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sm181014-Z-MT804-001Members of the 128th Air Refueling Wing stand in formation during a welcome home ceremony here, Oct. 14. 128th Air Refueling Wing photo by Staff Sgt. Morgan Lipinski

MILWAUKEE — National Guard units such as the 128th Air Refueling Wing often tout their hometown status, but when Airmen are away on deployment the unit’s sense of community becomes more like that of a family.

Master Sgt. Brandon Zahn and his wife, fellow 128th Air Refueling Wing member Master Sgt. Kristin Zahn, can relate. While Brandon was on a seven-month deployment to the U.S. Africa Command, he missed most of Kristin’s pregnancy. She gave birth to their daughter a week earlier than projected — a mere five hours before his return.

sm180501-Z-F3880-001Master Sgt. Brandon Zahn and his wife, Master Sgt. Kristin Zahn, welcome their baby into the world in Milwaukee. The Zahn’s baby was born 5 hours prior to Brandon’s return home from a 7-month deployment with U.S. Africa Command. Photo courtesy of the Zahn family

“We joke that our daughter didn’t want to wait through delivery to meet her dad,” Kristin said during an Oct. 14 ceremony recognizing more than 260 128th Air Refueling Wing members who returned from deployments over the past year. Airmen commonly deploy individually or in small groups for several weeks or several months, based on their skill sets and the needs of overseas units.

Kristin encouraged spouses in her situation to not feel guilty about accepting help from others, and to be honest and understanding of each other.

sm180501-Z-F3880-002U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brandon Gumm (back row, third from left) with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing’s fire department. Gumm’s fire department team pitched in to assist with travel costs when Gumm went on emergency leave to attend to his family when his father passed away during his deployment to the Middle East. Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Brandon Gumm

“Deployments and pregnancies are difficult on their own, and extra difficult when done together,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without everyone’s support.”

During the ceremony, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch thanked the Airmen and their families for their service and sacrifice.

“I know that there were trying times as you served far away from loved ones,” Kleefisch said.

Her words directly applied to Master Sgt. Brandon Gumm, an Air National Guard firefighter whose father died in Dallas while he was deployed to the Middle East. Once he received the official Red Cross notification, Gumm’s deployed first sergeant began coordinating emergency leave.

sm181014-Z-F3880-003Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, meet with Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing who recently returned from deployments across the globe here, Oct. 14. 128th Air Refueling Wing photo by Senior Airmen Jaclyn Sommers

“The first sergeant there was phenomenal in getting the travel paperwork in order,” Gumm said.

However, the emergency leave flight was only authorized for Gumm’s home of record, and he needed to reach the Dallas area. Members of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing’s fire department and the 128th Air Refueling Wing’s fire department pooled their money together to pay for Gumm’s flight from Milwaukee to Dallas.

“You — the warrior Airmen of the 128th Air Refueling Wing — adapted, overcame and prevailed in the face of any challenge that we put upon you,” Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Safer said during the ceremony. “But that’s just what you do — it’s what you always do, because you are the best of the best.”

Turning from the military family of the 128th Air Refueling Wing to the military families in attendance, Safer extended his gratitude.

“The families should be very proud as well for their role in holding down the fort and supporting our Airmen so that they could focus on their job,” Safer said. “Without your support, it would be very difficult to accomplish the mission. That’s just a fact.”

Senior Master Sgt. Kristen Stanley, 128th Air Refueling Wing public affairs, contributed to this report.