Regal reflects on Afghanistan deployment

This sign met Jakob Regal when he returned home on July 11 with the 229th Engineer Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, based out of Prairie du Chien, which had been stationed in Afghanistan since Sept. 2012. (Photo by Trudy Balcom)


By Audrey Posten


Throughout his nine-month deployment in Afghanistan, Jakob Regal obviously missed his family and friends. However, he also missed something a little less obvious, something people often take for granted each day—green landscape and paved walkways.


“In Afghanistan, it’s all rocks, desert and shades of brown,” said Regal, who returned with the 229th Engineer Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, which is based out of Prairie du Chien, on July 11. “Even the trees are shades of blah. On the [forward operating base], everything was rock, so it’s nice to get back to plants and sidewalk.”


The 22-year-old McGregor native has been with the National Guard for five years, since he was 17. His grandfather is commander of the McGregor American Legion Post, and spent over 40 years with the 229th. Growing up, Regal said he often went to the armory with his grandfather and helped out with Legion events. As a result, Regal said enlisting with the 229th was a no-brainer.


“I was just brought up with a good sense of patriotism,” he said.


Over the past five years, the 229th has spent time in New Richmond, Wis., building a sports complex, as well as in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it de-constructed an abandoned hotel.


However, the recent deployment was both Regal’s and the company’s first stint in Afghanistan.


“I was surprised at how well things went,” Regal said of the deployment. “We’re trained so much to expect the worst, so, with all that training, there wasn’t any point I felt unsafe. It was really similar to drill weekend, just in a different environment.”


While the 229th, which is a horizontal engineering unit, spent the deployment expanding forward operating bases and combat outposts, as well as building and improving roads, helicopter pads and other surfaces in Kandahar province, Regal had different duties.


He was part of a small group from the 229th that attached to the 181st Engineer Company out of Boston, a vertical unit that constructs buildings rather than roads. The two companies swapped platoons in order to cover more ground, and one of those swaps included a maintenance division of which Regal was a part.


Since troops had limited supplies and tools on missions, equipment often had to be sent back to base to be fixed. That maintenance support—repairing things like door latches or swapping out engines—was Regal’s job throughout the deployment.


While it was different working with the 181st rather than the 229th, Regal said it was a good experience and that he enjoyed meeting new people.


Regal said the amenities available to troops differed from base to base, but that he was impressed with how easy it was for him to stay in touch with loved ones back home. Internet and phone service were provided at every post, although the service level often depended on if there was a sandstorm or not, so Regal was able to talk with his family and friends nearly every day.


Some bases even had pool tables and televisions with DVD players or game systems.


The 229th returned to the United States on June 30, staying at Fort Bliss, Texas for a week and a half. Regal said that time consisted of a lot of re-integration meetings, covering everything from financial  and legal issues to counseling.


“The military’s very thorough,” Regal said. “They really make sure when you’re back that you’re OK.” 


Although the demobilization process is important, Regal said that final wait to return home was tough.


“That last night, I didn’t sleep at all,” he recalled. “A lot of people didn’t sleep. I heard people just walking around, waiting around.”


As the 229th touched down at Volk Field at Camp Douglas, Wis., on the afternoon of July 11, Regal said the welcome and fanfare was more than he expected.


“I was surprised at how many different banners there were,” he said. “There were just tons of people.”


At his home, Regal had even more fanfare. A large welcome home sign was staked in the front yard. Inside, his girlfriend had constructed a five foot by four foot flag, made of squares and stars she had  painstakingly cut out and adorned with messages. Regal said he made the mistake of walking right past it. All was forgiven though.


Now that Regal is home, he plans to spend time with his family, and even took a job with his family’s marina in Prairie du Chien in order to be closer to them. He also plans to attend college, and is thinking about becoming a chiropractor. 


As for his future with the National Guard, Regal said he has committed to another six years of service.

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