MADISON, Wis. — In the wake of two Wisconsin National Guard units returning from overseas deployments and in the shadow of Veterans Day, three Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers left Wisconsin Nov. 10 for Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will complete pre-deployment training before heading to Afghanistan.
Members of Detachment 5, Operational Support Airlift Command — a C-26 airplane with two pilots and an operations noncommissioned officer — departed from their hangar at Army Aviation Support Facility 2 in Madison, Wisconsin. The unit will join up with four members of the Hawaii National Guard to transport critical personnel throughout Afghanistan and the surrounding region in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
“This has to be the smallest sendoff that I’ve been a part of,” said Col. Dennis Konkel, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 64th Troop Command. “But no less important.”
This will be the third deployment for Chief Warrant Officer Paul Phelps, one of the two deploying C-26 pilots. His first deployment was to Iraq in 2011 with the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment with one of the unit’s West Bend, Wisconsin-based detachments. His second deployment was with the C-26 unit, performing the same mission in Afghanistan, in 2014.
“We’re going back to the same base and the same mission we did three years ago,” Phelps said. “I’m definitely more comfortable this time around. We know what the mission is, we know how they run things over there, we’ve talked with the folks that are over there now doing it and got updates on all the changes.”
This will be the third deployment for Sgt. Emily Cash as well. She deployed to Kosovo in 2006 and Iraq in 2010 with the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation. While she is deploying with Detachment 5, she is technically a member of the West Bend medevac unit that just returned from the Middle East Nov. 8.
“It’s going to be challenging — it’s not helicopters, it’s an airplane, so I’m sure it will present new challenges I’m not yet aware of,” Cash said of her upcoming deployment.
During her previous two deployments, Cash worked in tactical operations centers and had to react to battle drills or calls for troop transport aircraft, attack aircraft or medevac missions.
“This is just going to be pretty much planning,” Cash said.
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, the assistant adjutant general for readiness and training — and also a trained helicopter pilot — expressed her confidence in the experience of the deploying unit.
“There’s 9,000 flight hours between the two of you,” she said of Phelps and Chief Warrant Officer John Tomblin. “You’ve deployed several times before, so you know what it’s like. You’ve been there, done that.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, said the past couple of weeks demonstrate that the Wisconsin National Guard is still active in its role as part of America’s primary combat reserve. The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing just returned from a Theater Support Package deployment to Korea Nov. 8, and a West Bend-based detachment of Company C, 168th Aviation also returned to Wisconsin Nov. 8 from Afghanistan.
Conde and Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar — Wisconsin’s adjutant general — also recently visited the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Control Squadron in the Middle East, and Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers from the Madison, Wisconsin-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation in Kuwait.
“We continue to be a very busy National Guard, and we’ll be busy into the future,” Conde said.
Phelps summed up the deploying unit’s sentiment before they left.
“We’re ready to rock and roll,” he said.
In addition to the units that recently returned from deployments, the Wisconsin National Guard has had a busy summer and fall responding to hurricanes and flooding, fulfilling its role as the nation’s first military responder in times of emergency. Approximately 650 Wisconsin National Guard troops recently returned from Florida where they provided humanitarian relief, security and traffic control support to communities in the wake of Hurricane Irma. In addition, Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, 115th Fighter Wing and Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Those missions came on the heels of responses in Burlington, Wisconsin and Monroe County in July after heavy rains caused flooding in those areas.