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Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry display a Wisconsin flag during their mobilization to Afghanistan. The battalion mobilized in late 2018 for its mission to Afghanistan. Submitted photo

The adaptability and professionalism of the deployed Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry is on display across central and eastern Afghanistan.

The nearly 400 Soldiers mobilized for deployment to Afghanistan late last year and embarked on a mission in which they have already conducted hundreds of missions as “guardian angels,” providing force protection for countless engagements between advisors from the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), other coalition forces, contractors, and Afghan troops.

Lt. Col. Matthew Elder, the commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, and Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Heidemann, display the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry colors in Afghanistan. The battalion mobilized in late 2018 for its mission to Afghanistan. Submitted photo

The 127th is in uncharted territory for both the National Guard and its parent unit, the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The Appleton-headquartered unit is the first National Guard battalion partnered with one of the Army’s security force assistance brigades, and despite its long and illustrious history in combat dating back to the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Global War on Terrorism, the 127th became the first Red Arrow unit to deploy to Afghanistan when it arrived in theater last winter. The Red Arrow’s previous and numerous deployments since Sept. 11, 2001 have all been to Iraq or Kuwait. Their sister “Red Arrow” battalion, the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, will join them soon, after mobilizing for its own deployment to Afghanistan in July — but ultimately, the mission is a historic one in many respects.

Spc. Sheldin Goggins, a team leader assigned to 3rd Platoon of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry conducts weapons training in Afghanistan. The 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry mobilized in late 2018 for its mission to Afghanistan. Submitted photo

“This deployment certainly emphasizes the diversity and adaptability of the National Guard,” Lt. Col. Matthew Elder, the 127th commander, said. “Not only did we receive a unique and challenging mission, but we ramped up and deployed in an extremely short amount of time, then dealt with numerous changes of the mission, and ultimately overcame every obstacle to get where we are today. After 18 years of war in Afghanistan, we are here at a very significant and highly dynamic point in history.”

Elder said the unit is spread out and operating in small teams across Afghanistan, but he beamed with pride when describing the performance of his Soldiers thus far.

“It’s certainly challenging with the battalion spread out across Afghanistan, but we have excellent leaders doing outstanding things in every corner of the country,” he said. “I have the utmost confidence in all of our leaders and trust that 2nd Battalion, 127th Soldiers are exceeding expectations every single day.”

Spc. Natalee Bearce, of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry in Afghanistan. The battalion mobilized in late 2018 for its mission to Afghanistan. Submitted photo

Ultimately, he said, the unit is having a profound impact on the security situation in Afghanistan.

“Our Soldiers are making a critical difference on this mission,” Elder said. “Our job is to protect and secure U.S. forces, advisors, and other coalition partners, civilians, contractors, etc. Force protection is the top priority and our Soldiers and leaders take their jobs very seriously. We are providing security so others can protect our national interests and advisors can focus on assisting and enabling the Afghan forces to do what is necessary to reach a political agreement.”

The importance of that mission is not lost on more junior Soldiers in the battalion.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry prepare to operate an unmanned aerial system in Afghanistan. The battalion mobilized in late 2018 for its mission to Afghanistan. Submitted photo

“Our task force’s overall mission is to assist our Afghan partners to develop an outstanding military force, and so far, the contrast from the beginning is remarkable,” explained Cpl. Alexander Brinker, a Rhinelander resident serving with a team of eight other guardian angels in Kabul. “This wouldn’t be possible without the security my squad provides. We’ve trained hard for this mission, and we’re proud to be a part of history as the first Army National Guard unit to assist advisory missions for the newly implemented SFAB.”

Spc. Natalee Bearce, an intelligence analyst from East Troy assigned to the battalion headquarters said she has a sense of pride knowing that her contributions are making a difference in Afghanistan and beyond.

“Whenever I start to feel complacent, like I’m drifting into monotony, I take a step back and ponder on the reasons I am here,” she said. “I think about the people here who have been hurt by this conflict and need defending, I think about my loved ones back home who I would give anything to protect, and I think about how lucky I am to have this opportunity to serve.

“I am most proud to just fight for and defend the civil liberties and freedoms of anyone that identifies as an American,” she added. “Whenever I have the opportunity to see the fruits of my labor, even if it’s just in a friendly smile from our Afghan counterparts, I can take pride in knowing that my small sacrifice has made an impact in these people’s lives.”

The same was true for Spc. Sheldin Goggins, a team leader assigned to 3rd Platoon of Company B, who expressed an appreciation for the influence his team will leave behind.

“Although, our mission may seem minuscule in the grand scheme of the eighteen year war effort, we have had a vast impact based on our strategic position in Afghanistan,” the Pine River resident said. “We directly support daily operations of our installation which has repercussions far outside of our reach. We have fostered an environment that is far more efficient, which is where our effort has been focused.”

Goggins and others in the 127th demonstrated their adaptability when, after mobilizing, he learned he would take on a different mission than the original guardian angel mission for which the battalion trained. Much of the battalion remains engaged on that mission, though a portion of the unit has taken on other duties securing bases and outposts as quick-reaction forces (QRF) or operating as base defense operations center (BDOC) personnel.

That change, which also meant only part of the battalion moved forward to Afghanistan originally last winter while the remainder continued training in Texas and then Kuwait before arriving in Afghanistan, tested the unit’s flexibility, but the battalion remained unphazed by the seemingly endless changes to missions and timelines before settling into their current battle rhythm.

“I think the biggest accomplishment so far is that we all trained to strictly carry out the guardian angel mission, but over time and through some mission changes we all have had to adapt quickly to take on roles outside our normal duties or MOS (Military Occupation Specialty),” said Staff Sgt. Adam Zuehl, a squad leader from Clintonville assigned to Company C. “The Battalion has been split up throughout the country doing a multitude of roles, from squads doing Guardian Angel missions to those that have had to take on roles in BDOC, and then some who are serving as base QRF. So I think the accomplishment here is that we have shown how resilient and adaptable we are and ready to take on any mission set that is given to us.”

And while the battalion is succeeding with its mission and adeptly fulfilling its role as a key component of the Army’s primary combat reserve, the unit’s Soldiers simultaneously feel the support and close bonds that tie them to the Badger State while they are away. Mail and care packages continue streaming in, and the Soldiers remain connected with friends and loved ones back home via video calls, e-mails, and social media, all of which has a positive impact on morale.

“During pre-mobilization training and while in theater, we have received an outpouring amount of support from back home,” explained 1st Lt. Wolber, a New Glarus resident. “Adults and children, people whom we have never had the privilege of meeting in our lifetime, have taken the time to put together care packages that we cannot express enough appreciation for. From deodorant to Girl Scout cookies, thank you cards to gummy snacks, it’s humbling to know how much the State of Wisconsin cares for their Soldiers deployed.”

The separation from families and loved ones during the deployment is the hardest part for most of the Soldiers.

“Some of the hardest parts of this deployment are missing family and friends,” Spc. Christopher Dimoff said. “There are social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat where you can see friends and family all having a good time celebrating, grilling out, or going on vacation. In the end all you can do is stay positive and make plans with friends and family for when you get home.”

The Soldiers have come to rely on one another to help them through their individual struggles, and the unit has coalesced into a close-knit family.

“Morale will always waiver up and down due to being away from home, friends, and family, but that’s just part of the lifestyle and we have learned to embrace that,” said Hortonville resident Staff Sgt. Harland Houser. “Our squad has maintained positive morale since arriving in theatre and it’s our ability to bring each other up when someone is down that we credit that to.”

Bearce agreed.

“They are a fun and energetic bunch to work with for sure,” she said of her comrades in arms. “I know that they will always have my back and will support me no matter what. When I look to my left and to my right I see my brothers and sisters, wearing the same uniform I am. We all have differences that make us unique. But, more important is what we share: a common goal to serve our nation.”

Zuehl left a wife and three children behind, which weighs heavily on his mind. Fond du Lac resident Spc. Troy Myers’s fiancé is pregnant, and he will not be present for the birth of their first child. Elder’s wife, who is also a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and their children also eagerly await his return, as do thousands of other family members, loved ones, and friends connected to the 127th. From Zuehl’s perspective, the bond forged between the Soldiers in the unit is nearly indestructible, and that bond helps them all get through the tough times, which are bound to strike over the course of a deployment.

“Honestly in my own eyes the best part and most rewarding thing has been the unbreakable bond that I have gained with my brothers here in Blacksheep Platoon,” he said. “Through all the troubles and all the triumphs and all those ups and downs we have never let each other down, but rather picked each other up and kept driving forward. I think I can speak for everyone in the platoon or even the entire unit when I say that there are friendships here that we have all made that will not soon be forgotten.”

To the battalion’s commander, it’s something only those who have experienced it will ever understand.

“It’s hard to explain, especially on a deployment,” Elder said. “Together, Soldiers endure the stresses of leaving home, going through extensive training, and deploying to a combat zone with their brothers and sisters in the unit. These experiences create a bond that is hard to describe to most people who haven’t experienced something like that. Soldiers literally put their lives on the line for each other and trust each other to stay alive, that creates a special bond.”

The 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry which includes armories in Green Bay, Marinette, Fond du Lac, Ripon, Clintonville and Waupun continues to fulfill its mission in Afghanistan. Meanwhile their Red Arrow brothers and sisters from the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry will follow close behind.