June 18, 2010 - A full house of family, friends and loved ones packed the Alliant Energy Center in Madison for a sendoff ceremony Friday (June 18) in honor of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, which reported for active duty June 17 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This is the third deployment to the Middle East for the 147th in the past 10 years, and second since 2003. Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, told the nearly 300 deploying Soldiers and their families he knew why.
"It's no mistake that the Army reaches out to the Army National Guard, and the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and the 147th," he explained. "They know how good you are."
Dunbar recalled concerns, made in the early days of the global war on terror, about overtaxing the National Guard.
"Well, they didn't know the men and women of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, did they?" he said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, agreed.
"The tremendous professionalism found in the Soldiers we have in the Wisconsin Army National Guard is second to none," he said.
Lt. Col. Martin Pond, commander of the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, charged his Soldiers to live up to the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
"Always do the right thing," Pond urged. "Make every decision as if your parents and family are with you. Bring your American values with you."
State Command Sgt. Major George Stopper asked Soldiers who had never deployed to draw on the experience of their fellow Soldiers who are already veterans. He also addressed the battalion's officers, non-commissioned officers and lower enlisted.
"Soldiers, you have the hardest job of all - you have to soldier," he said, referring to the requirement to rise to the occasion in difficult situations. "That's all we can ask of you."
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz noted that this was not the first military sendoff ceremony he had attended.
"But this is the first time I've had a family member involved in the sendoff," he said, identifying the Soldier and drawing an appreciative response from the audience. "You will be in our prayers."
Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton recalled being at the 147th's last sendoff ceremony for Iraq, and praised the leadership demonstrated in the Wisconsin National Guard over the years. She presented Pond with a Wisconsin state flag.
"I'm proud to let people know that we're there [in Iraq] and we're leading," she said.
Linda Wieck of Plymouth, founder of the Camo Quilt Project, presented Pond with a tightly rolled Army Combat Uniform-pattern quilt - one of more than 400 made since June 1 for the deploying 147th Soldiers. She spoke about making one quilt for her son-in-law, a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier, when he deployed to Iraq in 2006, and how that quickly led to establishing a volunteer effort that to date has made more than 4,700 quilts for Soldiers, Airmen and Marines.
"It's our way of saying 'thank you,'" Wieck explained.
"This is one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever seen," Pond replied, prompting a standing ovation from the battalion.
Leo Endres, Wisconsin district commander for the American Legion, presented two satellite phones with 6,000 minutes to Pond, and urged Soldiers to make use of their Family Readiness Groups.
National Guard leadership praised and thanked the families in attendance.
"As commander of these Soldiers, I can't thank you enough for everything you do to allow them to do what they do as Soldiers," Anderson said. "Families, ladies, you will receive 100 percent support from the Wisconsin Army National Guard - I guarantee that."