FRANKLIN, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined families and friends at a July 6 sendoff ceremony for more than 350 members of the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery headed to the Middle East in support of Operations Inherent Resolve, Spartan Shield and Freedom’s Sentinel.
“You are well-trained, you are well-prepared — you have been chosen for a moment just like this,” Walker said.
The High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) unit — including a headquarters unit in Milwaukee, firing batteries in Plymouth, Wisconsin, and Sussex, Wisconsin, and the 108th Forward Support Company, also based in Sussex — will operate in 10 locations across five countries conducting general support fire missions and working with HIMARS units from military partners to build readiness together.
Lt. Col. Paul Gapinski, commander of the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Grundel, the battalion’s senior enlisted leader, sheathed the battalion flag with its battle streamers in a canvas case in front of Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army.
“The casing of the colors ceremony that you just witnessed is a symbol that our deployment is official,” Gapinski told families and friends attending the sendoff ceremony. “While we’ve been preparing for the last few months, I’m sure there were times it may have felt as if your Soldier was home, but not at home. But the day has finally come for us to say goodbye.”
Gapinski noted that many battalion Soldiers would be deploying for the first time, but added that many others have deployed multiple times. He pointed out that the battalion last deployed in 2006 to escort military supply convoys throughout Iraq, but parts of the battalion deployed to Iraq in 2009 with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Battery B deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, becoming the first National Guard HIMARS unit to conduct combat fire support missions in Afghanistan. Battery A deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 for the same fire support mission. Both batteries received accolades for their mission performance.
“I’m confident our past performance is an early indicator of our potential future performance,” Gapinski said.
Spc. Emerald Lorenz is a water treatment specialist with the 108th Forward Support Company. The Cudahy, Wisconsin resident is embarking on her first deployment in over a little more than two years in the Wisconsin National Guard, and is hoping for a smooth experience. She said she has gotten guidance from other Soldiers who have deployed before.
“Even they have said that every deployment is different, so you never really know what to expect,” Lorenz said.
Pfc. Tracy Kilpatrick, a cook with the 108th, is also deploying for the first time.
“[They told me to] expect long days,” Kilpatrick said. The Milwaukee resident said he is looking forward to gaining experience and the opportunity to advance in rank.
1st Lt. Alicia Dorsett, the operations officer for Battery B — and the unit’s second-in-command — is Wisconsin’s first female field artillery officer. She is expecting to learn a lot on her first deployment.
“I’m excited to get the opportunity to go,” Dorsett said. “I’m also nervous because I want to make sure I do a good job. We’ve been preparing for months for this, so I feel we’re very ready and I’m looking forward to getting it started and to come home to friends and family.”
Staff Sgt. William Isetts, a display operator in Battery B’s fire direction center, is also deploying for the first time in his 10-year career. Like other first-time deploying Soldiers, Isetts plans to rely on the experience of those who have prior deployments.
“They’re very knowledgeable,” the Kenosha resident said. “I look forward to working with a lot of them.”
Sgt. 1st Class John Lemke, a fire platoon sergeant and readiness noncommissioned officer with Battery B, is one of those experienced Soldiers. This deployment will be his third with Battery B, and he deployed three times before 2006. His first deployment was with the U.S. Marine Corps for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
“It will be somewhat different [than 2013 deployment], because of being general support versus direct support,” Lemke said. “We’ll have time where we are going to have some down time, and we’re going to have time where we’re busy doing our jobs.”
Lemke said he tells his troops to “have fun, don’t spend as much money as I do, and be safe.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, asked first-time deploying Solders to stand, and offered some veteran advice.
“Deployment is tough — long days, can’t always talk to your wife, to your husband, your girlfriend, your mothers, your fathers, your kids,” Conde said. “You’ve got to stick together.”
Mathews asked the children of deploying Soldiers to stand and be recognized. She recalled talking with her husband and two daughters when she deployed about how things would change while she was gone.
“Even though they were small tasks, small little chores, it still helped my husband and it helped me concentrate on what I was doing,” Mathews said. “I’d like to ask all the youth, the sons and daughters of those deploying, to let us give you a round of applause ahead of time, because I know you’re going to do a good job.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, observed that it is not easy to meet the standards of being a Soldier and being mission ready.
“Our mission is simple — not easy, but it’s simple,” Dunbar said. “We’re the primary combat reserve of the United States Army, and we’re the first military responder of the homeland. And this unit is fully prepared to do both.”
The adjutant general noted that one century ago, the 32nd Division was in battle during World War I. Though the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery traces its roots to the 1st Wisconsin Battery, created in Milwaukee on May 11, 1885, it was recast as the 121st in 1917 as part of the formation of the 32nd Division.
“Wisconsin has a history of answering our nation’s call, and we’re about to witness the latest chapter being written by the 1-121,” Dunbar said. “Godspeed, Soldiers. We support you 100 percent.”
Walker also invoked history when he presented a state flag to Gapinski and Grundel, saying Wisconsin’s Civil War troops requested a state flag in 1863 to carry into battle.
“In the midst of that war they wanted something to remind them of home,” Walker said, “to remind them that there were families and friends and people they didn’t even know who would be thinking about them, and more importantly praying for them while they were fighting in the Civil War.”
Col. Brian Wolhaupter, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s chief of staff, commanded the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery during the last half of its 2006-07 deployment.
“As I sat there watching the ceremony it was like stepping back in time to when I sat among the Soldiers who were about to deploy — ready to go into harm’s way,” Wolhaupter said. “Nothing has changed. The commitment and the bravery of the Wisconsin Army National Guard and the individual Soldiers that make it up is rock-solid and a cornerstone of who we are as a state and who we are as a nation. It makes me proud to be part of that legacy, and humbled to see what that legacy has grown to today.”
Wolhaupter urged the deploying Soldiers to “look to each other, protect each other and support each other” during this deployment.
The battalion will complete several weeks of training at Fort Bliss, Texas before heading overseas.