Wisconsin deploys record number of soldiers

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  • The Wisconsin National Guard deployed 3,200 soldiers last week, its largest deployment since World War II.
  • The civilian-soldiers have been on alert since late 2007, and have completed the necessary training.
  • It is expected that the brigade will serve a one-year tour and be home by February of next year.

The Wisconsin National Guard deployed about 3,200 soldiers last week, its largest deployment since World War II.

The send-off, held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, was attended by many military and state officials, U.S. Sens. Russell Feingold and Herb Kohl, and featured a speech by Gov. Jim Doyle.

"Not since World War II has so much been asked of our soldiers," Doyle told the crowd. "Almost every Wisconsin county can name a student, a mother, father, son or daughter, who is part of the 32nd."

The 32nd Brigade Combat Team was put on alert in late 2007 and has been training ever since.

"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 brigade commander Col. Steven Bensend.

Bensend said the Wisconsin National Guard changed its training strategy this time around to put more instruction in the hands of its in-state officers.

"We're one of the first brigade combat teams to do this," he said. "That training was conducted by our own NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and junior officers, instead of at mobilization stations by active Army trainers."

Since there are now so many combat veterans in their NCO force, they felt it was the best way to train, he said.

"And I assure you that when our Red Arrow soldiers pass through the gates at Fort Bliss, Tex., no National Guard unit will have arrived to a mobilization station as well-trained, well-equipped, well-led, well-prepared as these soldiers," Bensend said.

The training completed at Camp Blanding in Florida dealt with "being able to shoot, move and communicate so once we hit the ground at the main mobilization station to begin training for overseas, we can start at the same point," said Lt. Jonathon Barnett, of the 32nd Brigade's special troops battalion.

The Wisconsin National Guard consists of almost 10,000 "citizen-soldiers," men and women who live and work in the community, but also are ready and available for worldwide military assignments and state emergencies.

About half of the soldiers making up this deployment have already served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

National Guard Lt. Col. Tim Donovan said he has high hopes for the 32nd, which he said is heading into an Iraq made better by the efforts of other American troops who have served before them.

"It's a different Iraq," Donovan said. "It's a more hopeful Iraq and it was made more hopeful partly by the service of other brigade soldiers, who have already been there and we hope it will partly be that way because of our contributions when we get there later this year."

The 32nd Brigade, headquartered at Camp Douglas, earned its "Red Arrow" distinction in World War I, when it pierced every enemy line it faced.

Donovan said the troops recognize the brigade's history and hope to further its reputation with their service over the next year.

"We know where the Red Arrow came from and how the Red Arrow's reputation was earned and won with hard work and sweat and a lot of blood," Donovan said.

Over the several days, troops will arrive at Fort Bliss in segments of 400 to 600 soldiers. All troops will arrive by Mar. 1.

The 32nd Brigade is expected to serve in Iraq until February 2010.

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