VOLK FIELD, Wis. - With the help of approximately 45 Wisconsin National Guard Airmen, three C-17 Globemaster and seven C-130 Hercules military aircraft, more than 600 members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 40 short tons of cargo left Wisconsin Sept. 11 en route to Florida to assist with Hurricane Irma recovery efforts there.
According to those who made it happen, there was precious little time between receiving and executing the mission.
"Yesterday [Sunday] we found out this was going to happen," explained Maj. Shannon Triggs, a Logistics Readiness Squadron operations officer with the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee. "What we're doing for the logistics piece of it is making sure that we're getting the airflow" - air transportation - "situated, tracking airflow, palletizing cargo, checking and in-processing passengers, and manifesting passengers. All of the logistical pieces that goes into getting people and cargo where they need to go."
Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wisconsin and Volk Field joined forces to get the Red Arrow Soldiers on their way.
Triggs said she happened to join in a conversation between a 32nd Brigade officer and the Florida National Guard's Joint Operations Center, which greatly reduced the initial confusion.
"We were huddled together over his phone getting on the same page," she said. "This is what we needed to happen initially. It took us a bit to get here, but now we're rolling."
Despite the hurried atmosphere surrounding the humanitarian relief mission, Master Sgt. Kitrina Vargas of the 128th Air Refueling Wing said her cohorts were excited to be doing their jobs helping not only the 32nd Brigade but fellow Americans.
"We have a lot of skilled people here who have a lot of knowledge - we're doing our best to maximize that," Vargas, an air transportation specialist, said. "We're working hand-in-hand with the Army [National Guard] to make sure we're staying as organized as we possibly can."
Master Sgt. Sarah Franzen, logistics plan superintendent with the 115th Fighter Wing, said the Air National Guard typically deploys service members overseas.
"However, one of the Air National Guard's core missions is to support federal and state emergencies," Franzen said. "In light of that, and despite short notice and unknown factors, our Airmen volunteered and executed this domestic operation mission flawlessly."
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior enlisted advisor, was on hand at Volk Field to meet with 32nd Brigade Soldiers as they boarded the aircraft to head to Florida. He praised the work done to ensure the Red Arrow Soldiers could begin their mission.
"There was a lot of work, a lot of coordination done," Conde said. "There's a lot of people that put in a lot of hours in the last couple of days to make sure this happened."
Some of that coordination was internal, with members of the Army staff and Joint staff working together to meet the needs of moving more than 2,500 troops. Those staffs also worked closely with brigade staff and the U.S. Supply and Finance Office at Camp Williams, Wisconsin to ensure all needs were met.
Sgt. Maj. Eric Johansen, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior logistics noncommissioned officer, said planning this operation was more demanding than an in-state storm damage response effort.
"Coordinating out of state movement for an element that exceeded 2,500 Soldiers and hundreds of pieces of equipment required troop movement via military aircraft, contracted buses and multiple serials of military vehicle convoys leaving the state in successive days," Johansen said. "It meant working with states on our convoy route for clearances, rest stops, vehicle recovery and refueling points. These issues required several different subject matter experts to line up and determine proper funding methods."
With the aircraft from the Arkansas, New York and Rhode Island Air National Guard on site to ferry Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers to Florida, Triggs took a moment to catch her breath.
"It feels fantastic," she said, while acknowledging that for the departing troops, the work has only just begun. "What we're seeing as far as the devastation down there is just what we're seeing on the news. So we really don't know when we get down there what we're even going to be facing."
Ironically, 100 years ago this month, 15,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen answered their nation's call and departed the state to begin training for World War I. Gathered at present-day Volk Field, they traveled by companies and battalions on three-day train trips to Camp MacArthur near Waco, Texas. Once there, Wisconsin's Guardsmen joined with those from Michigan to form the 32nd Division. While in France, the division accomplished every assigned mission - an accomplishment illustrated in its current "Red Arrow" insignia of the unit piercing an enemy line of battle.
The 600 Soldiers airlifted from Volk Field to Florida Sept. 11 joined approximately 50 more who departed on Sunday via convoy. Those troops will remain in Florida to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, but the Wisconsin National Guard learned Sept. 12 that the remainder of the 2,500 troops mobilized to state active duty will remain in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin National Guard, which fulfills a unique dual role as the nation's first military responder in times of emergency and the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, remains ready to assist in any way necessary.