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mind us and we remind ….

mind us and we remind …. mind us and we remind ….

mind us and we remind each other that what we’re doing is really important and look at the bigger picture. One day our kids and grandkids are going to be reading about this in text books – the world pandemic coronavirus 2020, and to know that we were on the front lines that’s really something all of us can be proud of.”

Indeed, future generations will read about 2020 in their textbooks in the coming years.

Election Support

Related to the COVID-19 response, the Wisconsin National Guard mobilized to support the Wisconsin Elections Commission as poll workers in four separate elections since the pandemic began. More than 2,500 troops mobilized and performed the same functions as traditional poll workers across 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties during the April 7 statewide election as fears about COVID-19 resulted in a critical shortage of volunteers to work the polls. Another 160 answered the call again May 12 during a special election in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. During the Aug. 11 primary, nearly 700 more performed the same duties, and again during the November 3 election, another 450 mobilized to support 53 counties.

But that’s just the beginning.

Civil Unrest Response

In late May, nationwide demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to civil unrest in several Wisconsin cities. The state once again called on the Wisconsin National Guard to help preserve public safety and ensure that individuals had the right to exercise their First Amendment rights to peacefully demonstrate. More than 1,200 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen answered the call and supported authorities in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine, and Kenosha.

Less than a month later, violent protests at the state capitol in Madison prompted local officials to request Guard assistance again and 150 Guard members assisted in preserving public safety there.

Then in late August, an officer-involved shooting in Kenosha sparked mass demonstrations and civil unrest in the southeastern Wisconsin city. Gov. Tony Evers mobilized the Guard in the hours following the shooting and by week’s end more than 1,200 Wisconsin Guard members were in Kenosha along with more than 750 fellow Guard members from Michigan, Alabama, and Arizona to help preserve public safety.

In October, a charging decision in another officer-involved shooting that had occurred earlier in the year in Wauwatosa prompted the mobilization of another 500 troops there. To date, more than 3,800 troops had served in response to civil unrest over the course of the year in Wisconsin.

California Wildfires

Despite the many unique missions and challenges facing the Guard in 2020 – the Wisconsin National Guard’s more traditional missions persisted as well. Even, as the organization mobilized on a historic scale here in Wisconsin, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and crews deployed to California to battle raging wildfi res for more than a month in California from mid-September through mid-October.

Overseas Deployments

And not to be forgotten, the past year was one of the heavier years in recent memory for the Wisconsin National Guard in terms of overseas deployments.

Not since 2009-10, when the entirety of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team – some 3,500 Soldiers – deployed to Iraq, had so many Wisconsin Guard members deployed overseas.

Since November 2019, more than 1,200 Wisconsin National Guard troops either deployed or returned from overseas – including the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, which both served in Afghanistan, and the 829th Engineer Company, which served in several nations across the Middle East and Afghanistan. The 924th Engineer Facilities Detachment also returned to the U.S. in early November after a 10-month mobilization to Kuwait, and dozens of Airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard deployed to locations across the globe.

The 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters also returned to Wisconsin in August after nearly a year deployed to Ukraine where they served as the headquarters element for training advisors to the Ukrainian military.

Meanwhile, the 1967th Contracting Team remains deployed to the Horn of Africa, and aviators from Detachment 1, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation continue their medevac mission in the Middle East in support of Operations Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve.

While the past 12 months has represented a historically heavy lift for the Wisconsin National Guard, individual Soldiers and Airmen have risen to the occasion time and again to serve their state and nation.

“It’s kind of the main reason I decided to enlist,” Staff Sgt. Alex King, a firefighter with the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing, said. “Everything about the military is great – the travel, the benefits, getting to see everything, but the primary or the first reason I looked into it was I wanted to be able to serve in some capacity. I think everybody pictures going off to a country and fighting wars and what the military does, but this is just as equal to me being able to help your community. And it means more to be able to help at home versus off in a faraway place, so I really appreciate it, and I’m glad that I get the opportunity to help in this time.”

King, who first mobilized in April as part of the COVID-19 response, also graduated with his degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison since his orders began. He’s continued serving on COVID-19 testing teams for months since.

Pfc. Wyatt Handschke, assigned to the Stevens Point-based Battery B, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, said he hopes the Guard’s efforts in 2020 show the state that the Guard is always ready to answer the call.

“I think it says that we’re a great resource for our state, and I think that it shows that we’ll just be able to keep supporting our community in more ways than just disaster relief,” Handschke, a resident of Freedom, Wisconsin, who’s also served on COVID-19 testing teams since mobilizing in April, said. “If any other situation arises in the future, I think that the people in this state will know to look toward the Guard seeing as we’re able to get the job done, and we’ve been doing it for the past couple of months.”

Handschke is currently studying business management at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, but has been on teams that have been conducting testing at sites in Milwaukee since he was mobilized.

Other fellow Soldiers and Airmen agreed and spoke of their desire to serve their communities.

“I enjoy and love helping out people,” explained Spc. Nina Kowalkowski, an information technology specialist assigned to Madison’s Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry. “So being able to do this has brought more fulfillment to me as a person. Just being there to help my community is the greatest thing in the world.”

Kowalkowski, who grew up in Stevens Point, but now lives in Sauk City, has also been on orders since April doing COVID-19 testing.

Spc. Dylan Heath, a Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin native who serves as a combat engineer with Company A, 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion said he valued being able to serve in Wisconsin communities, because he saw it as serving his own neighbors.

“Obviously, I didn’t think I’d be doing this (pandemic response) when I signed up, but helping people is what I thought about when I signed up,” he said.

Pvt. Adam Gertz, a Milwaukee resident and infantryman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry held a similar sentiment.

“It just feels good to be actually be doing what I signed up for helping the community and state,” he said at a testing site in Waukesha.

“I enlisted because I wanted to be able to help out as much as I could in the state and do something or even the whole country,” he added. “It just feels good to be able to do that, and I’m glad I signed up.”

Approximately 10,000 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen from communities all across Wisconsin comprise the Wisconsin National Guard. The vast majority of the entire force has mobilized in some capacity at some point this year, including nearly 3,000 who have mobilized at least twice this year for domestic responses. Some have mobilized as many as seven times in response to domestic support missions.

The past year illustrates why the Wisconsin National Guard is reliant on strong and supportive families, communities, employers, and universities, who remain understanding and flexible when duty calls.