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SUPERIOR, Wis. — The 950th Engineer Company returned from Afghanistan to a hero’s welcome Sept. 4 as local citizens from Superior turned out in droves to display homemade signs, cheer and wave flags along the yellow ribbon-lined streets that led to Superior Middle School.

Waiting at the school were the Soldiers’ families and state and local leaders who eagerly awaited sign of the unit’s buses coming down the road. There was no doubt when the 950th arrived as a caravan of police vehicles, fire engines and flag-waving motorcyclists escorted them directly to the cheering crowd standing outside the school.

When the doors to the buses swung open, senior military leaders and elected representatives were there to shake their hands before the Soldiers disappeared into the welcoming arms of loved ones that they had not seen since leaving Wisconsin last fall.

The evening became a celebration of what the 950th accomplished while serving in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, where the unit’s nearly 100 Soldiers simultaneously tackled three different missions. A detachment from the unit provided force protection at Forward Operating Base Oqab, while another provided force protection at Kandahar Airfield. Meanwhile, approximately half of the unit conducted its assigned route clearance mission – the mission for which the unit trained before deploying and expected to conduct overseas. The unit added the force protection missions when they arrived overseas, but they adapted to the changes.

“No sooner did you get into Afghanistan and that mission shifted or expanded,” Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the assistant adjutant general for Army, said of the changes while speaking to the Soldiers and their families. “And in true Wisconsin fashion, you embraced it with your Midwestern ethics and just the professionalism that you have as a Wisconsin Soldier and as an engineer Soldier and accomplished that mission.”

sm150904-Z-AS463-133.jpgSen. Tammy Baldwin also heaped praise on the 950th for its ability to adjust to the change in mission.

“We are so proud of you,” she said. “And as was already mentioned, you trained for a mission, and then with great resiliency and determination, had additional missions assigned in Afghanistan. You rose to the occasion at every turn. We are so proud, and your safe return has answered our prayers.”

The highlight of the night though, was watching the Soldiers return to their state to reunite with their families, Baldwin said.

“Welcome home,” she said. “We got this wonderful chance to shake your hands as you got off the buses, but nothing compares to watching you embrace your families. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Rep. Sean Duffy, of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, agreed.

“Seeing you guys come up to the middle school and all the American flags, your whole community coming out to welcome you, to support you, to show their love for you, your hearts had to have been filled with pride,” Duffy said. “I know I was as I sat there and watched that take place.

“But I can’t imagine the feeling that you have as you have a moment to hug your little one or to hold your wife,” he added.

Both Baldwin and Duffy noted that the unit returned just in time for the kickoff to the Green Bay Packers football season — a revelation that drew cheers from the Soldiers.

“Your country is so proud of you” Duffy continued. “The great state of Wisconsin loves you. I look at all of you. It is the smartest, the hardest working, the best-looking group of people in America. No wonder you are loved not just here but all over the world. Welcome home. God love you. Thank you for your service.”

Capt. Andrew Redd, the commander of the 950th, described a challenging but successful mission in Afghanistan. Conducting force protection and route clearance missions, were vital tasks in the overall war effort, he said.

“Providing security for these individuals so they can continue the mission and wrap up the war in Afghanistan is a vital task,” Redd said. “And we were the only ones there to do it in our roles. And providing security can never lapse. You can never sleep, you can’t rest. We had no easy days in Afghanistan, and you should be proud of all your Soldiers and everything they did.”

“Every day was a challenge for us” he said. “We faced unique challenges, and we left Afghanistan with better solutions to their challenges and setup follow-on units for success. You should be proud of your Soldiers, and I’m proud to have served with them and been their commander.”

While the unit accomplished great things overseas, each Soldier’s family and employer played an equally important role in the overall success of the unit’s deployment, the state’s military leadership said.

“Families, you have the toughest part of this whole deployment,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the senior enlisted advisor for the Wisconsin Army National Guard. “It is a tremendous stress and responsibility on you, and I want to personally thank you for that sacrifice and the dedication you make, because without you, our Soldiers would not be successful. You contribute tremendously to the success of this mission.”

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, praised the unit and its accomplishments while also thanking the families for their sacrifices. He also thanked veterans among those in the audience and noted that the returning 950th Soldiers join a select group of Americans who can call themselves combat veterans.

“There is nothing sweeter than returning to the U.S. and your families after having served your country honorably,” Dunbar said. “Very few Americans can say they served their country in uniform, and even fewer can say they served their country in a combat zone. I’m extremely proud and thankful for your service. Welcome home.”

The 950th Engineer Company returned to U.S. soil Aug. 24, when it landed at Fort Bliss, Texas. The Soldiers returned to Superior after completing several days of post-mobilization training there. The unit deployed to Afghanistan in late 2014 after leaving Wisconsin in October 2014.

The deployment marked the unit’s first to Afghanistan. It previously deployed to Iraq in 2003 on a construction operations mission and again in 2010 on a route clearance mission.

While serving in Afghanistan, the unit completed 110 route clearance missions and provided 24-hour security for two separate facilities. It also helped confirm and destroy one of the largest weapons caches ever discovered in Afghanistan’s Parwan Province.