EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Thirteen months after their sendoff ceremony, the remaining members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment safely returned to Wisconsin Aug. 14 after completing a security mission in Afghanistan.
The 128th Infantry supported the U.S. Army’s 3rd Security Forces Assistance Brigade (SFAB) by providing force protection for numerous engagements between SFAB advisors and other coalition forces, contractors and Afghan troops. Later in the deployment, owing to strategic and diplomatic changes in Afghanistan, the battalion also took on a base defense mission.
Approximately 150 Soldiers from the 128th Infantry returned to Wisconsin April 27 as part of a planned troop drawdown in Afghanistan announced earlier this year. Roughly three dozen more 128th Infantry Soldiers returned to Wisconsin June 6.
Lt. Col. Aaron Freund, commander of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, reminded his unit that the most dangerous portion of any mission is the transition, “and of the countless missions we have done, we are at another transition point.”
Freund urged his Soldiers to reach out if they needed help returning to civilian life, and expressed his pride in his unit.
“You have done a phenomenal job,” he said. “You have all become American heroes and are part of something special. As your commander, I thank you for the privilege of watching you perform.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, recalled the 128th Infantry’s sendoff ceremony last July. He said he preferred this ceremony.
“This is the best art of my job, to welcome you home,” Conde said.
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, thanked the returning Soldiers for their service and urged them to thank their families.
Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, also praised the returning Soldiers and cut short his prepared remarks in an effort to expedite the unit’s reunification with their families.
“On behalf of Gov. Tony Evers, your employers and, most importantly, your families, we are so proud of you,” Knapp said.
A recorded message from Gov. Tony Evers awaited the returning Soldiers as well, and he lauded their service and sacrifice as well that of their families.
“You have accomplished so much and represented Wisconsin so well during your deployment,” Evers said. “Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to you.
“You return to Wisconsin during an unprecedented time,” Evers continued. “Many of your fellow Citizen Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard are actively involved in our state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is yet another reason you should be so proud to be a part of the Wisconsin National Guard. Even with hundreds of your fellow troops deployed overseas, hundreds more are active here at home helping our state simultaneously.”
After arriving to Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire early Friday afternoon, the troops boarded buses bound for home armories in Menomonie, Arcadia, River Falls, and Eau Claire where their families eagerly awaited their return.
“My son’s coming home, and today’s my birthday.” one mother exclaimed as she watched her son arrive to the Eau Claire Armory aboard a bus. “I’ve got goosebumps.”
It was an emotional day for others awaiting the arrival of their Soldiers after 13 months apart.
“It’s very emotional, but of course, we’re excited,” said Terri Prokop, the mother of Sgt. Joseph Prokop.
Today’s return marked the fourth time Lucy Seidl has welcomed her son, Sgt. Maj. Paul Musil, back from deployment.
“Somebody asked me on time, ‘do you ever get used to it?’” she said. “No. How many times can he go and come back alive and in one piece? But he’s born a Soldier and lives to protect his country just like the rest of them do. Thank God he’s home again.”
The 128th Infantry returns as the Wisconsin National Guard remains active supporting state and federal missions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The headquarters company of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Brigade recently completed a deployment to Ukraine where they served in an administrative role for the Joint Multinational Training Group working with the Ukrainian military. The 924th Engineer Detachment continues to provide vital services to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and the 150 Soldiers of the 829th Engineer Company remains deployed across the Middle East and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the 1967th Contracting Team is also hard at work in the Horn of Africa.
Nearly 1,100 Soldiers and Airmen are currently serving in direct support of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 response effort simultaneously.
Pfc. Sylvia Christensen and Senior Airman Jaclyn Sommers contributed to this report.