MADISON, Wis. — Four Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators returned safely to Wisconsin Aug. 11 after a five-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Soldiers from the Madison-based Detachment 5, Company A, 641st Aviation Battalion conducted day and night all-weather military C-26 airlift missions, transporting critical personnel throughout the theatre of operations in Afghanistan as a part of Operation Freedom Sentinel.
In a brief speech to the aviators and their families, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, acknowledged the sacrifices that families make while their loved ones are overseas.
“First, I want to thank the families,” Dunbar said. “I know it’s been a long time since you’ve seen your soldiers, who are due some time off. They’re all yours, and we appreciate your support. To our soldiers, we are proud of all you have accomplished on your deployment. You did a great job. Welcome home.”
Detachment 5 split into two teams to tackle their deployment. The first group of aviators deployed to Afghanistan in November. That group then returned home and was replaced in March by the aviators who just returned home. However, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Paul Phelps, a pilot with Detachment 5, stayed for the entirety of the mission.
“I knew upfront that I would be staying the whole time, and I was okay with that,” Phelps said. “I had some personal goals I wanted to meet, and I was able to meet them while I was deployed.”
Phelps’s wife, Deb, said that this deployment seemed better for her than her husband’s last three deployments.
“The communication was great – it’s almost as if he never left,” Deb said. “We kept in touch through texting and calling. We even sent little videos back and forth.”
She added that this deployment was easier because she knew what to expect.
“I think that keeping calm, maintaining peace and knowing to stay in the present moment is very helpful,” Deb said. “Don’t worry and be anxious about anything that hasn't come to pass. When you stay in the moment and take the deployment one moment at a time, it’s very helpful.”
Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Tomblin, a pilot with Detachment 5, initially deployed with the first half of the unit when they went overseas in November. He returned home in April, but then deployed again in May to replace a member of the unit who had to return early.
“When I came home last time it was April, and I was able to shovel snow one day and mow the lawn a week later,” said Tomblin. “I got all my chores in before I had to leave again.”
Tomblin said he is glad to be back with his family after the time overseas.
“Being back home is a great feeling. Being home with my family and getting hugs from my kids when I get off the plane, nothing beats that.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Billy Dart, a pilot with Detachment 5, said the deployment went well and that he felt fortunate to have the capability to talk with his family back home.
“The biggest challenge is being away from the kids,” said Dart. “We’re lucky to have internet. We’re a bit spoiled with these conditions now when we’re overseas. You have video so you can talk to them every night.”
Detachment 5 as whole carried out over 300 missions, logged nearly 1,500 flight hours, carried nearly 2,500 passengers and carried over 120,000 pounds of cargo during their deployment overseas.
The Wisconsin National Guard remains heavily engaged fulfilling its mission as a key component of the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. More than 350 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery deployed to the Middle East earlier this summer, and more than 25 Soldiers from the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade’s Military Engagement Team deployed to the Middle East in March. Meanwhile a team of Soldiers from the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment deployed to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in March to provide public affairs support there, and Soldiers from the 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East in September. Approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January, and 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison from a deployment to Korea, and more than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field returned from Southwest Asia. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin National Guard has been busy fulfilling its other mission as the state’s first military responder in times of emergency. Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are currently assisting the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on the nation’s southwest border in Arizona. Last fall, the Wisconsin National Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding last summer in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.