By Sgt. Andy Poquette
Wisconsin National Guard
April 19, 2010 - More than 500 National Guard Soldiers with the 724th Engineer Battalion - comprised of Soldiers from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Puerto Rico - gathered on the Fort McCoy parade field Sunday (April 18) for a send-off ceremony with family, friends and senior military leadership. Senior leaders from all three states spoke to the Soldiers and families about the upcoming deployment to Iraq.
"In Ecclesiastes they ask 'How many should we send?'" said Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin. "If you send one, a person standing alone can be attacked and defeated; there is no one to help him. Better then to send two, for two may stand back-to-back and defend each other, but three are even better, for a triple-braided cord cannot be broken. I submit to you that you have formed a triple-braided cord - Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and Wisconsin - and that cord cannot be broken."
The Soldiers of the 724th Engineer Battalion are known as Task Force Badger. They spent the past six weeks at Fort McCoy training for their upcoming route clearance mission to Iraq. Training focused on route clearance procedures, operating the equipment they will be using in Iraq and working together as one team.
"For us, the most important training was utilizing the equipment that we will have while in country," said Lt. Col. David O'Donahue, commander of the 724th Engineer Battalion. "Training as a squad, as a platoon, or as a team is very important. This was the first time that we were able to train together as a staff and as a team."
According to Col. Victor Perez, the chief of staff of the Puerto Rico National Guard, you wouldn't be able to tell that the Soldiers have such diverse backgrounds. "We have had an outstanding relationship with the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Soldiers," said Perez. "We are one Army, one team."
No Soldier would be able to complete their mission without the love and support of their family and friends. And while sending a loved one overseas can be stressful, many family members are proud of what their Soldier is doing.
"It's hard not having him home, but I'm so proud of him," said Kristal Kesselring, the wife of operations officer Maj. William Kesselring Jr. and mother of two. "I'm willing to sacrifice being a single parent, because I believe in what he's doing."
"I want to thank the families that know first-hand the sacrifices we make," O'Donahue said. "The year will go quickly for us ... and in many ways we have an easier mission than you do. But extraordinary Soldiers come from extraordinary families, and I want to thank you all for your love and support."
When Task Force Badger arrives in Iraq and assumes control of their mission, they will be the sole unit responsible for route clearance throughout Iraq. Their mission will be difficult, but O'Donahue is confident that his Soldiers are ready.
"We have a tough mission - that requires tough Soldiers," O'Donahue acknowledged. "People are depending on us. Our success will save lives. You will remember this experience for the rest of your life, the day you made a difference.
"Families, your Soldiers are ready," he continued. "We may hail from different areas, but we share a common background - love of country, and the commitment to serve. I am honored to serve with this exceptional group of Soldiers."
Following the ceremony Soldiers were able to spend time with family and friends. They will leave Fort McCoy, en route to Iraq over the next several days and are expected to spend the next ten months supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.