VOLK FIELD, Wis. — A Wisconsin Air National Guard unit helped write what might be the final chapter of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
The 128th Air Control Squadron deployed to Southwest Asia May 12 to support the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron by managing military air traffic in a swathe of atmosphere stretching from Syria to Afghanistan. They worked alongside 190 active duty Air Force peers and 35 joint coalition troops in a demanding environment in an effort to downgrade the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Complicating the mission was the fact that Russia had lent its military support to the government of Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war. Managing an airspace that included coalition partners from Europe and Australia as well as non-coalition Russian aircraft required the 727th to, in the words of 128th ACS commander Lt. Col. Michael Western, “deescalate World War Three.”
“We were doing close-air support in a complex environment, something we haven’t done in years,” Western told families and friends during a welcome-home ceremony Nov. 20 at Volk Field Air National Guard Base.
To better deconflict the airspace, air control squadron detachments established outposts in austere environments.
“I can’t think of a deployment that has more dimension to it, from a detachment standing up, to counter-air, to close-air support in a contested environment,” Western said.
The 128th Air Control Squadron’s deployment coincided with an escalated effort to defeat Islamic State. During their time in the Middle East, the 128th saw Islamic State’s territory shrink 90 percent.
“As of last week, Iraq had taken over the last city that had an Islamic State presence,” Western told an appreciative audience.
Col. David May, Volk Field commander, confessed to a mixture of pride and envy hearing the daily reports about what the 128th Air Control Squadron was doing.
“Your performance and your impact was simply unbelievable,” May said. “I believe that, while we don’t get to pick our time when it comes to deploying, I think fate picked the 128th because of the period of time that we’re in right now in theater — perhaps the most dynamic period of time in that particular theater of operations. They needed the best air control squadron available, and that’s exactly what they got.”
Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Safer, the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, praised the men and women of the 128th for their skill and dedication.
“Once again you have proven that you adapt, overcome and prevail,” Safer said. “Not only did you perform your mission flawlessly, but you took the initiative to improve yourselves and come back better than when you left.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, thanked family members and employers for their support, which allowed the 128th to deploy and play a role in degrading Islamic State.
“Men and women you have never met, and will never meet, will owe you a multitude of thanks,” Dunbar told the members of the 128th. “They’ll never know the names, but they know the flag that helped the coalition succeed. You have a great story to tell your grandchildren about what you’ve accomplished.”
Staff Sgt. Jacob Venner, a radio and satellite technician with the Wisconsin Air National Guard the past five years, described his first deployment as “really great.”
“I liked working with active duty — they’re high speed and they know what they’re doing,” Venner said. “As far as I know, they enjoyed working with us. We worked well side-by-side for the whole time I was out there.”
Tech. Sgt. Ryan Scott, who has served in the Wisconsin Air National Guard the past 10 years, was on his second deployment, maintaining communication links.
“It went very well compared to the last one,” Scott observed. “The last one went well too, but having that extra experience just helps out.”
The 128th ACS deployment is one facet of how the Wisconsin National Guard fulfills its role as Wisconsin’s first military responder and America’s primary combat reserve. Earlier this month, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison, Wisconsin from a deployment to Korea. Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East in September, while aviators from Detachment 5 deployed to Afghanistan in November. Another 150 Soldiers from the Madison-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation remain deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, and approximately 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
The Wisconsin National Guard also deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded to flooding over the summer in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.