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sm150208 Z IM617 009Gov. Scott Walker and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders were on hand for a Freedom Salute ceremony Feb. 7 in Middleton, Wisconsin. The ceremony honored the service and sacrifices made by Soldiers of three Wisconsin Army National Guard units that returned home in December.

Soldiers from Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery, a high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) unit based in Sussex, Wisconsin, returned home in December with 41 Soldiers. Approximately half of the unit remains deployed in Afghanistan. They are expected to return home by the end of February.

Nearly 160 Soldiers from the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based 829th Engineer Company were mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to conduct retrograde operations as part of the larger drawdown of U.S. forces in the region.

Six pilots and one operations noncommissioned officer from Detachment 52 Operational Support Airlift Command, a C26 aircraft unit based in Madison, Wisconsin, also returned in December and joined the other two Wisconsin Army National Guard units for the Freedom Salute event.

The Freedom Salute Campaign publically honors returning Citizen-Soldiers and their families for their service to their country.

As part of the ceremony, each Soldier receives a folded American flag in an engraved wooden case. A portion of the engraving on the display case reads "Your service will never be forgotten."

Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley J. Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior enlisted advisor, spoke at the ceremony.

"You're at a different place in your life now," he said. "You're much more skilled and your leadership has developed tremendously. Be understanding as you go through this transitional period.

"This night is for you. It is to recognize you on your tremendous accomplishments," Shields added.

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the state's assistant adjutant general for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, praised the newly minted veterans for their service and their accomplishments.

"Each and every one of you had a very unique mission, and each and every one of you accomplished that mission," he said.

Battery A provided 24-hour HIMARS fire support to a joint special operations task force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. They supported more than 200 combat missions and provided coverage for nearly half of Afghanistan. They were among the first National Guard artillery units to conduct a fire support mission in Afghanistan.

Of those Battery A Soldiers who returned in December, 14 were awarded the Combat Action Badge which provides recognition to Soldiers who personally engage or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations.

Meanwhile, the 829th Engineer Company completed more than 132,000 troop labor hours and reduced more structures than any other engineer company during their deployment.

The unit executed its mission while spread out between four different locations and two regional commands in Afghanistan.

They successfully closed three forward operating bases while deployed.

"Our mission was to reduce the footprint of NATO forces overseas," said 1st Lt. Michelle Lachat, company executive officer of the 829th. She talked about how the unit worked closely with other NATO forces from the countries of Germany and Poland throughout the deployment.

Lachat spoke about what she had learned during her experiences in Afghanistan. She said that the importance of being part of the journey and being part of the moment are some of the things that she will take home with her.

Pfc. Brian Cutberth, a Soldier in the 829th, said that he had an overall positive experience and that the deployment really put things into perspective. He said it made him thankful and grateful for the things that he has here at home.

The Soldiers of Detachment 52 provided day and night, all-weather airlift missions transporting critical personnel throughout the Afghanistan theatre of operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The pilots logged a combined 950 flight hours transporting NATO dignitaries and more than 260 distinguished visitor operations missions inside Afghanistan and to surrounding countries. They earned six Air Medals and one Army Commendation Medal.

"When your country called you to deploy into harm's way in a difficult part of the world to do difficult missions you didn't bat an eye," said Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin.

"This weekend is about you as Soldiers and your country saying we care," Dunbar said.

The Soldiers spent time learning about the many benefits they had now earned as veterans.

"For all of you, we're proud to have you back here in the state of Wisconsin," said Gov. Scott Walker.

"This weekend is important because it is to reaffirm not just the support that you gave for each other while deployed, but now that you have the tools, the talent and the abilities to support your family and to support each other," Walker said.

"I can see the enthusiasm and I can feel the buzz in the room," the governor said. "It's exciting."

He made a point to thank the returning Soldiers for their service, support and their courage throughout their deployments.

Gov. Scott Walker and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders were on hand for a Freedom Salute ceremony Feb. 7 in Middleton, Wisconsin. The ceremony honored the service and sacrifices made by Soldiers of three Wisconsin Army National Guard units that returned home in December.

Soldiers from Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery, a high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) unit based in Sussex, Wisconsin, returned home in December with 41 Soldiers. Approximately half of the unit remains deployed in Afghanistan. They are expected to return home by the end of February.

Nearly 160 Soldiers from the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based 829th Engineer Company were mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to conduct retrograde operations as part of the larger drawdown of U.S. forces in the region.

Six pilots and one operations noncommissioned officer from Detachment 52 Operational Support Airlift Command, a C26 aircraft unit based in Madison, Wisconsin, also returned in December and joined the other two Wisconsin Army National Guard units for the Freedom Salute event.

The Freedom Salute Campaign publically honors returning Citizen-Soldiers and their families for their service to their country.

As part of the ceremony, each Soldier receives a folded American flag in an engraved wooden case. A portion of the engraving on the display case reads "Your service will never be forgotten."

Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley J. Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior enlisted advisor, spoke at the ceremony.

"You're at a different place in your life now," he said. "You're much more skilled and your leadership has developed tremendously. Be understanding as you go through this transitional period.

"This night is for you. It is to recognize you on your tremendous accomplishments," Shields added.