VOLK FIELD, Wis. — The remaining Soldiers — approximately 200 — of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment arrived in Wisconsin Dec. 5, completing a nearly year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
Last week around 190 battalion Soldiers were welcomed back to Wisconsin at Volk Field.
The 127th Infantry is the first National Guard battalion to partner with an Army security force assistance brigade (SFAB), serving in a “guardian angel” role by providing force protection for countless engagements between Army advisors and other coalition forces, contractors and Afghan troops. The guardian angel mission aimed to reduce insider threats by being with the Army advisors as they conducted their training. The Soldiers of the 127th monitored body language and posture among those involved in the training event to detect if a threat was imminent.
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s top enlisted Soldier — and former command sergeant major for the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment — said the battalion set the standard for the guardian angel mission.
“Gen. [Mark] Milley himself said that the way forward for the SFAB is to have an infantry battalion from the National Guard as their guardian angels because of the job that you guys did,” Conde said.
Gen. Milley, an Army officer, is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“So don’t sell yourselves short — I think he knows what he’s talking about,” Conde continued. “And the reason he said that is because of the job that you guys did and your professionalism — and he said that even before you went overseas. Because he knew what the Wisconsin National Guardsmen from the 2-127th brought to the fight, so thank you for what you did.”
Lt. Col. Matt Elder, battalion commander, said that, as is often the case when doing something for the first time, “there were a lot of challenges. Our battalion has gone through a rough road to get to where we are right now, and it’s been a long, long journey.”
Elder told his Soldiers it was an honor to command them on this deployment.
“Over the last year the professionalism, the resilience and discipline of all the Soldiers that are here and all the Soldiers that are already home with their families — I couldn’t be prouder as a commander of how they performed over the course of this last year,” Elder said.
After the ceremony, Elder said there was no secret behind his battalion’s performance.
“It’s trusting in your subordinate leaders, and trusting in all the leaders you have across a battalion like this,” Elder explained. “Empowering junior leaders and allowing them to do what they need to do to lead. We got split across 14 different locations and seven different commands in Afghanistan — outstanding leadership across the board, from the E-5 team leaders up to company commanders and first sergeants.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Heidemann, the battalion’s senior enlisted leader, agreed.
“As everyone knows, the mission was not as we had planned early on,” Heidemann said, “but the resiliency of our Soldiers and the adaptability was outstanding throughout.”
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, echoed Elder and Conde in thanking family members for supporting their Soldiers.
“I know the Soldiers had a very difficult mission, and they worked very, very hard, but I think the families had the toughest job — taking care of the home front, making sure everything ran seamlessly,” Mathews said. “Not only physically, but emotionally. You had to go through a lot.”
Matthews also thanked the children of the returned Soldiers.
“I know you all had to step up a little bit to help around the house,” she said.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, told the families that the security force assistance brigade concept was still relatively new.
“It’s a little bit like trying to build an airplane when you fly it, and there were a lot of challenges,” Dunbar explained. “But the mark of a great unit is a unit led by exceptional Soldiers who leave it better than they found it. And in this case, this unit made dramatic strides in this particular mission and turned it over to another battalion from the 32nd, the 1-128th who just got over there. And their entry into the mission was much better and much smoother because of your leadership. So to all of you, great job.”
Elder noted after the ceremony that there was a gap between the first security force assistance brigade deployment and the second — which his battalion supported — so there was no real transition between the two brigades.
“We had to adapt and evolve that mission set over the course of our deployment,” Elder said. “Establishing different [standard operating procedures] and moving people across locations to get everything set. We got everything set for the 128th and the third SFAB.”
Dunbar said the National Guard is unique in its ability to take men and women from their communities, jobs and families, accomplish military missions overseas at high standards, and then return to their families, jobs and communities.
“It is the strength of our country, our National Guard, and it’s no finer than right here in Wisconsin,” Dunbar said.
Gov. Tony Evers agreed.
“You all come from every corner of the great state of Wisconsin, and you embody the values that are inherent to all Wisconsinites — selflessness, hard work and dedication,” Evers said. “When people see the Red Arrow, they know they are getting the very best. You all make our state very proud and you represent us well wherever you go.”