MADISON, Wis. — Nearly 20 Soldiers and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters returned to Wisconsin Nov. 16 and 18 after a deployment to the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist in the aftermath of hurricanes that ravaged the U.S. territory this fall.
Four Airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Refueling Wing also returned to the Badger State in recent days following deployments to Puerto Rico where they assisted with airfield management.
The Soldiers and Airmen were all part of the Wisconsin National Guard’s sustained response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria over the past three months, which impacted Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other U.S. states.
The group of nearly 20 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers deployed October 24 to conduct a medevac mission after Gov. Walker issued Executive Order 260, authorizing Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, to call elements of the Wisconsin National Guard to state active duty to assist the Virgin Islands in response to an Emergency Management Assistance Compact request.
“The domestic operations mission is unique to the National Guard, and it was great to be a part of this mission to help the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Maj. Marcea Weiss, the commander of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation and the officer in charge of the contingent of Wisconsin Soldiers who hailed from Army National Guard units in Madison and West Bend, Wisconsin. “We provided medevac services to a joint National Guard task force, augmenting the Virgin Islands civil authorities and first responders.”
“I’d like to thank the employers and families of our unit members whose ongoing support enables us to respond in times of federal mobilization and need,” Weiss added.
The unit provided daily medevac coverage and medical supply and personnel movement on the islands of St. Croix, Saint Thomas, and St. John. It was a task for which the Soldiers were well-prepared, because they regularly conduct overwater training and medevac hoist training.
All told, the Wisconsin medevac unit provided 160 hours of medevac coverage. They ultimately flew 21 humanitarian support missions, transported 163 personnel and completed seven damage assessment and repair overflights.
During their three-week deployment, some of the Soldiers also volunteered their personal time to help clean up local cemeteries in advance of Veterans Day observances and conducted additional medevac training with other National Guard units involved in the response from New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Nebraska and Washington.
“This was my first real-world domestic operations medevac mission, and it was great to be a part of this well-trained medevac team,” Sgt. Ryan Petri, a crew chief with Company B said. “It was a good experience and good to know that we were a part of providing help to the people of the Virgin Islands.”Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brandon Larson, a maintenance test pilot and instructor pilot with Company B had a similar sentiment.“This was a great experience to activate with short notice and deploy in support of this joint operation in the Virgin Islands,” he said. “The team did a great job responding quickly to support the Virgin Islands civil authorities from blade-fold to C-17 load out and return. I am proud of what the team accomplished.
”With the return of the medevac unit as well as the Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, all Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard personnel involved with hurricane support operations have returned to Wisconsin after nearly three months of continuous missions in support of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In addition to the groups returning over the past several days, approximately 650 Wisconsin Army National Guard troops deployed to Florida in September where they provided humanitarian relief, security and traffic control support to communities in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Soon thereafter, Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, 115th Fighter Wing and Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center deployed in the wake of Hurricane Maria to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to provide airfield management support, a mobile kitchen team, and communications capabilities for critical infrastructure like the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The sustained operations marked another example of how the National Guard continues to fulfill its mission as the nation’s first military responder in times of emergency.
The Wisconsin National Guard also responded to flooding here in Wisconsin on multiple occasions over the summer when troops deployed to Burlington, Wisconsin, to assist with establishing traffic control points on flooded roadways and bridges and conduct health and welfare checks for residents of the community. The adjutant general called another group to state active duty in Monroe County to assist with debris cleanup after flooding made roads impassable there.
Meanwhile, the organization continues to simultaneously accomplish its mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force with an active slate of global security missions. More than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron ta Volk Field returned home Nov. 20 after a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia. Approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned in early November after a deployment to Korea, and Airmen from the 128th Refueling Wing continue to deploy globally.
Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East in September, while another group of aviators deployed in November to Afghanistan. Another 150 Soldiers from the Madison-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation remain deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, and nearly 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.