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NEWS: Wisconsin Guard members lauded for making a difference in Kosovo
Date: September 28, 2012
By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office
From the Balkans to the dairyland, thanks and praise showered Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers returning from 10 months supporting a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
"Thanks for going and showing what Cheeseheads from Wisconsin can do to help the rest of the world," Wisconsin Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper told approximately 125 Soldiers from the Milwaukee-based Headquarters Company, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) and the 32nd Military Police Company during a welcome home ceremony Thursday (Sept. 27) at the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee. "You absolutely made a difference in today's world."
The majority of the 157th MEB Soldiers served as the brigade headquarters for the Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG E), also referred to as Task Force Falcon. Others supported the Kosovo Force (KFOR) medevac mission and staffed the aviation headquarters, lift and maintenance, and also supported NATO operations in Bosnia. The mission was to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement in Kosovo.
"All the issues have not been solved in Kosovo, I can tell you that," said Col. Jeffrey Liethen, 157th MEB commander who also commanded Task Force Falcon, overseeing approximately 800 U.S. troops and another 750 troops from nine different nations. "When we first got there the Kosovo Serbs were in a state of unrest and exercising civil disobedience in that they closed all of the major supply routes. We had to airlift all of the supplies to our remote bases. As we progressed and started negotiating, taking down roadblocks - taking some down forcefully - those MSRs opened up and we were able to more efficiently supply our troops in the field."
Liethen told the families and friends gathered at the homecoming ceremony that they could be proud of their Soldiers.
"We went to a very small country far, far away and your Soldiers truly made a difference in the lives of all the citizens of Kosovo," Liethen said. "Your Soldiers from Wisconsin set the standard for all future Kosovo Force rotations."
This was not lost on German Army Maj. Gen Volker Halbauer, Kosovo Force commander.
"Col. Liethen can be proud to have commanded such a capable multinational force which helped shape the future of Kosovo," Halbauer said during a Sept. 22 ceremony at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, in which the 157th MEB transferred the mission to the 218th MEB of the South Carolina Army National Guard.
Back in Wisconsin, senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders agreed.
"Increasingly, we know this in Wisconsin, that when we send an element out, they're the best - the best and the brightest," said Chief Warrant Officer Craig Krenz, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's command chief warrant officer. "Increasingly NGB, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense is learning that, too. You've contributed to that legacy."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said he expects Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers to set the standard.
"When we have Wisconsin Soldiers deploy overseas or go respond to a domestic mission, we are sending our very best," he said.
Gov. Scott Walker, who visited the 157th MEB in Kosovo in his role as Wisconsin National Guard commander in chief, also had words of praise.
"It is great to be back where we started," Walker said, referring to the 157th MEB's sendoff ceremony a year ago. "It's an even greater honor for me to ... not only greet you home, but to have seen firsthand along with Maj. Gen. Dunbar the amazing work you've done."
Walker displayed a challenge coin he received during his Kosovo visit, and noted that the Wisconsin flag given to the 157th MEB to fly in Kosovo is now on display in the state capitol as a reminder of the unit's service.
Liethen also said Task Force Falcon improved integration of the multinational forces with U.S. troops.
"We made it a point to embrace those countries and get them involved, not only in the planning and coordination, but also social functions and recognition ceremonies," Liethen said, "and made them feel like part of our family."
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, acknowledged that the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo had two fronts.
"The toughest job in the world is sending your loved one overseas - your husband, your wife, your son or your daughter, your father or your mother - because everything he or she did before they left falls on your shoulders, so you do it all while they're gone," Dunbar said. "You add to that the worry every night that you don't want them to get hurt. We know what a burden that is. I want you to know how much we appreciate that, because we could not defend this country without these Soldiers. And we would never have these Soldiers if we didn't have your support."
Becky Wentland agreed the hardest part of her husband Staff Sgt. Adam Wentland's deployment was taking on their three children by herself. Their children, NJ and Tayla, said they missed the little things like watching TV or playing with their dad.
Sgt. Johnny Ferreira, a squad leader with the 32nd MP Company, said he missed his fiancée Candace Becher and their 4-year-old daughter Leia most while he enforced law and order at Camp Bondsteel. Candace said she missed the "everyday little things, having him here."
"I'm just going to spend time with my family," Ferreira said of his immediate plans. "That's the most important thing that I missed."
Sgt. 1st Class Lisa O'Leary sounded a similar theme, saying she missed her family, Wisconsin cheese and beer.
"I think I'll just enjoy the time I have with the family - and sleep a little bit," she said. "Unpack the bags. Probably have a beer."
Sgt. Angela Parady of the 121st Public Affairs Detachment contributed to this report.
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