WEST BEND, Wis. — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, and Wisconsin National Guard senior leaders joined families and friends in sending off approximately 30 Wisconsin Army National Guard members of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment during a May 30 ceremony.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers will complete mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas, before deploying to Kuwait where they will conduct a medevac and maintenance support mission for approximately 12 months as part of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield.
They will train and deploy alongside Guard members from other states — the battalion's aviation units are located in Colorado and Nebraska as well as Wisconsin, as part of the National Guard's plan to have vital aviation assets available across the nation.
Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior enlisted advisor, thanked the deploying Soldiers for their hard work and training in preparation for their upcoming mission. The platoon-sized element has already completed aircraft maintenance, refueling operations, flight medic treatment, hoist operation and flight operations training in Colorado, Connecticut and Alabama.
This will be Sgt. Micah Lillegard's third deployment, but his first as a flight medic. Previously he deployed to Kuwait in 2005-06 with the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, and Iraq in 2009-10 with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry. He plans to apply his experience from prior deployments where practical, but said he will also rely on other experienced members of the deploying unit.
"Operationally, it's just going to be a completely different world — going from the ground to being on an aircraft is just completely different in every respect," Lillegard said. "It will be interesting to put into practice the things we train on. It's a catch-22 with our mission as medevac. Everyone always wants to do their job, but if we're doing our job, that means that somebody else — U.S. Soldier, coalition soldier, whoever it is — is getting hurt."
Capt. Casey Voss, the officer in charge of the deploying Wisconsin Guard Soldiers, said that medevac is a noble calling.
"The Soldiers and personnel we support could not do the things they do if they did not know we are only a few minutes away," he said. "We are there to ensure the worst day of their lives does not become their last."
Voss turned to Dunbar and Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the senior officer of the Wisconsin Army National Guard and Wisconsin's deputy adjutant general for Army, and declared that the deploying Soldiers were ready.
"This is the best aviation unit Wisconsin can provide or has ever provided," Voss said. "The moral fiber, character, teamwork and work ethic of these Soldiers before you is unrivaled. We will represent our country, our state and our families well."
Anderson agreed with Voss.
"Wisconsin has a tradition of sending its best and brightest," Anderson said. "I know we have our best and brightest right here."
Dunbar noted that thousands of service members are home with their families because of the efforts of medevac crews. He expressed his confidence in Voss and the detachment's preparation for this mission.
"I want you to know how proud I am of all you have done to get ready," Dunbar said. "It is a substantial achievement to become a combat veteran for the United States of America, and my hat's off to you."
Kleefisch told the deploying Soldiers that they were already heroes.
"Your mission is so incredibly admirable," she said. "It's amazing what you've already accomplished, but more amazing still is what you will accomplish when you get there, assuring that other families have a safe return for someone they care so deeply about. That's all on you, and we trust you so much."
Voss thanked the families, friends and employers for their support and sacrifice, which allowed his Soldiers to focus on their mission.
"I promise you all I'll do everything in my power to protect and take care of your loved ones," he vowed. "We will all return home with honor."
That promise may have meant the most to Sgt. Robert Sus, who proposed moments after the ceremony ended.
"It was kind of last-minute," he admitted. "I didn't know if I'd have time to get the ring, but my jeweler pulled through for me and got it up to West Bend. I talked to my platoon sergeant and he helped me put it together — right after the ceremony I wanted to walk her right over to the bird [Black Hawk helicopter] and see if she said yes.
"I'm still shaking."
His fiancée Megan Tidwell said despite being surprised by the proposal, it took "like half a second" to accept.
It will take a little longer to set a wedding date, however.
"As soon as we know when we're getting back, we'll figure it out from there, I guess," Sus said.
The 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment last deployed in 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.