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Wisconsin Guard Heads for Iraq in Largest Deployment Since WWII

By Larry Sommers
Special to American Forces Press Service

MADISON, Wisc., , Feb. 20, 2009 – Citizens of Wisconsin gathered this week to send the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team off to Iraq with tears and smiles in the Wisconsin National Guard’s largest operational deployment since World War II.

Thousands of family members and more than a hundred civilian and military officials converged Feb. 17, 2009, at Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum to bid farewell to some 3,200 members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team on its way to service in Iraq.

“Not since World War II has so much been asked of our Soldiers,” said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. “Almost every Wisconsin county can name a student, a mother, father, son or daughter, who is part of the 32nd.”

The brigade is the direct descendant of the 32nd Division, which earned its “Red Arrow” patch by piercing every enemy line it faced in four World War I campaigns.

The division also logged 654 days of continuous combat in World War II, more than any other U.S. Army division in any war, and played a key role in capturing the enemy stronghold at Buna, Papua New Guinea, in early 1943.

After service at Fort Lewis, Wash., during the Berlin Crisis of 1961-62, the 32nd Division was deactivated and reorganized as the 32nd Separate Infantry Brigade.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, many of the brigade’s units and individuals have deployed for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, to the extent that about half of the Soldiers deploying now are veterans of one or more recent combat deployments.

More than 14,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve have been called to active duty from Wisconsin communities since 9-11.

The brigade has trained intensively for its mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom, since it received the first alert order in late 2007.

“They have been training relentlessly for 14 months now as we mobilize under a new model that forces us to complete many training requirements prior to entering active status,” said Col.

Steven J. Bensend, brigade commander. “We’re one of the first brigade combat teams to do this. That training was conducted by our own NCOs and junior officers, instead of at mobilization stations by active Army trainers.

“We know that the active Army can’t train our soldiers any better than our own NCO force, now bulging with combat veterans.”

The entire deploying force occupied the floor of the coliseum, surrounded by family members and by the many dignitaries honoring their service, including Doyle, Sens. Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold, top national leaders of the other reserve components and dozens of mayors and state legislators.

Music was provided by the Wisconsin National Guard’s own 132nd Army Band, and also by members of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band.

Military and civilian officials and representatives of community groups signed “Wisconsin’s Military-Community Covenant,” pledging the efforts of all to support the deploying troops and their families.

During the 90-minute send-off ceremony, which was televised live by Wisconsin Public Television, brigade Soldiers cased the colors of two recently deactivated 32nd Brigade units, Troop E, 105th Cavalry, and 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry. They also unfurled the flag of a new unit, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry, which inherits much of the distinguished lineage and honors of the two deactivated units.

Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin, put the deploying Soldiers’ commitment into a solemn historical perspective.

“Many have said, ‘It’s not fair’ — And you know? It’s not fair” Dunbar said. It’s never been fair. That’s what makes these Soldiers special.”

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