FORT POLK, La. — The nearly 400 Red Arrow Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry have fully integrated into their role as “guardian angels” for the Army’s 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade — or SFAB — during their train-up prior to deploying to Afghanistan.
The 128th mobilized in mid-July before heading to Fort Hood, Texas, where they began an intensive training regimen that culminated with the battalion’s recent rotation through the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk.
The training at Fort Hood and JRTC was preceded by months of training in Wisconsin in preparation for their deployment. As guardian angels, the unit will provide force protection for engagements between advisors from the SFAB, other coalition forces, and Afghan troops.
“A lot of it has been build-up to this culminating training event here at JRTC,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Eric David, the 128th’s senior enlisted Soldier. “The fact that the SFAB was able to come up north and work with us, that integration was great. Now we’re coming down to their house, and we’re able to use a lot of their products and a lot of their training, a lot of their environment and now work together at JRTC.”
David, a Delafield resident, said the unit has adapted well to the rigors of training and is fully integrated with the 3rd SFAB, the unit for which it will provide security overseas.
“The nice thing is that the 3rd SFAB has really carved out a niche where we are their seventh battalion,” he said. “They’ve treated us as their seventh battalion. Again there have been some growing pains, because 3rd SFAB has been there training as six battalions, with a seventh battalion that’s been ‘expeditionary,’ that’s been out there. Now that we’re here, we’re part of their normal battle rhythm. But the integration has been phenomenal from the start to where we are now.”
David said that the 128th’s morale has remained high, despite the Louisiana heat and humidity endured at Fort Polk, and the Soldiers are itching to get on with their mission.
“The weather, getting used to the heat and humidity,” said Fall Creek resident Spc. Kaitlyn Schmidt when asked about the adjustment to the mobilization. “Overall we’ve been adapting really well to the challenges and overcoming them. It’s a really good learning experience for us, and it’s going really well.”
Schmidt, who serves as a human resources specialist at the 128th’s battalion headquarters, said the unit has come together since leaving Wisconsin in mid-July.
“I think we’re all coming together really well,” she said. “I mean, obviously it’s kind of a process, and it takes some time, but we’ve been together consistently for [more than two months], and I feel like we’re starting to click together really well.”
Spc. Jonathan Raatz, an infantryman from Watertown embarking on his first deployment, said his confidence grows each day.
“I feel I’m starting to get more and more prepared each and every day,” he said. “There’s always something I’m trying to learn about. I think everyone in the [tactical operations center] is trying to learn something new every single day and how to deal with overcoming adversity at times. I think every day we’re building to get better and better and better.”
Raatz acknowledged that there have been challenges as the Soldiers integrated into their new roles and learned what would be expected of them, but the 128th has meshed nicely into the 3rd SFAB it will support.
“There’s a learning curve from Guard to active duty and picking up on small things or even big things I just never knew about and are expectations now from the Soldiers,” he said. “Just learning our role and everyday tasks and being prepared to deploy.
“They have their differences,” he said of how their active duty brethren operate. “But they’ve been very inviting. Everyone I’ve met from the 3rd SFAB has been genuine and been straightforward with us and very accepting of us.”
He said both the 128th and the entirety of the SFAB have bonded well since coming together.
“I think there’s a lot of movement at the beginning, but we’re coming together and finding our role,” Raatz said. “I think we’re in a good spot, and it’s only going to continue to get better.
“Very knowledgeable people,” he said of the fellow Red Arrow Soldiers with whom he works in the battalion’s tactical operations center. “Great personalities to work with every day. I couldn’t ask for anything more, honest to God. They are always willing to give me a helping hand if I don’t know something.”
The unit has received tough, realistic training to prepare them for their mission in Afghanistan, and its recent JRTC rotation was no exception.
Spc. Carter Ray, a Medford native assigned to the 128th’s Company A in Menomonie, said that while the training has been rigorous, the unit adapted well and demonstrated its readiness.
“It’s been long days, long nights,” he said while providing security at an intersection at a Fort Polk training village. “We’ve been working hard, but it’s been good.
“We’ve been training for this,” he added. “We’ve done the guardian angel training, and we knew going into this it was going to be long nights and long days at JRTC. We knew we were going to have to work hard, but I think we’re ready for it. We came and we showed that. Everybody, every morning, we get the trucks ready, and we’re doing good.”
In Afghanistan, the 128th will take on a similar mission to their Red Arrow brethren in the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry. The 127th deployed to Afghanistan last winter with approximately 400 Soldiers, where they continue serving as guardian angels and providing base defense and security for coalition forces in the region.
The 127th and 128th are among more than 1,000 Soldiers and Airmen currently mobilized in support of the Wisconsin National Guard’s federal mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. Approximately 250 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing are also currently deployed to Southwest Asia.
The Wisconsin National Guard also announced in September that approximately 200 Soldiers with the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Headquarters would deploy to Ukraine this fall, and another 150 Soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company headquartered in Spooner with a detachment in Ashland will deploy to the Middle East.
The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneously remains ready to answer the call in the event of emergencies here in Wisconsin.