Wisconsin Prepares for Arrival of Refugees as US Ends 20 Years in Afghanistan



By Pat Kreitlow

August 17, 2021

At least 38 troops with Wisconsin ties were killed during Operation Enduring Freedom. 

As it did 40 years ago, Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy is preparing to welcome potentially tens of thousands of people fleeing a country they no longer consider their home and looking to start over in America with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs. 

In 1980, around 14,000 refugees arrived from Cuba. Shortly, it could be that many or more from Afghanistan.

According to multiple reports, the US Army base between Sparta and Tomah in western Wisconsin will soon begin accepting refugees following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in the wake of US military operations ending after nearly 20 years.

The US will take in as many as 22,000 Afghan refugees, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell told UpNorthNews Monday evening by email.

A Fort McCoy spokeswoman on Monday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the fort would receive refugees, but Mitchell told UpNorthNews “a final selection of locations has not been made [and] assessment teams are currently on the ground at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, to determine whether these facilities meet requirements.”

Biden: ‘We Have to Be Honest’

The US-backed government in Kabul caved to the resurging Taliban at a speed that surprised many at the highest levels of Washington. 

“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” said President Joe Biden in a Monday afternoon address from the White House. “So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision. American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” he said.

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a statement, “​​Right now, our primary focus should be the safe departure of US personnel and the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support our mission. We should also do everything we can to provide humanitarian aid and resettlement assistance for Afghan refugees, women, and children.”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson also mentioned the likelihood of refugees coming to Wisconsin in a statement, saying, “​​​​I’m confident the military personnel at Fort McCoy will fulfill their role with dedication and professionalism.”

Dozens of Casualties With Wisconsin Ties 

The war in Afghanistan, named Operation Enduring Freedom when launched in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, lasted longer than any other US military conflict and claimed more than 150,000 lives on all sides, according to two sources cited by The Associated Press. There were 2,448 US service members who died in Iraq. A review of reports from various sources including the Defense Casualty Analysis System and the website WisHistory shows at least 38 service people with ties to Wisconsin were among those lost.

At least 3,846 American contractors died in Afghanistan. There were also 1,144 military deaths from US allies who sent troops, 444 aid workers, and 72 journalists who died there. Approximately 66,000 Afghan national military and police were killed in two decades along with more than 47,000 civilians, and about 52,000 Taliban and other opposition fighters. 

Those lost with Wisconsin ties include the following:

Army Spc. Robert J. Cook
Age: 24   Hometown: Sun Prairie
Died: Jan. 29, 2004. Killed in an explosion at a weapons cache near the city of Ghazni.

Army Pfc. Kyle M. Hemauer
Age: 21   Hometown: Chilton
Died: May 23, 2005. Died from non-combat injuries.

Navy Lt. Michael McGreevy

Age: 30   Hometown: Milwaukee

Died: June 28, 2005.  One of eight Navy Seals in the group of 16 service members killed when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Marine Lance Corporal Ryan J. Nass
Age: 21   Hometown: Franklin
Died: Sept. 3, 2005. Died from non-hostile gunshot wound at Camp Blessing.

Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas R. Anderson
Age: 21   Hometown: Sauk City
Died: March 13, 2006. Died from injuries sustained in an accident while on patrol.

Army Staff Sgt. Patrick L. Lybert
Age: 28   Hometown: Ladysmith
Died: June 21, 2006. Killed in Gowardesh in a battle with enemy forces using small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Air Force Senior Airman Adam P. Servais
Age: 23   Hometown: Onalaska
Died: Aug. 19, 2006. Died when his vehicle came under fire in the southern Uruzgan province.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard
Age: 52   Hometown: Waukesha
Died: Sept. 8, 2006. Died when a car bomber slammed into her Humvee.

Army Sgt. Joshua Brennan
Age: 22   Hometown: McFarland (Lived in Oregon and spent summers with his father in McFarland; buried in McFarland)

Died: Oct. 26, 2007. Died when his unit came under attack by the Taliban in the mountainous Kunar Province.

Army 1st Lt. Nick Dewhirst
Age: 25   Hometown: Onalaska
Died: July 20, 2008. Died when his convoy came under attack in the Qalandar district of the Khost province.

Army Sgt. Daniel Thompson
Age: 24   Hometown: Portage
Died: Feb. 24, 2009. An improvised bomb exploded under his Humvee, killing Thompson and four others in Kandahar province.

Army Pfc. Steven Drees
Age: 19   Hometown: Peshtigo
Died: June 28, 2009. Wounded on June 24 during an ambush attack on his Army unit in the Kunar province. Died at a medical facility in Germany four days later.

Army Spc. Kevin Graham
Age: 27   Hometown: Salem (Kenosha County). Graham lived in Salem from 1991 until 2005 when the family moved to Kentucky.
Died: Sept.26, 2009. His vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Kandahar province. 

Army Sgt. Ryan C. Adams
Age: 26   Hometown: Rhinelander
Died: Oct. 2, 2009. His vehicle was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing Adams and wounding seven other members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

Army Sgt. Nickolas A. Mueller
Age: 26   Hometown: Little Chute
Died: Oct. 26, 2009. He died of wounds suffered when the MH-47 helicopter he was aboard crashed in Darreh-ye Bum.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert
Age: 20   Hometown: Fort Atkinson
Died: Jan. 10, 2010. Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province.

Army Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz
Age: 43   Hometown: Waterloo
Died: May 18, 2010. Died when his convoy was attacked by insurgents using a car bomb in Kabul.

Army Pvt. Adam Novak
Age: 20   Hometown: Prairie du Sac
Died: Aug. 27, 2010. Killed when a command-wired roadside bomb was detonated during convoy operations in the Dzardan district of Paktia province.

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew West
Age: 36   Hometown: Conover
Died: Aug. 30, 2010. One of five soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in the Arghandab River Valley of Kandahar province.

Air Force Senior Airman Dan Johnson
Age: 23   Hometown: Cottage Grove
Died: Oct. 5, 2010. Died when an improvised bomb detonated west of Kandahar.

Marine Cpl. Justin Cain
Age: 22   Hometown: Manitowoc
Died: Oct. 13, 2010. Killed by a roadside bomb during combat operations in southern Afghanistan.

Army Spc. Scott Thomas Nagorski
Age: 27   Hometown: Greenfield
Died: Nov. 14, 2010. Killed when insurgents attacked with small-arms fire in Kunar province.

Army Pfc. Jacob Gassen
Age: 21   Hometown: Beaver Dam
Died: Nov. 29, 2010. Killed with five other Americans when a border policeman turned his gun on his American trainers.

Army 1st Lt. Daren Hidalgo
Age: 24   Hometown: Waukesha
Died: Feb. 10, 2011. Killed in the Kandahar province after insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Army Cpl. Justin Ross
Age: 24   Hometown: Green Bay
Died: March 26, 2011. Died of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire in Helmand province.

Army Sgt. Paul Atim
Age: 27   Hometown: Green Bay
Died: April 16, 2011. Killed in Nimroz province when insurgents attacked his unit with a bomb.

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Hermanson
Age: 22
Hometown: Appleton
Died: April 28, 2011. Died from wounds suffered when his unit took small arms fire in the Wardak province.

Army Pfc. Ryan Larson
Age: 19   Hometown: Friendship
Died: June 15, 2011. Killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar province.

Army Spc. Tyler Kreinz
Age: 21   Hometown: Beloit
Died: June 18, 2011. Killed in Uruzgan province of injuries suffered in a vehicle roll-over.

Marine Cpl. Michael Nolen
Age: 22   Hometown: Spring Valley
Died: June 27, 2011. Died while conducting combat operations in Helmand province.

Army Staff Sgt. Garrick Louis Eppinger, Jr.
Age: 25   Hometown: Appleton
Died: Sept. 17, 2011: Died at Bagram Airbase in eastern Afghanistan.

Army Spc. Jakob Roelli
Age: 24   Hometown: Darlington
Died: Sept. 21, 2011. Died in Kandahar province of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Army Staff Sgt. Joe Altmann
Age: 27   Hometown: Marshfield
Died: Dec. 25, 2011. Died from injuries suffered when insurgents in Kunar province attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Army First Lt. David Johnson
Age: 24   Hometown: Mayville
Died: Jan. 25, 2012. Killed by a homemade bomb while on foot patrol in Kandahar province.

Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Grindey
Age: 30   Hometown: Hazel Green
Died: March 12, 2012. 

Army Cpl. Benjamin Neal

Age: 21   Hometown: Orfordville

Died: April 25, 2012. Died of injuries caused by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Collins

Age: 19   Hometown: Milwaukee

Died: October 4, 2013. Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province.

Army Pfc. Donnell Hamilton

Age: 20   Hometown: Kenosha

Died: 7/24/2014. Died from an illness sustained in Ghazni province. 


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.



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