Troops prepare for yearlong deployment (VIDEO)
Local troops' loved ones and community supporters filled the big Riverview Ballroom at the UW-River Falls University Center last Wednesday to honor the soldiers of River Falls-based D Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, who leave this month for Iraq.
The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs says the departure ranks as part of the biggest operational deployment of state soldiers since World War II. Most soldiers based out of the local armory come from River Falls, Prescott, New Richmond and other area towns.
Besides the 125 National Guard members who leave this month, about 300 others crowded into the room to wish them well and hear from the soldiers' brigade commander Colonel Steve Bensend, local state Rep. Kitty Rhoades, UW-RF Interim Chancellor Connie Foster and a representative from Congressman Ron Kind's office.
Capt. Chad Hollenbeck assured the people gathered that the soldiers have trained hard.
He told their loved ones, "The more sweat we shed in training, the less blood we shed in combat."
In good humor, the captain also ticked off the top 10 reasons why people join the military:
10 "Cool uniforms."
9 "To avoid the draft."
8 "Because we enjoy hurrying up and waiting."
7 "To see the world (Iraq)."
6 "Because Army chow is really good."
5 "We enjoy walking around with 100 pounds of gear on our back."
4 "You get rich in the Army."
3 "Because you want to receive every vaccine known to man."
2 "Because we enjoy running with our commander."
1 "Seriously: Patriotism."
Hollenbeck said the reason the troops fight is for the soldier to their left and the soldier to their right.
Town of River Falls residents Eric and Mary Bergman have two sons in the Army National Guard who are being re-deployed to Iraq: Troy, 23, is married, attends UW-RF and operates a landscaping business; and Mark, 21, attends the technical college in New Richmond and works at a machine shop in Somerset.
Both are recent River Falls High School graduates. The Bergmans also have a third son, Jake, a senior at RFHS.
Eric Bergman described the mood in his household as somber but understanding. He said the second deployment is a bit easier to tolerate as a parent because one knows what to expect.
"We're proud of them, but wish they didn't have to go back," he said. "All the parents are proud of their kids and those who are serving, but you wish this conflict would end as soon as possible so the troops could come back for good. It seems like the National Guard is carrying much of the load.
"You try to take it all in stride. No one's happy about this, but you deal with it. It's disruptive because they're older now.
"We'd like to see (our sons) be able to finish school and get on with their lives. There's a lot of other things they'd rather be doing than this. We'd like to see them not have to go. It's that simple."
People interested in helping local soldiers and their families can call the River Falls Armory at 425-3516 to get in touch with Family Readiness Group (FRG) Leader Andrea Simonis. Monetary donations for the troops that go toward family days, care packages and other events and activities can be sent to Simonis' attention to the armory's address: 815 W. Division St., River Falls, 54022.
Editor Phil Pfuehler contributed to this story.