MADISON, Wis. — It’s no secret that the 115th Fighter Wing has incredible Airmen who live outstanding lives outside of the uniform. But what about the heroes behind the heroes?
Staff Sergeant Alan Hughes, a 115th Fighter Wing Crew Chief, was recently featured on a commercial aired Feb. 7 during this year’s Superbowl LV, titled “Essential.”
Alan has been a member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard for almost seven years, participating in several short stateside deployments and a three month tour in Afghanistan in 2019. All the while, his wife Stephanie held down the fort back at home.
“Steph took on everything that goes along with harvest during the fall of 2019 when I was in Afghanistan and was probably looking forward to not having to do that again,” said Alan. “Unfortunately, that would not be the case.”
This year has been unusually busy for traditional guardsmen in the Wisconsin National Guard, and Staff Sgt. Hughes has done his part in support of the state’s missions. He participated in the Guard’s mission to support the state’s election as poll workers in April, provided services in a call center for the COVID-19 relief efforts, was activated to Kenosha, Wisconsin to assist with public safety efforts during the civil unrest there, and was sent to Washington D.C. to support military efforts during the inauguration.
On top of all of the work he is doing militarily as a member of the Guard, Alan recently accepted a full-time position as a teacher’s aide at a Cooperative Education Service Agency school in Vespar, Wisconsin where he had previously been working part-time.
“When I was called away from home again during the spring of 2020 in support of the COVID-19 relief mission, Stephanie not only had to face long hours in a tractor cab doing field work and do all the daily milking and chores that goes along with a large dairy farm,” he said. “But she also had two young boys who needed help with virtual schooling while a jealous three-year-old brother competed for attention.”
Hughes owns a 55-dairy cow farm with his wife Stephanie in Pittsville, Wisconsin where they are raising three young boys Bryce, 10, Gavin, 9, and Derek, 3. Stephanie is the primary day-to-day operator of the farm, and Alan helps wherever he can repairing any equipment as necessary and being as involved as possible with the crop and feed management.
“We are very proud of our farmstead in Pittsville, Wisconsin,” said Stephanie. “Alan and I both grew up on dairy farms, so our passion for agriculture is in our blood.”
Hughes and his wife both grew up in central Wisconsin but his family originated from the east coast where many of his family members still reside. His cousin, Gareth Hughes, moved from New Jersey to New York and has been a Creative Director for CBS Sports for several years.
A few years ago Gareth and his family visited the Hughes’ farm to witness their daily grind so when Gareth’s team started brainstorming who they wanted to feature in their segment it was a no-brainer.
“Essential” is a tribute and celebration of the people who are essential and kept life going through the pandemic featuring 12 different occupations and locations across the United States. Gareth jumped on the opportunity to recommend a farmer he knows and loves.
“Farmers often get overlooked or forgotten even though they provide the food on your table,” said Stephanie. “So when we were considered for this piece it was humbling. We were grateful agriculture made the list as essential.”
According to the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, Wisconsin agriculture is a big economic driver contributing $104.8 billion annually to our state's economy. Food processing activity contributes $82.7 billion to industrial sales. The state is home to 64,793 farms on 14.3 million acres and the average farm size in Wisconsin is 221 acres. That is a lot of land to maintain with just two people let alone when Stephanie has to do it on her own.
“While I do not consider myself to be a hero at all, it was very humbling to be asked to represent so many whom I do feel are heroes,” Alan said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to tell the world a little bit of my wife's story, whom I do feel is a hero because of all the responsibilities that she must shoulder whenever the Air National Guard asks me to be away from home.”
Through wind and rain, snow and summer heat, farmers have a job and there are not many chances for a break.
“The work on every farm must be done 365 days a year, pandemic or not,” said Stephanie. “Unfortunately, our industry and markets have been significantly affected by the pandemic, but that does not change how we care for our land and animals on a day-to-day basis.”
These words ring true among many other farmers around the world and it’s just one of many similar stories common to the Citizen Soldiers and Airmen who make up the Wisconsin National Guard.