VOLK FIELD, Wis. — One of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s smallest units arrived safely at Volk Field before reuniting with their families Dec. 18 after an 11-month mobilization to the Horn of Africa and Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
The five-person 1967th Contracting Team completed demobilization requirements in Texas before state leadership greeted them with a homecoming ceremony different than anyone imagined when they left last January.
“When we left, we knew there would be challenges, however none of us could have predicted what happened here at home with COVID–19,” said Maj. Gary Brown, the 1967th Contracting Team Commander, during his remarks at the ceremony.
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, Wisconsin’s senior enlisted advisor, pointed out the masks and altered ceremony during his remarks.
“The world you left nine months ago is not the same one you are returning to,” stated Conde.
Instead of looking into the eyes of loved ones that gathered to greet the Soldiers, state leadership spoke through a camera lens as they thanked the families and support systems for their role in the mission’s success. Miles away, families and guests watched the ceremony via a Facebook Live broadcast.
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, acknowledged that it is not just families who are impacted when a Soldier deploys but also communities, neighbors, extended family and friends.
“It’s a whole group of folks that are also left behind but those people come together and support the family in their time of need, which ultimately supports the Soldier during their mission overseas,” said Mathews.
Although a small unit, the 1967th Contracting Team made a big impact on coalition efforts in the region by providing contracting support to U.S. forces.
“We awarded 83 percent of all fiscal year 2020 contracts worth almost $10 million, which supported not only our military efforts in the region, but through close coordination with the United States Embassy, we also supported the Djiboutian response to Covid–19,” said Brown.
Brown commended his team’s ability to stay in-step with an evolving mission and adapt.
“When asked to make changes we quickly did and in a manner that represented Wisconsin well,” said Brown.
The ability to adapt included not just changing mission requirements, but also the team’s approach to connecting with others.
Staff. Sgt. Brookelyn Nelson, an acquisition, logistics and technology contracting noncommissioned officer, stated that they were not able to meet new people as easily once they deployed.
“In the end though, it ultimately brought us closer together with other people,” Nelson said. “When we got together it felt like big family gatherings. It was great to reconnect and see other people.”
Shortly after the ceremony, Nelson and the rest of the team quickly loaded vehicles to reunite with their loved ones at a nearby Wisconsin National Guard Armory.
The 1967th returns amidst a historic period for the Wisconsin National Guard. Approximately 35 Soldiers from the West Bend-based Detachment 1, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation remain deployed to the Middle East in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield conducting medevac missions across the theater. Approximately 20 Soldiers remained deployed to Maryland with the 176th Cyber Protection Team supporting U.S. cyber protection operations.
In November, the 924th Engineer Detachment returned from an overseas deployment to Kuwait. Hundreds of additional Wisconsin National Guard troops returned from deployments to Afghanistan and Ukraine earlier this year as well. In fact, since November 2019, more than 1,200 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard have either deployed or returned from overseas deployments.
Approximately 150 Soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company returned to Wisconsin in September after a yearlong mobilization that spanned the Middle East and Afghanistan. Another 400 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry returned from a mobilization to Afghanistan in waves over the spring and summer, while the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters and roughly 160 Soldiers returned from a deployment to Ukraine in August after serving as the headquarters element for training advisors to the Ukrainian military.
Those overseas deployments are all in addition to the thousands of Wisconsin National Guard troops mobilized here in Wisconsin in 2020.
More than 1,400 Wisconsin National Guard members were mobilized at the peak of the COVID–19 pandemic response operating COVID–19 testing sites, running self-isolation facilities, managing logistics, manning a warehouse and distributing critical PPE shipments, and more. More than 700 remain on duty in support of the COVID–19 pandemic in the largest sustained domestic mobilization in the Wisconsin National Guard’s history.
Thousands more assisted the Wisconsin Elections Commission as poll workers in four separate elections in April, May, August, and November as COVID–19 fears resulted in a mass shortage of volunteers to staff polling places statewide.
Additionally, thousands of troops have assisted civil authorities in preserving public safety amidst multiple instances of civil unrest over the course of the spring, summer, and fall in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay, and Wauwatosa.
Also, two UH–60 Black Hawk helicopters and crews deployed to California for more than a month in September and October to help battle wildfires there.