By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Commander in Chief Governor Scott Walker, military leaders, an Army band and nearly 1,000 friends and family braved cold temperatures Friday night (Feb. 18) to give a warm welcome to about 300 of Wisconsin’s newest combat veterans. "We could not be more proud,"
said during a welcome home ceremony for the 724th Engineer Battalion in a packed hanger at Volk Field last night. "Thank you, and to the families we say thank you as well." Walker
The 724th Engineer Battalion deployed to
last April. Operating as Task Force Badger, the 724th became the only remaining engineering battalion in Iraq and directed a total of eight engineering companies - including Guard units from Iraq and Pennsylvania Puerto Rico, active Army units from , and Schofield Barracks, Fort Lewis, Wash. , and an Army Reserve unit from Hawaii Fort Belvoir, Va.
"You are an amazing group of men and women," said unit Commander Lt. Col. Dave O'Donahue as he struggled to find the words that could sufficiently convey his pride in the unit that had completed a 10-month mission to
. "You did a phenomenal job. It is the greatest honor of my military career to have served with you." Iraq
Task Force Badger's principal mission was to provide freedom of movement throughout
. This included 200,000 kilometers of route clearance - searching for and removing roadside bombs. The battalion also removed five major military bridges, completed construction work for Iraqi forces at combined check points near Iraq and Kirkuk , trained Iraqi forces in bridging techniques and procedures, and moved more than $90 million of vehicles and equipment out of Mosul as part of the drawdown of forces. In addition, Task Force Badger assisted the State Department in the construction of Contingency Operating Station Erbil in northern Iraq . Iraq
O'Donahue accompanied his men on many missions, and saw what it took to get the job done in a country that still poses considerable danger.
"Night after night they put it on the line, keeping other people safe," he said. "So many of our missions were at night - not many people knew all that we did."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, praised the Men of the North, as the battalion is known.
"You can be extremely proud of what you accomplished in theater," he said. "You may never know all the people you helped, but they will remember you - they will remember the 724th."
Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of
, agreed. Wisconsin
"Your accomplishment is now etched in the book of American history," he said.
O'Donahue said that in addition to the great sense of accomplishment, he felt a great sense of relief now that the 724th was back home in
"We completed the mission," he said. "We did it the right way."