Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs

Wisconsin National Guard News



Coming around the far turn: Across the 32nd Brigade

Date: November 19, 2009

By Lt. Col. Tim Donovan
32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team

With a little less than two months left in the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's mission in Iraq, this is an update on some of our units from their locations around the country over the past month.

BAGHDAD - When detainees at Camp Cropper want to get under the skin of guard force soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company, they employ a tactic that would be more at home along the St. Croix River than inside a theater internment facility in Iraq: they needle the Wisconsin Guard troops about Brett Favre's success as a Minnesota Viking.

It seems the Green Bay Packers logos that sprouted up all over Camp Cropper since May tipped off detainees that Packer fans were in the house. It's a small world.

The 3,200 men and women of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team have accomplished a lot during their time in Iraq so far: big accomplishments like closing the largest detention facility on Earth at Camp Bucca; small accomplishments like winning the flag football championship at Camp Cropper.

And wherever they are serving in Iraq, Red Arrow soldiers are making a difference.

Here is what some of our units want their Wisconsin hometowns to know about their service in Iraq - the big things, the small things, and all of the individual and organizational accomplishments in between.

Headquarters, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Camp Douglas)

The 32nd Brigade's headquarters continues working to change the face of Baghdad's International Zone - the government quarter in the center of the Iraqi capital - and to keep it secure. Since taking over their mission as Joint Area Support Group–Central May 27, the Wisconsin troops have returned 19 properties covering more than 70 acres from U.S. to Iraqi control. The properties include Ibn Sina Hospital, made famous in the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER," along with former U.S. military compounds and a palace once used by Saddam Hussein. Before they're finished, the JASG will turn over a half-dozen more properties, and a significant part of this city once dominated by U.S. military forces will be run by the government of Iraq.

As properties changed hands during the past year, responsibility for security for the International Zone also shifted, from U.S.-led efforts up until the end of 2008 to Iraqi forces in the months since. These developments in Baghdad are important for the entire nation, and 32nd Brigade soldiers from Wisconsin are at the very center of them.

Company A, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion (Janesville, Elkhorn)

Few soldiers on forward operating bases in Iraq deal with a more diverse group of customers than those who work in the convoy staging lanes. At Camp Bucca, this is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation that supports all military and civilian convoys either entering or departing the southern Iraq base. In a typical day, staging lanes personnel from Alpha Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion receive and stage as many as 40 civilian trucks that haul everything from fuel to mail to hamburger patties for the camp's Burger King restaurant. By deployment's end, the Janesville and Elkhorn-based troops will have processed more than 3,000 trucks with drivers from Vietnam, Pakistan, Turkey, India, the Philippines, Iraq and Kuwait, to name a few.

Spc. Michael Vallarta, West Allis, describes the most challenging part of this mission as "dealing with people who don't speak English, and then they get mad at you for not understanding what they are saying." Vallarta said the language barrier can cause both sides to get frustrated with each other, and cultural differences make it even more difficult for female soldiers who often have a harder time getting male truck drivers to follow their instructions.

The best part of the staging lanes mission, according to Spc. Ashley Mullis, Whitewater: "It's bonding with other soldiers." Mullis says it is much easier to get to know the other soldiers in the unit when they work closely together every day.

Company A, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Waupun, Ripon)

The soldiers of Waupun's Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry conduct detainee operations and operate the modular detainee housing unit at Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad. Camp Taji's detainees are some of the least compliant detainees in Iraq, according to Capt. Eric Krueger, Mayville.

"Alpha Company troops work in the most extreme conditions and with the most violent detainees at Camp Taji and Iraq, and they are doing an outstanding job," Krueger reports. "They continue to make me proud to be their commander and continue to do a great job in one of the most difficult and important missions in Iraq."

Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Fond du Lac)

Soldiers of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry were among the Wisconsin troops from several units that worked through October to close the theater internment facility at Camp Bucca.

"We completed the detainee air transport mission last month by providing security for the transfer of more than 7,000 detainees from Camp Bucca to COB (Contingency Operating Base) Basra for further transport from May to October," said Capt. Tony Klemme, Green Bay, Charlie Company's commander.

The Fond du Lac-based company continues to provide security on a combat outpost and will soon take over a U.S. Air Force route and area security mission for more than 125 square miles in southern Iraq.

"We have also driven more than 120,000 incident-free miles conducting 'Bucca to Buehring Express' missions, driving from Iraq to Kuwait and back, escorting soldiers and civilians going home on leave and pass," Klemme said.

Company D, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Marinette)

Marinette's Delta Company started out in May at Camp Bucca, but moved north to Camp Taji as Bucca's detainee population shifted to other facilities.

"Operationally, things have been rolling along nice and steady and mundane," according to Capt. Nathan Olson, Columbus. "In our environment (an internment facility), 'mundane' is the goal."

Olson reports no shortage of volunteers to help with customs inspections as the company prepares its extra gear for shipment home. This is a sure sign that the deployment is nearing an end. Another sign: with low temperatures at Taji now in the 50's, soldiers are starting to wear fleece jackets and watch caps in the chilly evenings. A few months ago, the word "chilly" wasn't in any of these soldiers' vocabularies.

Battery A, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery (Marshfield)

Like other units with detainee missions, Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery works around the clock at Camp Cropper. But 1st Sgt. Scott Peplinski, Pulaski, reports that not even graveyard shifts or an especially challenging mission can keep 1st and 2nd Platoons from finding time for a little recreation.

"Both of the platoons are engaging in some friendly, semi-competitive sporting activities, including 'Midnight Madness,' where 2nd Platoon scratches together a little four-on-four basketball after shift at 0200 in the morning…(and) 1st Platoon stays active with a football league they are throwing together and near daily basketball or volleyball after shift," Peplinski said.

Two soldiers, Sgts. Don Furrer, Wisconsin Rapids, and Eric Trubee, Marshfield, were recently awarded Army Achievement Medals for outstanding work they have done to support the battery's mission. Staff Sgt. Raymond Weaver, Spencer, Wis., was inducted into the prestigious Audie Murphy Club after studying for months and completing three challenging boards. Audie Murphy was the most highly decorated U.S. soldier in World War II and the club named for him admits only the very best of the Army's NCO corps.

Alpha Battery soldiers appreciate all the care packages and phone cards they have received from the unit's family readiness group and from the American Legion post in Marshfield.

Company A, 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion (Onalaska)

Company A, 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion reports the unit's soldiers are doing well and looking forward to returning home in January.

"Our time here is quickly coming to a close and we find that… we have been doing a mission vastly different than that which we trained for or that many within our company anticipated or wanted," said Capt. Shawn Vele, Milwaukee. The company normally has an engineer mission, but not in Iraq, where soldiers have been working in detainee operations at the theater internment facility at Camp Taji. As Wisconsin National Guard troops always do, though, the engineer soldiers adapted to their new mission.

"Our unit has done extremely well and been recognized by both military police battalions we have fallen under during this deployment for our professionalism and ability in detainee operations," Vele said.

Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry (Arcadia, Onalaska)

Autumn is football-watching season for some of the 32nd Brigade's Arcadia and Onalaska-based soldiers during their time off at the four forward operating bases where they are assigned. Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry soldiers gather every weekend to watch college and NFL football games shown on American Forces Network television.

On Oct. 6, the company had a tailgate party for the first Packer-Viking game of the season. Soldiers had a good time grilling fresh steaks sent from the states and watching the game on a large projection screen. The downside: the Monday Night Football contest didn't start until 3 a.m. in Iraq, and the game's outcome was more than disappointing. But more than 50 gifts from supporters in Wisconsin were distributed to the troops to take away a little bit off the sting of the Packer loss.

Soldiers get mail twice a week. Packages and letters have been coming in steadily, providing soldiers with snacks, necessities and news and photos from back home.

Company B, 257th Brigade Support Battalion (Kenosha)

Capt. Sean Phelps, Oak Creek, reports that Bravo Company, 257th Brigade Support Battalion is "happy, healthy and ready to finish strong."

Phelps said the detainee guard force mission on Forward Operating Base Cropper has proved to be both challenging and rewarding. "Even though the weather has started to cooperate, the days are still long and work is still exhausting," Phelps said.

The Kenosha-based soldiers are also helping to train a corps of Iraqi correctional officers who will take over Cropper's internment facility when U.S. forces eventually depart. "Even though we will turn this mission over to another unit soon, it's exciting to know our initial efforts will help advance the Iraqi corrections system to a level consistent with our standards of dignity and respect," Phelps said.

Bravo Company has in its ranks one of the nation's newest citizens. Sgt. Anna Duncan, Minneapolis, was sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America during a Veterans Day naturalization ceremony at Al-Faw Palace near Baghdad. Duncan, a native of the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, was among more than 150 service members who became U.S. citizens at the event hosted by Multi National Corps-Iraq commander, Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr.

Flag football bragging rights on Camp Cropper now belong to Bravo Company following the company's 40–26 FOB championship victory over the previous champs from Task Force 14.

Company D, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion (Baraboo, Madison)

Baraboo-based Delta Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion has seen its mission take a new direction now that the theatre internment facility at Camp Bucca has been officially closed, and soldiers are now performing jobs that are more directly related to their military occupational specialties (MOS).

"Soldiers are very excited to gain experience conducting their actual MOS during this deployment," said Capt. Craig Jansen, Milwaukee, who is Delta Company's commander. "This is an opportunity that not many soldiers get conducting SECFOR (security force) missions, especially those coming from a support company," Jansen said.

Now comes the daunting task of tearing down the largest theater internment facility in Iraq, as many Delta Company soldiers are assigned as a demolition team to start deconstruction of the TIF.

Troop A, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Fort Atkinson)

Capt. Matthew McDonald reports that soldiers of Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry will be extremely busy as they prepare to return home in the next few months. McDonald notes that upcoming Iraqi elections will require his troops to remain vigilant against those who might try to discredit the government and destabilize the country in the months ahead.

To keep in touch with home, 1st Lt. Mark Weigel's troopers in northern Iraq are corresponding with new pen pals from Cushing Elementary School in Delafield, Wis. "The first graders there are learning about us and Iraq," Weigel said. "They've sent us pictures they've drawn and we've sent them Iraqi currency and a reference sheet to read Arabic numbers."

Weigel said his troops are working with the Delafield kids to collect school supplies for a small orphanage in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Home-cooked American food is on most soldiers' lists of things they're looking forward to when they get back to Wisconsin. According to 1st Lt. Eric Giese, his troopers are mightily bored with Iraq's ubiquitous chicken kabobs. "We have had plenty of kabobs up here, as every restaurant has the same menu unless you have a restaurant by a river and then you can have fish," Giese reports.

One condiment most of the troops enjoy is "Family Sauce," which is made in Iraq and tastes a little like A.1. Sauce. "The secret to this sauce is 'intensifiers,'" Giese said. "It is on the ingredients label but, for the love of God, no one knows what intensifiers are."

32nd Military Police Company (Milwaukee, Oconomowoc)

The Milwaukee and Oconomowoc-based 32nd Military Police Company is providing overwatch support at Forward Operating Base Future's entry control points, in addition to maintaining a quick reaction force. Wisconsin's MP soldiers are also at the center of efforts to turn over all detainee operations to the Iraqi government.

A dozen soldiers of the 32nd MP Company were recently honored by Brig. Gen. David Quantock for their efforts in transporting 2,882 Iraqi government prisoners during one eight-day period in September. Quantock reminded the soldiers of the importance of their mission and the vital role it plays in turning over the last of the detainees in U.S. custody to the government of Iraq and moving the U.S. closer to closing all of its theater internment facilities in Iraq.

By mid-November, the 32nd Military Police Company had conducted 170 missions, including transporting more than 10,000 detainees during detainee air transport missions conducted at all hours of the day and night.

Troop C, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Reedsburg)

Reedsburg-based Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry is headquartered at Joint Base Balad north of Baghdad, but most of the troop's soldiers are widely dispersed throughout Iraq. The Charlie Troopers who were at Balad on Oct. 30 got a visit from 32nd Brigade commander, Col. Steven Bensend, and brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Edgar Hansen.

Bensend and Hansen get around to other brigade locations whenever they can, and Balad was the last of the brigade's major locations to get a visit.

Few Wisconsin communities have embraced their deployed hometown soldiers as warmly as Reedsburg has. The soldiers have received several thousand cards and letters, lots of local cheese, and a giant banner signed by hundreds of hometown supporters hangs outside the troop's operations center.

Every day these soldiers report for their duties they are reminded of the support they have at home.

Troop B, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Watertown)

Bravo Troop's new one-hole golf course became the latest improvement to Camp Cropper Nov. 3. The unit received a box of golf balls and a few clubs a couple months earlier from the Red Arrow Club in Milwaukee, but the troops had no place to use them until two enterprising soldiers, Spc. Craig Detert, Watertown, and Staff Sgt. Casey Freeman, Fort Atkinson, created the "course" outside the troop's command post.

"It may only be a one-hole course, but it is pretty nice considering the limitations they had to work with," said 1st Sgt. Thomas Bruss, Appleton. "It only has one water hazard but it has lots of sand traps - lots and lots of sand traps."

Bravo Troop continues to execute its base defense mission, manning entry control points and a quick reaction force for Camp Cropper and the western portion of Victory Base Complex. The QRF periodically conducts exterior patrols of the troop's area of operations outside Victory Base to detect vulnerabilities and become familiar with the area in the event soldiers are called on to respond to an outside-the-wire incident.

The troop's exterior patrols have recently been supported by an air weapons team, which the soldiers find reassuring. "It was nice having air support for this (recent) mission since we were dismounted," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Johnson, Eagle, Wis. "It makes you feel a little safer since the enemy doesn't like to show themselves with Apaches flying around."

In late October, Bravo Troop received care packages from a family nobody in the unit knew. From an enclosed letter and photographs, soldiers learned that the Leinstock family in Watertown had an Army-themed birthday party for their 5-year-old son, and the kids then assembled a couple care packages for the hometown National Guard unit to thank Watertown's troops for their service.

"We thought it was a very nice gesture from friendly, caring people we have never met," Bruss said.

Bravo Troop also received care packages of candy, snacks, magazines and DVDs from 6th and 8th grade classes at St. Bernard's church in Watertown.

Troopers who took part in "Tailgating with the Troops" Oct. 18 say they appreciated the tireless efforts of those back home who worked so hard to make it happen. Many of the soldiers were able to talk to their families on webcams over the Internet. "It was a wonderful opportunity to see and talk with my 12-year-old son, Nathan," said Sgt. 1st Class Ken Tennies of Jefferson. "(Nathan) said he had a great time at the event in Madison and he especially enjoyed making a poster."

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Appleton)

Soldiers from Appleton's 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry knew from their 2006 deployment that residents of the southern Iraqi cities of Safwan and Umm Qasr led difficult lives, so even before the battalion's current deployment began, plans were underway to help them.

More than 3,200 pounds of school supplies, toys, clothes and hygiene items were donated from Wisconsin and five other states, and by August the packages started rolling in from families, co-workers, businesses, church groups and community organizations.

The items were divided up and delivered to each of the cities at the end of October.

"It was amazing to see the number of children lined up, their eyes all excited as they paraded through the line receiving the items," said Maj. John Oakley, Appleton. "With the donations we were able to help 400 families."

829th Engineer Company (Chippewa Falls, Richland Center, Ashland)

When they're not being teased by detainees about Brett Favre's purple football jersey - and even when they are - the soldiers of the 829th Engineer Company from Chippewa Falls, Richland Center and Ashland are busy with their detainee operations mission at Camp Cropper.

For engineer soldiers assigned to the company's Repairs and Utilities Section, the work is familiar. "We are still involved in making hundreds of wooden products, pouring concrete, fixing fences and, in general, doing what it takes to support the main mission of TIF operations," said 1st Lt. Joel Busboom, New Berlin, the section's officer in charge. "The end is in sight now, however we know that the end of our tour doesn't mean it's time to relax."

Staff Sgt. Mark Meuer, La Crosse, is night shift lead for one of the compounds and claims "the hardest working soldiers of the 32nd Brigade" have made the place a lot better. "The compound improvement projects still continue, such as replacing sniper screen, painting, and everybody's favorite, filling and replacing sandbags," Meuer said.

Some of the 829th's soldiers are using their time off after their 12-hour workdays to better themselves. According to the company's senior medic, Sgt. 1st Class Ginger Macdonald, Muskego, 17 soldiers are enrolled in a 153-hour emergency medical technician course. These soldiers will come home with extra skills they hope to use as they continue or pursue civilian careers in medicine or emergency services. "(This is) not an easy task to complete with the day-to-day responsibilities of soldiering and deployment and, oh yeah, getting ready to redeploy back to Wisconsin," Macdonald noted.

The main job at Camp Cropper, though, is guarding detainees. Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Traaholt, Ashland, reports the last few weeks have been a bit busier, but "detainees seemed to settle into their zones, and the temperatures cooled off, which helped everyone."

"The compound guard force has installed new sniper screen around their compounds, along with many other projects to make the TIF look and run better, and there are Red Arrows adorning every compound," Traaholt said. "Whoever replaces the soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard will have a hard act to follow, as Wisconsin soldiers are some of the hardest working soldiers in the nation."

As the 32nd Brigade's soldiers head into the final two months of their time overseas, the change of seasons in Iraq is attempting to prepare them for their return to Wisconsin. The high temperature in Baghdad Nov. 18 was only 62 degrees and the overnight low is forecast to be down around 40. It's not January-in-Wisconsin weather yet, to be sure, but high temperatures are more than 60 degrees cooler than the troops were experiencing just a few months ago.

They'll be ready for Wisconsin.

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Sgt. Anna Duncan is congratulated by Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. after she is sworn in as a citizen of the United States Nov. 11 at Al-Faw Palace near Baghdad. Duncan, a native of the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, is assigned to Kenosha-based Company B, 257th Brigade Support Battalion.

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Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Benzshawel, Appleton, drags an 80-pound duffel bag during a portion of Camp Bucca's 3-Gun Competition Oct. 17. Benzshawel is assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry in Green Bay. He placed first among 70 competitors, earning a prize package and an Army Achievement Medal. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Maurice A. Galloway.

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Sgt. 1st Class Ginger Macdonald, senior medic for the 829th Engineer Company, performs "wire medicine" in Compound 3 at Camp Cropper. Macdonald is assessing a detainee's medical status during one of her daily sick call runs. 829th Engineer Company photo.

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As close to "Miller Time" as they can get in Iraq, Spc. Cliff Cornell and Sgt. Andrew Wagoner make a trash run through Compound 3's Main Street. Packers logos can be seen all over Camp Cropper and detainees frequently joke about Brett Favre's success as a Minnesota Viking to tease the 829th Engineer Company's guard force. 829th Engineer Company photo.

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Soldiers from 3rd Platoon of Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry conduct a force protection patrol near Victory Base Complex on Oct. 19. Bravo Troop is based in Watertown. Photograph by Sgt. Stanley Doty.

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Soldiers from Company D, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion dismantle the theater internment facility at Camp Bucca after the last of the camp's detainees were transferred to other detention facilities in Iraq.

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Tailgating Iraq-style. Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry grill steaks as they get ready to watch a football game on American Forces Television. Game times in Iraq were eight hours later than Wisconsin before daylight saving time ended Nov. 1. Now it's a nine-hour time difference, so Monday Night Football doesn't start in Iraq until 4 a.m. the next morning.

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A Motion W and other signs of Wisconsin mark locations where Wisconsin National Guard troops are based in Iraq. These soldiers are from Kenosha's Company B, 257th Brigade Support Battalion.

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Sgt. Ryan Van De Walker, a medic with the 829th Engineer Company, prepares a patient for an IV at Camp Cropper. 829th Engineer Company photo.

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Sgt. 1st Class Peter Grant, Staff Sgt. Mark Meuer, and Sgt. Chad Sturdevant of the 829th Engineer Company prepare for shift change on the Camp Cropper TIF. The Iraqi corrections officers relax while they await their teammates coming off their shift. The non-commissioned officers are responsible for the success of each compound; they are the backbone of the entire operation. 829th Engineer Company photo.

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The 829th Engineer Company's Sgt. Dustin Vajgrt, Chippewa Falls, secures the compound sally port gate after detainees exit for medical appointments. 829th Engineer Company photo.

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Windshield's-eye view of a force protection patrol conducted by 1st Platoon of Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry near Victory Base Complex on Nov. 9. Photograph by 1st Lt. Christopher Szopinski.

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Pfc. Kevin Sieja, Staff Sgt. Ryan Johnson, Sgt. Anthony Ross, and other Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Troopers conduct a dismounted force protection patrol near Victory Base Complex Oct. 19. Photograph by Spc. Jason Wick.

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Pebble Beach it is not. Bravo Troop's Staff Sgt. Casey Freeman tries out the one-hole golf course he helped install near the unit's command post at Camp Cropper, Iraq, on Nov. 3. Photo by Spc. Craig Detert.

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Pfc. Meng Xiong (left) and Spc. Justin Young, both from Alpha Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion at work in the convoy staging lanes section at Camp Bucca.

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Spc. Ryan Kohnke, Waukesha, receives a coin and a handshake from Brig. Gen. David Quantock. Kohnke was one of a dozen 32nd Military Police Company soldiers recognized for their efforts in transporting 2,882 Iraqi government prisoners during one eight-day period in September.

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Children at a school in Safwan lined up in October to receive gifts sent to them from six U.S. states and distributed by soldiers of Appleton's 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry. About 3,200 pounds of donated materials were collected for residents of Safwan and nearby Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

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Col. Martin Seifer, Seymour, of the 32nd Brigade Combat Team headquarters signs documents to turn over Forward Operating Base Blackhawk in Baghdad. In the background is Believers Palace, formerly used by Saddam Hussein

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Soldiers of the 32nd Brigade Combat Team headquarters applaud Gen. David Petraeus (on the video screen) as Petraeus acknowledges the Wisconsin troops live via satellite from Washington, D.C. Nov. 13. Petraeus commands United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which includes U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 32nd Brigade represented all of CENTCOM at an awards dinner honoring Petraeus and his troops. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez.

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Spc. Adam Getgen, Wisconsin Dells, explains to Col. Steven Bensend how some of his unit's equipment is used by Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry at Joint Base Balad. Bensend, commander of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, visited Charlie Troop on Oct. 30. Also on the visit were Col. Mark Greenwood, deputy brigade commander, and brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Edgar Hansen.

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Next stop: Wisconsin. The appearance of personal equipment shipping cases and packed duffel bags are a sure sign the deployment is nearing an end. Over the next few weeks, most soldiers will ship many of their personal belongings back to Wisconsin. This homeward bound baggage belongs to soldiers of Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry from Fort Atkinson.

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