Soldiers and families from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment got an early present this year as almost all of the Soldiers of the unit made it home just in time for the holidays.
A series of flights touched down Dec. 17-20 at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport with waves of Soldiers from the nearly 30-Soldier unit, which spent the past seven months mobilized to Kuwait in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield.
One flight arrived Thursday evening, followed by two more on Saturday and a final flight Sunday morning. The unit’s commander and senior enlisted Soldier are yet to return to Wisconsin but are expected to return soon.
The Soldiers arrived in Milwaukee after demobilizing at Fort Hood, Texas, where they landed over the course of the past week from the Middle East.
Headquartered in West Bend, Wisconsin, the Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation, which flies UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, provided air medevac assets and ground maintenance support for American personnel operating in the region. The unit ultimately accrued more than 1,200 flight hours during the deployment, responded to 14 medevac missions and trained hundreds of service members on aeromedical evacuation operations. Meanwhile, the maintenance component kept the helicopters at a high state of operational readiness throughout the mission.
“It went good,” Sgt. Michael Coomer, one of the unit’s mechanics, said shortly after arriving in Milwaukee Dec. 20. “We did what we needed to do in an orderly fashion and kept the operational readiness rate high so we were always ready to do what we needed to do.”
A native of nearby Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Coomer was looking forward to getting home in time to watch the Green Bay Packers game. His brothers were waiting to greet him at the airport.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Ryan was thrilled to be home in time to spend Christmas with his family.
“It feels real good,” he said shortly after landing Dec. 19. “It’s surreal almost.”
Ryan was proud of what his unit accomplished overseas, even though the medevac business was relatively slow.
“It went well,” he said of the mission. “It was pretty slow, which was good since we’re a medevac unit. Slow is always a good thing.”
Families and friends waited anxiously to greet the Soldiers at the airport, and as each flight returned, cheers and ovations from other travelers erupted throughout the concourses. Hugs, kisses and tears of joy awaited the Soldiers once they finally arrived back into the waiting arms of their families.
Also waiting to greet them were senior leaders from the Wisconsin National Guard, fellow Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation and leaders from the unit’s chain of command, who urged the Soldiers and families to remain patient as they reintegrated into their civilian and home lives.
“You’re all back with your loved ones, what a great holiday gift,” Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Moehrke, of the 426th Regional Training Institute said. “Could you ask for anything more? That being said, you’ve been away from each other for awhile. As you reintegrate, be patient with each other. Everybody does it at their own pace.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the deputy adjutant general for the Wisconsin Army National Guard shared a similar message.
“Now is the time to focus on families and reintegrating with each other, spending some quality time with your loved ones,” he said. “Of course, it’s a special time of year with Christmas. Take that time to reintegrate and enjoy each other, but also reflect on what you accomplished in theater. What you did obviously led to the success of the entire organization.”
Anderson also thanked the families for their love and support throughout the deployment.
“To the family members, thank you, because without the love and support of your family member, your Soldier, they could not have been successful and ultimately the unit could not have been successful.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, urged the returning Soldiers to personally thank their families and employers for their support while praising the unit for a job well done. The unit, he said, once again demonstrated why the nation relies on the National Guard as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force.
“From the bottom of my heart, I’m so proud of you,” Dunbar said. “It’s pretty rare to wear the uniform in America today. You’re among a very small percentage. Even a smaller percentage have been over in a combat zone. So what you’ve done matters. The people of Wisconsin, the people of this country, your fellow Soldiers – we’re all very proud of you.”
Military operations in the Middle East continue despite troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the nation’s primary combat reserve, the returning 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Soldiers are an example of the critical role Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen continue to play in global military operations. The Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing remains deployed supporting air refueling operations over the Middle East. Meanwhile, Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers with Detachment 1, Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division Multi-Component Unit are preparing to deploy to the Middle East in early 2016.