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A Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier became one of the first to receive the Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal after an April 18 ceremony in Iraq with Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Wisconsin Army National Guard Sgt. Curtis Bluel, a liaison officer with Detachment 1, Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division Multi-Component Unit (DMCU), became just the second U.S. Army Soldier to be awarded the medal, after a fellow DMCU Soldier became the first in the same ceremony.

Carter announced the creation of the Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal at a March 30 ceremony.

The 101st DMCU deployed to Iraq in early 2016 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve with approximately 65 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and approximately 500 other Screaming Eagles. The Guardsmen are part of a first-ever Army initiative to integrate Soldiers from the National Guard and Reserve into a single multi-component unit alongside their active duty brethren.

Bluel was honored to be among the first Soldiers to receive the medal. To have the Secretary of Defense present the medal was an unforgettable experience, he said.

“I feel blessed that I was able to be a part of such a great organization and able to receive awards like this for all of the sacrifices we, as Soldiers, put forward,” he said. “It’s something that I will always remember.”

The deployment has been a rewarding experience thus far for Bluel and the rest of Wisconsin’s Screaming Eagles.

As liaison officer for Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent Resolve, Bluel manages all passengers and cargo traffic that comes through Iraq.

“I’ve adjusted well here,” he said. “I’m starting to get a good routine. My team here has fallen in synch with each other rather quickly, which makes life easier.”

Col. Leland Ward, the commander of Wisconsin’s detachment of 101st Soldiers, was extremely proud of the work his Soldiers have done to this point. Most of the Soldiers work 12-hour days in addition to their physical fitness time, and many are working longer hours to meet daily mission requirements, he said.

“The duties are as diverse as the number of Soldiers on the team, and every Soldier is relevant to mission success,” he said.

“We are most proud of the character our Soldiers bring to the fight,” Ward said, adding that they present “a discipline for the Army values, creed and ethics.”

Ward said the Soldiers have also been praised for their ability to build collaborative relationships.

“I spoke with a colonel from New Zealand this past week,” he said. “She remarked at the incredible level of maturity and cultural intelligence of the detachment Soldiers on her team. This is just one example of how our Soldiers have developed a character essential to building collaborative relationships.”

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The 101st DMCU has been hard at work at multiple locations in Iraq, throughout the region and at Fort Campbell planning, tracking and executing operations throughout the area of operations. Some of the Soldiers interact daily with the Iraqi army and troops from other coalition partners. The unit is responsible for the command and control of approximately 4,000 coalition troops from 18 nations.

“Working with military representatives from multiple nations is a daily occurrence as is working in a joint environment,” Ward said. “One quickly adjusts to the benefits this diversity brings to our mission efforts. This is an unprecedented opportunity for our Soldiers and an experience that will develop their future careers.”

The deployment marks the first combat test of the Army’s multi-component unit concept and illustrates the National Guard’s versatility as a member of the Army’s total force as well as its primary combat reserve.

So far, so good, according to Ward and the DMCU’s leadership. Besides minor administrative differences, Ward said, no one can tell the difference between National Guard and active component Soldiers.

He said support from the home front has been critical to the unit’s success. Deployed Guard Soldiers juggle commitments to the military, employers, communities and families, but the love and support from the home front has made it easy to focus on successfully completing the mission overseas.

“We appreciate the continued support of our employers who allow us the peace of mind to focus on our mission without fear for our jobs when we return,” he said. “The support of our family and friends is the glue that holds us together and the topic of many discussions throughout the day.”

The Wisconsin National Guard continues to play a role in military operations in the Middle East despite troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides the Soldiers of the DMCU, which left Wisconsin in early January, the Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing recently concluded a series air refueling operations deployments over the region.

The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneously remains ready to execute its other primary mission as the first military responder in the homeland.