Nearly all of the 35 Soldiers from a Wisconsin Army National Guard aviation detachment that deployed last summer to the Middle East returned home to Wisconsin and reunited with their families after a nearly 11-month mobilization.
The troops, from the West Bend, Wisconsin-based Detachment 1, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation returned in multiple waves to airports across Wisconsin over the past several weeks after the first half of the unit touched down in Wisconsin at the end of April.
The unit mobilized with approximately 35 Soldiers in July 2020 for deployment across the Middle East in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield, and it served in a variety of locations across the theater of operations conducting medevac missions.
“It feels great,” Cpl. Colton Stackhouse, a UH-60 Black Hawk repairer and crew chief from Waukesha, Wisconsin, said. “It feels really good. I was getting a little choked up on the plane seeing Milwaukee underneath me, and I enjoyed it.”
This was his first overseas deployment.
His mother, Kimberly was elated to have him back safely in the Badger State.
“You can’t possibly imagine,” she said. “Just glad he’s home.”
Sgt. Patrick Blaesing, a flight medic from Brookfield, Wisconsin returning from his second overseas deployment was greeted by his brother, mother, father, USO volunteers and senior Wisconsin Army National Guard leaders, who fanned out to airports statewide to ensure that someone was there to greet every single returning Soldier.
“It feels fantastic,” Blaesing said after touching down at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. “It’s been just about a year. I am very happy to be back home. It’s good to see green again and breathe some fresh air. I’m very excited.”
Katrina McKee was anxiously awaiting her sister’s arrival at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I’m so excited to have her back,” McKee said. “It’s been a long year. It’s been challenging. This year was a little bit easier because we were able to talk a little bit easier, but then you’d go a week or two without getting to talk to her and you’re kind of sitting and wondering.”
Her sister – Sgt. Emily Cash – and her talked frequently over a less-than-reliable Internet connection, but managed to keep in regular contact throughout the unit’s deployment.
Cash and McKee also orchestrated a plan to surprise Cash’s 13-year-old daughter at her martial arts class as well as her seven-year-old son upon her arrival back in Madison.
“I’m excited to see my kids,” she said after arriving at the airport. “My son was like, ‘mom, we just want to snuggle,’ and I was just like, ‘oh, we will snuggle.”
The troops returned amidst a historic period in Wisconsin National Guard history.
The 176th Cyber Protection Team remains mobilized to Fort Meade, Maryland in support of U.S. Cyber Command and Cyber National Mission Force requirements, and approximately 60 Soldiers with the Waukesha, Wisconsin-based 135th Medical Company mobilized in late March for deployment to Kuwait and Iraq.
The 107th Maintenance Company, headquartered in Sparta, Wisconsin, with detachments in Viroqua, Wisconsin, Camp Ripley, Minnesota, mobilized over Memorial Day weekend en route to a deployment to Eastern Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Meanwhile, approximately 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops continue serving in direct support of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the course of the pandemic, more than 1,700 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen mobilized at some point for the COVID response, which began March 12, 2020. The COVID mobilization represents the largest sustained domestic mobilization in Wisconsin National Guard history, which dates to 1837.
More than 4,000 troops mobilized to support four separate state elections where they served as poll workers when the pandemic resulted in a shortage of traditional poll workers, and more than 5,000 troops mobilized to help preserve public safety in Wisconsin cities on multiple occasions in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, and Wauwatosa.
Another 550 mobilized to support security efforts at the presidential inauguration in January, and others deployed to California to assist efforts to battle wildfires there last fall.
The Wisconsin National Guard also welcomed home hundreds of other troops from overseas deployments over the past year, including 400 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry that completed a deployment to Afghanistan, 160 Soldiers from the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team that deployed to Ukraine, the 1967th Contracting Team, which deployed to Djibouti, the 924th Engineer Facilities Detachment, which deployed to Kuwait, and approximately 150 Soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company that returned last fall from a deployment that spanned several countries across the Middle East and Southwest Asia.