News: Wisconsin Guard unit returns after engineering successful Afghanistan deployment
Story by Vaughn Larson
By Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs
VOLK FIELD, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined hundreds of family members and friends in welcoming home more than 130 members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 229th Engineer Company and Soldiers from the 106th Quarry Detachment July 11, following a nine-month Afghanistan deployment.
Maj. Jesse Augustine, who commanded the nearly 150 Soldiers during the deployment — some returned to the United States ahead of the rest of the unit — let the numbers speak for themselves.
"Two hundred sixty-six days in theater, over 580 missions, 16,000 miles traveled, 41 improvised explosive devices found and cleared, countless construction projects, the highest maintenance readiness rate in theater," Augustine said. "Your Soldiers — these Soldiers — were hands down the best engineers in theater and the best company in theater."
Augustine spoke with emotion about the challenging mission his Soldiers accomplished.
"What you accomplished in nine months is absolutely remarkable," he said. "I could go on for hours talking about the highlights and accolades of your missions, but I'm not going to. I'll let you do that. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but tell your stories. Tell your moms and dads and your spouses how you blew through the birthplace of the Taliban, how you recovered downed aircraft, how you built forward operating bases in the face of the enemy, how you recovered missing Soldiers so they could go home to their families. How you trained and mentored the Afghan army to stand on their own feet and fight their own battle.
"Those are your stories, and you should tell them."
The 229th deployed alongside the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 181st Engineer Company and worked under the direction of the active component 20th Engineer Battalion. The 229th was responsible for expanding forward operating bases and combat outposts, building and improving roads, helicopter pads and other surfaces. They increased mobility on the combat roads and trails in Kandahar Province.
Staff Sgt. Eric Klar of Evansville, Wis., served as a squad leader operating bulldozers on new road construction projects in Afghanistan.
"We built a road with the 2nd Infantry Division into places held by the Taliban," Klar said. "It allowed [the 2nd Division] to get in there and kick the Taliban out. It was very rewarding to help the infantry get in there with their vehicles rather than having to walk all the time. We had a couple of missions like that, which were by far the most rewarding."
Spc. Phillip Webber of Baraboo, Wis., traveled across Afghanistan on mission. His most memorable mission involved an incident that occurred to an infantry unit.
"We needed to go in and help out, clean up," he said. "I can't say much more than that."
Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior enlisted advisor, welcomed the engineers home.
"In a Soldier's career there is no better day than landing back in the state of Wisconsin and being reunited with their families," Shields said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, deputy adjutant general for Army, also praised the returning Soldiers.
"229th Engineers, I only have a couple of words for you — mission accomplished," Anderson said. "We are unbelievably proud of what you have accomplished in theater. Welcome back to Wisconsin — job well done."
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, expressed his pride in the 229th.
"You had a difficult mission in a difficult part of the world," Dunbar said. "Not only is our country grateful, but so is Afghanistan. You'll never know how many men and women in Afghanistan will be forever grateful for your contribution to their country. You did a remarkable job."
Gov. Scott Walker agreed.
"To the men and women of the 229th, thank you for your service, and thank you for protecting freedom here and around the world," Walker said. "We're proud of you. We also say thank you to the families who made sure things were good back here at home so your loved ones who deployed could do the job they were sent to do."
Augustine urged his soldiers to be smart now that they are out of a combat zone.
"No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you cannot make up or get back the last year — it's gone," he said. "Those days have passed. Make good decisions. If you need anything, we are here.
"One hundred and forty-seven went over, 147 came home," he continued. "It would be a tragedy to lose one of you now.
"I thank each and every one of you," Augustine said. "You're unbelievable. You're heroes — you're my heroes."