there.
"The MET that was in Kuwait was able to conduct more theater security cooperation engagements in their deployment in nine months than the previous three teams were able to accomplish in 27 months," he said.
They travelled to nine different countries and influenced battlefield operating systems of partner nations while setting the foundation for the U.S. to build strategic relationships. They also supported an exercise that enhanced the military readiness of partner nations and the Central Asian states
They also helped identify key issues in Iraq prior to the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, Monk said.
"They enabled more effective cooperation so that we could fight the war and win against ISIL," Monk said.
The MET team in Jordan was the driving force for military assessment helping ensure the defense of Jordan was coordinated properly.
Monk lauded the feats of both units for their ability to adapt to ever-changing environments while keeping on track with the mission and maintaining a positive attitude throughout.
"The team accomplished things that most thought were impossible during a nine-month deployment. The key to the success of the team was the phenomenal team-work by the Soldiers returning home today. They all embraced the challenge, learned the skill of intelligent risk-taking and innovation," Monk said.
Gov. Scott Walker spoke at the ceremony and was glad to see yet another Wisconsin Guard unit return safely under his command.
"You've left an impression on the other side of the world," Walker said.
"You've made not only that place stronger but you've made us all stronger here in the United States, and we appreciate that," he said.
The governor invoked the state's storied lineage of military service.
"You're part of a proud tradition not just in this country but in this state going all the way back to the Civil War," he said.
"You make us proud, not only to be Americans, you make us proud to be from Wisconsin," Walker said. He also thanked the families, employers and fellow service members for their continued service and support.
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, echoed the governor's praises to the returning unit, noting that the work they accomplished in the Middle East will pay dividends in the future.
"What you have all throughout the Middle East right now are little seeds of American goodwill that have been planted, and they will germinate and pay our country dividends," Dunbar said. "I'm very proud of the Soldiers standing here today."
"I know it's been a long year," he said, speaking to the families. "We appreciate your support."
"The support that we get from our families and our employers make it possible for us to be the National Guard that we are," Dunbar said.
Theresa Schultz, mother of 1st Lt. Jordan Schultz said that it was really hard to let her son go, but she was very proud of him for being selfless and serving his country.
"Usually he would tell me that he was going on a mission, but he wouldn't tell me where he was going until after he came back," Schultz said.
Schultz could communicate with her son over the Internet regularly, and he would share stories as he could without compromising the security of the mission. She was reassured by her son that the other military forces that he was working with were friendly and eager to work with them.
Schultz said that sending letters, cards and care packages as well as keeping in contact over the phone and online helped immensely in keeping her son a little bit closer to home.
"I think just the little pieces of communication help," she said.
Schultz and her family wore T-shirts that bore the unit's name as well as homemade signs and a whole lot of excitement.
The first wave of MET and BDOC Soldiers returned to Wisconsin just before Christmas, but a portion of the unit will remain overseas until a later date to be determined.