The approximately 650 Wisconsin National Guard troops that answered the call to assist Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma are returning to Wisconsin.
The troops were sent to Florida early last week to assist local authorities and provide humanitarian assistance to communities affected by the storm.
Wisconsin mobilized more than 2,500 National Guard troops to state active duty, before Florida requested that Wisconsin curtail the number to the 650 troops that had already arrived immediately following the storm. Florida amended its request after Irma's impact was not as severe as anticipated.
Elements of 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry and 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, both of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, made up the majority of the Wisconsin National Guard personnel in Florida. Additionally, assets from the Wisconsin Air National Guard, a chaplain team, a logistics team from 257th Brigade Support Battalion, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and a public affairs team from 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment assisted in recovery operations in Florida.
“In this mission we fall under the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Florida National Guard,” Lt. Col. Brion Aderman, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, 32nd IBCT, said. “Seamlessly, we were integrated as part of the 53rd. They’ve taken us in. We fit in great. It shows that our flexibility, our ability to work with other states, and other units that we don’t have a habitual relationship with. I think that’s what we do better than anyone else in the Guard, we fit in.”
Lt. Col. Daniel Walsh, the commander of 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, 32nd IBCT, seconded Aderman’s remarks in stating that the collaboration has been excellent and that the Florida National Guard and units from other states have been phenomenal. In addition to working with other Guard units, there was the opportunity to intermix and augment the Miami-Dade County Police Department and help them to focus their efforts on assisting the people of Miami Dade County, he said.
“We’ve had great battalions come from Wisconsin embedding in our cities and our counties and working hand-in-glove," said Col. John Haas, the commander of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "It is seamless to our city officials. They just recognize the great work that the Guard is doing, and that speaks volumes about not only the Guard but the relations that we have from state to state.”
Though their mission was to provide security and humanitarian assistance, mission sets varied depending on the day-to-day needs of local authorities. Some Wisconsin troops also assisted with getting fuel supplies to critical facilities like nursing homes and hospitals.
Walsh discussed the importance of flexibility and readiness while assisting with the recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma. Service Members from 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry had the opportunity to augment the Miami-Dade PD and Florida Highway Patrol with public safety operations as part of Hurricane Irma relief operations.
“Flexibility has been key here,” Walsh said. “We’ve had to react to multiple situations – whatever emergency calls were coming in – react and work with the Miami Dade Police Department. The bottom line is our readiness and our ability to respond quickly was key in this situation.”
Haas discussed how well Wisconsin Army National Guard units integrated with the Florida Army National Guard hurricane recovery operations.
“It’s never really happened like this before I think," Haas said. "Getting our Wisconsin Guardsmen down here, flying them in, integrating them fully into the plan, getting them into the area of operation and actually operating in a county, in a different state, and doing a fantastic job. Truthfully, the Guard usually considers us experts in our area because we live here and we have those relationships in the counties and the cities and that usually serves the operations well, but it’s clear that Guardsmen are just Guardsmen wherever they are.”
Aderman said, “If history has shown us anything it's that our nation is going to need brave, proud, really amazing young men and women – the ones we call Soldiers – in the toughest times. Regardless how tough those circumstances or what the conditions and situations are, our Soldiers in the 32nd will be ready to respond and will be victorious as we have been over the last 100 years.”
Wisconsin National Guard troops began arriving in Florida Sept. 11 after Wisconsin Air National Guard troops coordinated an airlift to Florida. Most of the troops returned to Wisconsin Sept. 16-17, and the remainder are expected to arrive back in the Badger State Sept. 19 having fulfilled their duties as America's first military responders in times of emergency.
“I’m incredibly proud of the Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard that answered the call in Florida’s time of need,” Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general said. “Serving the citizens of our state and nation in times of emergency is at the very core of our mission in the National Guard. Seeing our Soldiers and Airmen rise to the occasion in the wake of Hurricane Irma has been an incredible demonstration of the National Guard’s readiness to respond when called and a validation of the public’s trust in us to be always ready and always there.”
The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneously remains ready to fulfill its mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. Approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing deployed to Korea in August, while 110 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron deployed to Southwest Asia in May, and approximately 150 Soldiers and fellow aviators from the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation deployed to Kuwait last spring. Another 35 Soldiers from the West Bend, Wisconsin-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation deployed to Afghanistan last winter. However, even with the mobilization to Florida, more than 8,000 additional Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard remain ready and available to serve our state and nation, if needed.