Volk Field: Another 40 members of the Wisconsin National Guard 232nd Personnel Services Company are back in the state today after being away from their families for more than a year-most of that time spent deployed overseas.
As the plane touched down family members cheered on the runway, while the soldiers of the 232nd ran to their tearful greetings.
40 soldiers have been gone for just under a year, so it took a while to grasp they were really home. "Kinda surreal," says Specialist Cheryl Vandermerwe. "For the longest time, for the whole year you think about coming home. When you finally get here and see all your family it's a good feeling."
Specialist Mike Gouldthorp agreed, "Four hundred plus days waiting to come home. It was feeling beyond words is the best way to put it."
Once inside they were welcomed by Governor Jim Doyle and a military band. With this arrival the Wisconsin National still has 1,330 troops deployed overseas, but they are down from their peak of more than 1,700. "We're starting to draw down a little bit," says Wisconsin National Guard Spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Donovan.
The 232nd is the third Wisconsin Guard unit to come home in the past couple weeks, and there are two more to come. But after that the number of homecomings of this magnitude will be few and far between. "We have a lot of troops, over 1,000, that just recently began their overseas missions. So it will be a whole year of that mission before it's completed and we get to welcome them home," says Col. Donovan.
Members of the 232nd have some advice for the soldiers who won't be home until next winter. "As the days go by you get into a routine and that's just what you do and it goes by fast," says Spec. Vandermerwe.
"Whatever it takes to keep your mind busy, think about home," says Spec. Gouldthorpe.
There are nearly 10,000 troops in the Wisconsin National Guard. Col. Donovan says since 9-11 more than 55% of them have been activated, with most of them serving overseas.