January 5, 2010 The return of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team from an eight-month deployment to Iraq began Tuesday (Jan. 5) when approximately 115 Soldiers from Troop A, 105th Cavalry set foot at Volk Field.
Approximately 3,200 members of the32nd Brigade, augmented by six other Wisconsin Army National Guard units, were ordered to active duty Feb. 1, 2009 and deployed to Iraq in April and May following two months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas. Troop A was stationed at eight different bases in northern Iraq. According to Capt. Matthew McDonald, Troop A commander, the unit directly supported Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, his staff and their operations in Iraq to stabilize the Iraqi government and protect U.S. forces. This involved working with joint Department of Defense agencies.
McDonald, of Prairie du Sac, said Troop A completed more than 1,700 missions in Iraq.
"It's still a very dangerous place, but I'm confident your efforts helped make it a better place," he said. "Your stories are yours to tell, or not to tell."
Some of the missions that Troop A conducted are still governed by operational security concerns. But senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders made no secret of their pride in the unit.
"You did a phenomenal job on a phenomenal mission," said Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. "What you accomplished will have a lasting effect on Iraq."
"You have no idea how unbelievably proud we are of the mission you did," said Command Sgt. Major George Stopper, state command sergeant major for the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, also praised the group noting that the subordinate units of the 32nd Brigade worked well individually.
"Nobody anticipated slicing and dicing the 32nd, but that's what was required," Dunbar said. "You did a phenomenal job."
McDonald credited his lower enlisted and non-commissioned officers with the unit's success. "This was very much a bottom-driven job," he explained. "Specialists, sergeants and staff sergeants were mission leaders. Every Soldier had a tremendous amount of responsibility placed on him. They did a phenomenal, outstanding job."
Spc. Robert Neal of Milwaukee described his time providing force protection in northern Iraq as a good experience.
"I met a lot of great people," he said, noting that he received some job offers from security firms.
Sgt. Xerex Bueno, of Gurney, Ill., said he felt "a sense of fulfillment, doing what we did over there successfully and coming back home."
Kelli George, the family readiness group volunteer for the 105th Cavalry, took in the experience of the first homecoming for the 105th as well as the 32nd Brigade.
"It's magical, absolutely magical," she said as Soldiers mingled with hundreds of family members and friends. "It's kind of a warm-up to my own husband coming home - but these are all my boys."
Her husband, Lt. Col. Michael George, commands the 105th Cavalry and is expected to return home sometime in January. Having experienced a deployment once before, she said she knows what to expect. "You just say 'finally' after months and months of e-mails and occasional phone calls," she said. "To set your own eyes on him, there's nothing like it."
George said the family readiness group has been helping families back home prepare for the return of their Soldiers by emphasizing resources available through the reintegration process and other channels.
While it is winter in Iraq as well, the conditions here were decidedly chillier - though none of the returning Soldiers appeared to mind.
"I made this promise the last time I was deployed that I would never complain about the cold," Bueno said.
"You did say it was cold," observed his 10-year-old son Jake.
"He said it was cold, but he didn't complain," replied Monica Bueno, Jake's mother and Sgt. Bueno's wife.
His one complaint? Deployment food.
"We're going to get a real dinner," he promised.
The Soldiers will now spend about a week at nearby Fort McCoy for demobilization processing - which includes briefing each Soldier about resources and benefits available to help them transition back to civilian life - before being released from active duty.