OSHKOSH, WI - By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato, Wisconsin National Guard
After 11 long months, the 1157th Transportation Company is back in Wisconsin.
The unit's 123 Soldiers returned to a hangar at the EAA in Oshkosh, Wis. on Jan. 18 after a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, where they were welcomed by Gov. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's top leadership, and most importantly, their families.
The reunification of so many families was emotional.
"We're ecstatic. The girls are looking forward to it," Andria Weber said of her husband, Staff Sgt. David Weber's, return home. "We've been waiting for months and the last few days have seemed the longest I think, because we know that he's so close but not quite home."
The couple from Oshkosh have two daughters - one just over a year old and the other three.
Maria Kloth, anxiously awaited the return of her younger brother Dylan Homer. Their family held postponed their celebration of Christmas so they could share it with Homer upon his return.
"For all of the Soldiers I'm speechless as to what they do," said Debbie Stenson as she waited for her son, Sgt. Anthony Stenson, to arrive at the EAA. "Whether you're deployed or not, the responsibilities that you carry ... I'm just proud to be an American."
William Butzlaff Sr., of Oshkosh, was also proud of what his son, William Jr., for his service. "I'm very proud of him. He went over there and represented our country and our state, and we should all be proud of all of them."
After months of anticipation, the moment finally arrived, as buses carrying the unit's 123 Soldiers arrived at the EAA. They passed through the handshakes of the governor and into the welcoming arms of their families.
Many of the Soldiers had some catching up to do.
"It's quite overwhelming. I was finally able to see my daughter. I watched her be born and two-and-a-half days later we went back to Camp Shelby, so it's very overwhelming and still very surreal," said Sgt. Adam Pearson, of Luxemburg, Wis. " I'm really looking forward to going home and being a family with my wife and my daughter and just settling down and getting back to my roots."
"It's absolutely crazy, because I've been waiting so long just to see my (three-year-old) son," said Spc. Garrett Kaehler, of Menasha, Wis.
Asked what he plans to do now that he is home for good.
"I'm going to take the kid to go get some Christmas presents and the stuff he's long overdue."
Capt. Roger Miller, a platoon leader in the 1157th highlighted the unit's accomplishments in his address. The unit, which conducted operations in northern, eastern, and central Afghanistan, provided convoy security for equipment and personnel leaving Afghanistan. All told, the unit performed 128 escort missions, and logged over 1.8 million miles on some of Afghanistan's most dangerous roads.
"No mission was too hard. No mission was too dangerous. The 1157th's dedication to mission accomplishment earned them 40 combat action badges and five purple hearts," Miller said. "Soldiers are often thanked for their service, and they're thanked for their sacrifice. Nobody's more appreciative, and nobody knows that sacrifice more acutely than our family members."
He added, "Thank you for being strong and for working hard through all the adversity. The State of Wisconsin and the American people should be real proud of you. I'm real proud of you. You earned those 12 (Army Achievement Medals), 105 Army Commendation Medals, nine Bronze Star (medals). And one new citizen."
In his remarks, Gov. Walker thanked the members of the 1157th for the dedication, representing Wisconsin, and serving the nation. He also promised the state's assistance in finding jobs for the returning Soldiers.
"There should be no man or woman coming back from serving our country on a deployment who doesn't have an opportunity for a job once you get back to Wisconsin," Walker said.
The state's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar said, "It takes something special in our world to have enough courage and commitment to this country to put a uniform on and endure the rigor of hard training, and then when your country calls on you, to go into combat, go forth and complete that mission. You are in a rare, very select breed. I hope that you are proud of what you've accomplished. I want you to know that I am incredibly proud of what you've accomplished."
Dunbar also recognized the sacrifices of families during a deployment.
"To the families, I know a year is a long time. Your commitment is no less than your Soldier's to the defense of this country."
The 1157th first reported to Camp Shelby last February for mobilization training before arriving in Afghanistan in April. The past year's deployment was the fifth since 1990 for the unit. The unit mobilized and served overseas during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990, and it provided transportation support in 2002 to Army Special Operations Support Command and other units at Fort Bragg, N.C., for 11 months. In September 2005 the unit was ordered to active duty to support Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Louisiana, and in 2006, it deployed to Iraq where it logged more than 300,000 miles hauling fuel and other cargo.