CAMP WILLIAMS, Wis. - Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined families and friends at a formal sendoff ceremony for 65 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers Saturday (Feb. 22).
The Soldiers - members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team - will deploy as two teams formed specifically for this deployment. The Military Engagement Team (MET) will take its Soldiers to Kuwait and Jordan, and the base Defense Operations Center (BDOC) will take its Soldiers to Kuwait, where they will augment active duty Soldiers.
"I'm excited," said Capt. Aaron Greisen of Madison, Wis., deploying with the base defense team. "It really is a great experience, not only for me but for the young Soldiers who are going to get to see a different part of the world."
Greisen deployed to Iraq in 2005-06. His current deployment is a relief to his father Gerald of Greenwood, Wis.
"It's a little easier this time," he said. "I guess one of my concerns is how much we're going to be able to stay in touch."
Col. David Monk, who will command both teams during the deployment, emphasized the engagement aspect of the mission.
"Whether it's on the BDOC, which is really staff augmentation, or on the MET, it's all engagement," he explained. "Sharing our expertise with senior leaders, government officials, both from the United States and other countries."
The name for this deployment, Monk told families and friends at the sendoff ceremony, is "Engage Forward," blending the focus of the mission with the state motto and the heritage of the Red Arrow - reaching objectives and breaching enemy lines.
Monk said that nearly half of the Soldiers in the "Engage Forward" mission were deploying for the first time. Spc. Irene Baumann of Elkhorn, Wis., a member of the base defense team, is one of them.
"This is going to be my first long-term time away from my family, but I'm also excited because [my parents] also have been away," Baumann said. "They were both stationed in Germany, so I'm excited I'm going to get that experience."
"It's hard for a mom," said her mother Eden, "but I'm supporting it."
"I'm very proud of her," said her father Aaron. "I think it's a great opportunity."
State Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields saluted the deploying Soldiers for the manner in which they prepared for their upcoming mission.
"I have to honestly say that is probably the most organized, disciplined and well-executed pre-mob training that I've seen," Shields said. "My hat's off to all of you. I've never seen such an elaborate tracking system - they've done just a fantastic job."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, deputy adjutant general for Army, agreed.
"We got the opportunity to observe some of the training and actually participate in some of the cultural training that you've undergone at Fort McCoy," Anderson said. "The pointed questions, the deep thought that those Soldiers were asking the presenters really demonstrated to me just the caliber of individuals that you have deploying with you."
Anderson served on an advisory mission in Iraq from 2005-06, and predicted the MET and BDOC Soldiers would have a great experience on their deployment.
"The opportunities that you're going to have to engage at multiple levels, both interagency and intergovernmental," Anderson said, "in addition to the various militaries that you're going to get exposed to, coupled with all of the cultural opportunities that you're going to be exposed to - it will be a tremendous growth experience."
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin described the upcoming deployment as a "very important" mission and "essential" to preserving American freedom.
"We know that America plays an important role in maintaining peace and stability around the world, and you are essential to that role," Baldwin said. "I join my fellow Wisconsinites to let you know that we stand behind you - America stands behind you. You have our whole and unconditional support."
Dunbar agreed with Baldwin's assessment of the mission.
"If it wasn't a tough job, America wouldn't send the Army," Dunbar said. "If it wasn't an important job, the Army wouldn't ask the Wisconsin Army National Guard to go. And that's what this is about today - a mission has to get done for the United States of America."
Anderson, Baldwin and Dunbar expressed their thanks to the families in attendance.
"To the family members - I know, I know, I know how difficult this day is," Dunbar said. "It is never easy to send the man or the woman, the husband or the wife, the son or the daughter, father or mother that you love, away anywhere for the better part of a year - let alone to a combat zone. I know how difficult this is.
"But this is the business we stood up for, and signed up for, and volunteered for," he continued. "And we know, as we send them out the door, that we have your support. They will be in my prayers every day, and I give you my personal guarantee that we have done everything in our power as an organization to prepare them for this mission."
Baldwin said she knows military families also make a tremendous sacrifice.
"We are here to support you, and we stand with you always," she said.
Kleefisch spoke about the unrest in Ukraine and Venezuela.
"You - your bravery - allows families like mine to pause for a moment and think of the peaceful world. And for that we are tremendously grateful," Kleefisch said. "You protect the world from the enemies - you protect America from the enemies. And while you are gone, you can trust that we will take care of your husbands and your wives, your grandmas and your grandpas, and all your little ones."
Monk said he expected the Soldiers under his command to impress the active duty Soldiers as well as U.S. government and international officials they encounter.
"I think Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers in general have always been in an environment where they knew they had to adapt, and all we had to do, really, to get everyone prepared for this is to just keep them focused on using that flexibility," Monk said. "The advantage they have is the multiple different skill sets from different military occupations, and multiple skill sets from the civilian side. You combine that military and civilian expertise and you have a phenomenal team."
"Soldiers, I am absolutely confident that each and every one of you - whether this is your fourth deployment or your first - is prepared for this mission," Dunbar said. "You've trained hard - I can see the gleam in your eye. I know you don't want to leave family, but there's a professional pride in your eyes that anyone who's ever worn a uniform understands."
As the ceremony ended, Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Sullivan - the senior enlisted advisor for the deployment - called the deploying Soldiers to attention.
"Soldiers, Engage!" he exclaimed.
"Forward!" the Soldiers roared in response.
The MET and BDOC Soldiers will train for several weeks at Fort Hood, Texas, before heading overseas.