MILWAUKEE — One hundred years ago, the 121st Field Artillery returned from France after the end of World War I.
A century later, Gov. Tony Evers and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined families and friends in welcoming home more than 350 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers home from a deployment spanning 15 locations across six countries, reaching from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan.
During that deployment, the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery and the 108th Forward Support Company supported three concurrent military operations in the U.S. Central Command theater — Inherent Resolve, Spartan Shield and Freedom Sentinel. They were part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as well as the Taliban, and trained alongside the military in Jordan, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates.
“To say that this deployment was dynamic would be an understatement,” said Lt. Col. Paul Gapinski, battalion commander, during the May 23 ceremony at the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee. “All told, we fired over 400 precision munitions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Freedoms Sentinel. Our forces served equally as a flexible deterrent option across the region — a constant reminder of our firm resolve. To do this, we tackled the always difficult task of moving personnel, equipment and repair parts to 15 distant locations in six countries, always meeting or exceeding mission requirements.”
The 121st Field Artillery is a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) unit, which fires different precision munitions and can be transported by air, making the platform highly desirable to combatant commanders.
“You helped decimate ISIS and facilitate their withdrawal from Syria,” Gapinski continued. “You helped prevent terrorist attacks against this country. You helped push back the Taliban. You helped protect our various strategic resources and deter aggression in the region and continue to build on our culture of interoperability.
“And you — the incredible men and women of the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery — have been there every step of the way, serving with honor.”
Sgt. Darick Landolt of Battery B, located in Plymouth, Wisconsin, was one of those Soldiers.
“I work on a computer and I send the fire missions down to the launchers,” Landolt said, explaining his duties in the fire direction center. This deployment sent him to Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
“Overall, it was a good deployment,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Gregory Mayeshiba of Headquarters Battery, located in Milwaukee, worked as a battle noncommissioned officer for this deployment, his second.
“Managing all the information that comes through the office, keeping track of all the equipment,” he explained. “It was a very unique opportunity to be out there, the training we got to do with partner nations.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, explained how the 121st Field Artillery supported the fight against terror organizations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
“It is not a simple thing that they accomplished,” Dunbar said. “It is a complex thing that they accomplished, and we should be very proud of what these Soldiers have done for our nation.”
Gapinski expressed his gratitude for his battalion’s selfless service.
“Whenever the country calls, you are there, the ones who answer the call no matter the circumstances, no matter the danger, no matter the sacrifice,” Gapinski said. “And I know that you do this not just as Soldiers, not just as patriots but as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.
“And I know that while your children and your spouses and your parents and your siblings might not wear a uniform, they serve right alongside of us and right alongside of you,” he continued. “I know that your sacrifice is their sacrifice, too, so when I think of all that you do and all that families do, I’m so proud and I’m so grateful. But more importantly, I’m inspired.”
Eric Dufek could understand that sentiment. A 20-year Wisconsin Army National Guard veteran, he deployed with Plymouth’s Battery B in 2006 when that unit performed a convoy escort mission in Iraq, and deployed in support of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2009 where he performed detainee operations. He was at the ceremony to welcome home his son, Sgt. Landolt.
“It’s a lot more nerve-wracking than being deployed yourself, because you have no control over what happens to him,” Dufek said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde expressed the relief families must have felt at having their Soldiers safely home.
“This is the best day of life,” Conde said.
“Families, I think you share my view that it’s a heck of a lot better to welcome them home than to send them off,” Dunbar said, thanking the families and acknowledging their concerns.
Gov. Tony Evers, attending his first military homecoming ceremony as commander-in-chief of the Wisconsin National Guard, also spoke to the returning Soldiers and their families.
“I was told this, and I had a chance to witness it outside — the most important thing to happen today happened out there at the fence line when families were greeting their loved ones back home. This is a special occasion for me, but I know it’s special for you. So a hearty welcome home, and thanks for your bravery and a mission well done.”
Evers said that Wisconsin was grateful for their service and sacrifice to ensure the nation’s freedom, and acknowledged the sacrifice of communities, families and employers.
“You represent Wisconsin wherever you go, and you represent our state very well,” Evers said. “And you need to know this — you also carry with you the unwavering support of the people of the state of Wisconsin who awaited your safe return and look forward to welcoming you back to our communities with open arms. I wish you well as you return to your civilian jobs, your families and our communities.”
Gapinski said that words were insufficient to thank the Soldiers of his battalion.
“Of all the privilege that I have in serving in this position, nothing even comes close to the honor of serving with you during a deployment,” Gapinski said. “America is eternally grateful and I am incredibly proud of you, and I’m incredibly proud to serve with you.”