June 21, 2010 - Thousands of Wisconsin Guard Soldiers marched through Stevens Point Saturday [June 19] kicking off the 'Back from the Sand' celebration where friends, community leaders and government officials thanked the families and the nearly 3,200 Soldiers who deployed with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team for their service and sacrifice to Wisconsin and America.
"In my eight years as governor, [the Wisconsin National Guard] has been asked to perform more than at any time in history, and it has excelled," Governor Jim Doyle told the crowd during a formal ceremony.
"Yours is a storied unit and you have added to that history," he said. "You have done your duty and you have made Wisconsin proud."
The celebration was hosted by the city of Stevens Point and possible due to generous contributions from Sentry Insurance, USO of Illinois/Wisconsin and numerous other organizations.
"Stevens Point symbolizes all communities in Wisconsin," said Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson. "This event is one of the proudest moments in my time as mayor. All we want to say today is 'welcome.'"
During training and while in Iraq, the brigade was organized into 27 company-sized units. Rather than operating as a brigade, the 32nd was tasked with a variety of missions throughout Iraq. These missions included forward operating base administration, base defense, area security, quick reaction forces, freedom of movement security support, detainee guard force operations at theater internment facilities, closing the largest internment facility in Iraq, transferring detainees, operating an academy to train Iraqi corrections officers, inspecting detention facilities, securing and administering the International Zone in Baghdad, and turning over U.S.-controlled properties back to the government of Iraq. The brigade's Soldiers operated around the clock, most of them working at least 12 hours a day - day after day, week after week, for eight full months in Iraq.
"It was a great honor and a great privilege to lead so many unbelievably great Soldiers," said Col. Steven Bensend, commander of the 32nd Brigade. "When I took command of this brigade I asked you for loyalty, duty, integrity and initiative. You did all of those things and more. Thank you."
The day-long celebration began with the parade followed by a formal ceremony that included not only Governor Doyle and the brigade commander, but also several state legislators, five members of Congress, National Guard leaders and a special guest from the Department of Defense: Dr. Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, on behalf of a grateful nation, we are just so thankful for your service, for what you've done and what you continue to do," said Stanley.
Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, said, "This homecoming gave an opportunity for us at the national level to say 'thanks' to the 32nd and to Wisconsin for their sacrifice for the last year and a half."
Stanley and Carpenter also visited one on one with Soldiers and family members prior to the event, to personally thank them for their service.
Janell Kellet, the lead volunteer for the 32nd Brigade's family readiness group, was impressed with Stanley's visit.
"He knows what it's like to be a military family and how it can be difficult, yet how our families can pull together and support each other," she said of Stanley, a retired Marine. "He just really seems to get it."
Stanley said he was listening to FRG volunteers as well as brigade leaders and bringing information back to the secretary of defense on topics such as tracking individual augmentees and understanding the effectiveness of policy matters such as mandatory demobilization briefings.
The day's festivities continued with live entertainment, family friendly games and rides, and an opportunity to visit with community members who came out to show their support.
Otto Manthey, a World War II veteran of Company A, 632nd Tank Battalion in what was then the 32nd Division, broke into tears when he recounted his 654 days of combat service and his affection for those that still wear the Red Arrow.
"These young kids from the 32nd are coming back," said Manthey. "That's why I'm here." Don White agreed. A 20-year veteran of the 32nd Division, who joined in 1947, came to the celebration following this year's Red Arrow Old Timer's Club convention at Fort McCoy. "I wouldn't have missed it," he said, "I'm very proud to have served in the 32nd - what a swell bunch of guys." The 32nd Brigade, augmented by six other Wisconsin Army National Guard units, was ordered to active duty Feb. 1, 2009 and deployed to Iraq in April and May following two months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas. They returned to Wisconsin in January, 2010.
"You can be proud as Soldiers and residents of this great state of Wisconsin and across the nation that the best of the best is standing before you today," Bensend said.