MADISON, Wis. — “The eagle has landed.”
That was how Gov. Scott Walker welcomed back 66 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers Nov. 18 from a nine-month deployment to Iraq and Kuwait, serving alongside active-duty members of the 101st Airborne Division headquarters as part of the Army’s first Division Multi-Component Unit. The 101st advised and assisted Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the fight against the Islamic State, or Da’esh as the terror organization is referred to in the region.
During the division’s time in Iraq and Kuwait, more than 23,000 ISF troops were trained in key battlefield skills. Senior 101st leaders also coached and mentored Iraqi military leaders on operations planning and execution.
“The Iraqis are the ones fighting this fight,” Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, 101st Airborne Division commander, said at a ceremony earlier in the day at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. “We left here nine months ago and right before I left, some leaders came down and said, ‘Volesky, if the 101st can just get the Iraqis around to isolate Mosul by the time you leave, that would be unbelievable but we don’t think that can happen.’ Well, not only are they around, but they are inside Mosul.”
Volesky also praised the Wisconsin National Guard and Utah National Guard Soldiers who were part of the Division Multi-Component Unit.
“I’m grateful for the people that were with us the entire time, our Wisconsin and Utah National Guard teammates,” Volesky said. “They came in and did wonders for us.”
Col. Leland Ward, who commanded the Wisconsin detachment of Soldiers, explained the task his troops accomplished during the past nine months.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Soldiers of the detachment before you integrated into one of the finest combat forces in the world,” Ward said. “They were tested by a tough and resilient enemy, and found worthy. That in itself would be a lifelong accomplishment, but we asked them to do a lot more than that.
“As members of a 22-nation member coalition fighting Da’esh, we asked them to bring new skills to the combat field,” he continued. “We asked them to stretch the limits of collaboration, coordination, cooperation and negotiation — and they excelled.”
This was the third deployment for Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Buckley, and something of a return to his roots — he began his military career as an active-duty Soldier in the 101st Airborne Division.
“It was difficult to tell who was DMCU and who was active duty, so incorporation was great,” said Buckley, who served as a battle noncommissioned officer for the joint operations center in Baghdad. “We synced in with everybody and just became part of the team. It was awesome how we came together, like we had been working together for ages now.”
Sgt. Katie Eggers, a public affairs Soldier who monitored Iraqi and Islamic State media, agreed.
“People didn’t realize I was in the National Guard until I told them,” she said. “We really integrated well with the unit. They were very impressed with the work we put out.”
“To the Soldiers of the 101st,” Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor, said to the returning troops, “you have proven once again that Wisconsin Soldiers are among the best, if not the best, in the United States Army. You are the tip of the spear, folks.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, praised Ward as well as Col. J.R. Treharne and Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Rosemore for their leadership before and during the deployment.
“From the point where we learned from the National Guard Bureau that Wisconsin would be the pilot state to build this divisional multi-component unit and embed with the 101st, knowing full well that division headquarters was going to mobilize and deploy shortly after that, we put a heavy burden on your three shoulders,” Anderson said. “And you three gentlemen came through with flying colors.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, invoked the Constitution’s framers and their intent for the National Guard.
“Never in their wildest dreams did they envision a Guard this good,” Dunbar said, “that could go into combat with the United States Army and stand shoulder to shoulder — not better, but equal — and do a job for this country the way you have done it.
“The 101st is one of the premier units in the United States Army,” he continued, “and it is better because of the role the Wisconsin Army National Guard — you —have played in that history. It’s a better history now, and my hat’s off to you.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she was touched by the reunions she witnessed at the ceremony.
“This is a season of thanksgiving, and I am thankful that you are going to be home for the holidays,” she said. “To the family members, thank you for your sacrifices. You make us proud.”
Walker said the days he can help welcome home troops are some of his best days as governor.
“To our Soldiers, thank you — you are the best of the best. You are well-trained, you were able to perform and you showed again you can do any task as well or better than any other unit in the military. You are from Wisconsin and you are the best of the best.
“It’s good to see Old Abe home.”