GREEN BAY, Wis. — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined families and friends in a packed Lambeau Field Atrium in Green Bay, Wisconsin Thursday (Nov. 29) for a formal sendoff ceremony for the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment.
The Appleton-based battalion, with units in Green Bay, Marinette, Fond du Lac, Ripon, Clintonville and Waupun, will deploy to Afghanistan to provide security for the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), an active-duty unit that trains and advises the Afghan military. The 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry is the first component of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to deploy to Afghanistan.
“We are about to embark on a unique, challenging and very important mission,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Elder, battalion commander, who stood in this same atrium nearly 10 years ago as commander of Green Bay’s Company B when that unit was deploying with the 32nd Brigade to Iraq. “This is the first time a National Guard battalion has partnered with a security forces assistance brigade — it’s a fairly new thing in the Army.
“Our job, our mission, is to provide security and protection for those advisers,” Elder continued. “We use the term ‘Guardian Angels’ — that’s how our Soldiers are going to be looked at during this deployment.”
Elder said that the 2nd Battalion,127th Infantry will be known as the “Guardian Angel” battalion in the 2nd SFAB. Rather than functioning as a typical infantry battalion of companies, platoons and squads, the “Guardian Angel” battalion will be set up as 40 squads that will deploy all across Afghanistan.
“They’re going to be spread to the four winds across the entire country,” Elder said. “It comes down to these Soldiers, these squad leaders and their squads, doing what they need to do to accomplish the mission.”
Sgt. 1st Class Darrin Habermehl, normally a platoon sergeant with Company B, will be one of those squad leaders for this deployment — his second.
“My job will be to integrate with the advising team from the 2nd SFAB we’re assigned to,” he explained. “Our job is to give them protection, to watch over their shoulder, and give them the room to do their advising mission.”
Habermehl admitted that he was nervous about the mission months ago, but now his confidence level is high after undergoing mission training at Fort McCoy. The battalion will receive additional training in Texas and Louisiana in the coming weeks before arriving in Afghanistan.
“We’ll be ready to go,” Habermehl said.
This will be the fifth deployment for 1st Sgt. Michael Johnson, Company B’s senior enlisted leader. He will also serve as a squad leader on this deployment.
“I also feel that the unit is in a really good place,” Johnson said. “I feel we’ve done a really good job of putting ourselves in a very good starting spot beginning with our training at Fort McCoy, and everything since XCTC.”
The 32nd Brigade conducted a three-week eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) over the summer at Camp Grayling, Michigan, to certify platoon proficiency in an experience similar to an Army combat training center.
“It’s nice to see the camaraderie build as we move toward this common goal,” Johnson continued. “You can really start to see it pick up steam as we get closer to the actual deployment.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, recalled when he was the command sergeant major for the 2nd Battalion,127th Infantry when that unit deployed to Kuwait in 2005 to escort military supply convoys throughout Iraq. Lt. Col. Elder was a platoon leader for that deployment.
“The first time I met Lt. Elder, I said, ‘He’s going to make a great commander,” Conde said. “He’s sharp.”
Conde reminded the deploying Soldiers that the United States does not go to war alone —Afghanistan is a partner nation in the effort to defeat the Taliban.
“Sometimes we have to go and project that power overseas,” Conde said, “because freedom is not free.”
Like Conde, Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews — Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army — recognized the additional burden families would face with their Soldier deployed. She made a point of recognizing the children of deploying Soldiers in the audience and offered words of encouragement.
“Thank you for our effort,” she said to the deploying Soldiers. “Thank you for your dedication. Be safe, and when you have time, get ahold of your families and let them know you are safe.”
Standing beneath the visages of such Packers greats as Curly Lambeau, Tony Canadeo, Ray Nitschke, Reggie White and Brett Favre, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar — Wisconsin’s adjutant general — invoked Packers Pride to describe how families and friends regarded their deploying Soldiers.
“We’re in a hallowed hall of a great football team with a great legacy, a great tradition,” Dunbar said. “We love the Green Bay Packers and what they do. That same sense of pride and community is on display in support of these Soldiers here.”
Dunbar said that when things needs matter need defending, Wisconsin sends its best.
“Every Soldier you see here is 100 percent American Solder, proud to be part of the United States Army — but they are more,” Dunbar said. “They are members of your National Guard. Not only are they the primary combat reserve of our great United States Army, but they’re also the first military responders in the homeland. So if something happens like a flood or a terrorist attack here at home, they’ll be the first men and women in uniform to respond.
“It’s an awesome responsibility,” he continued, “and every one of these men and women volunteer and had to earn the right to wear this uniform. I couldn’t be prouder of these men and women.”
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch acknowledged the heritage of the Green Bay Packers, saying that Wisconsinites treasure the team’s 13 NFL championships and four Lombardi trophies.
“But there is no greater treasure in Lambeau Field than the brave men and women who sit before you, ready to stand before the enemy a world away,” she said, before presenting a state flag to Elder and Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Heidemann, the battalion’s senior enlisted leader, encouraging the battalion to “remember us fondly” when they see the flag.
Mark Murphy, president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers, said the professional football organization has a tremendous relationship with the military going back many years.
“We wish you the best,” Murphy said. “Come home safely.”
The 2nd Battalion,127th Infantry’s lineage dates back to the Civil War with the 1st and 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Those units also served in the Mexican Border Crisis of 1916, then reorganized as the 127th Infantry Regiment in 1917 as the 32nd Division was formed for World War I. The battalion was key to the division earning battlefield laurels, from the nom de guerre “Les Terribles” from French Gen. Pairron de Mondesir to the Red Arrow symbol for piercing the previously impenetrable Hindenburg Line, along with every other German line during the war.
The battalion, along with the 32nd Division, fought in the South Pacific during World War II, and also was activated for the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Green Bay Packers legend Ray Nitschke and wide receiver Boyd Dowler served with the 32nd during that mobilization.
The battalion has deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2005 and again in 2009.
Elder said that the average age of the Soldiers in the battalion was 24, and one in five had deployed at least once before. Pfc. Trevor Bader, a Green Bay area resident, is going on his first deployment after being in the Wisconsin Army National Guard a little more than a year.
“They’re very excited,” he said of his family. “At the same time, we’re all very nervous.”
But the young infantryman, who works in retail when he is not on duty with the Guard, is confident.
“I think we’ll do well,” he said simply.
Sgt. Terry Block of Appleton is a rifleman and sniper who will also be going on his first deployment.
“Excited and scared all at the same time,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to it for years now, ever since I got in. Hopefully all goes well.
“We’re actually doing something besides training,” Block continued. “We’ve been training for six years now, and I’m ready to start using it.”