War on Terrorism

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wisconsin Guard Soldiers wrap up Iraq deployment

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

"For Task Force Badger personnel heading back to the great state of Wisconsin, congratulations on a job well done," was the farewell message to Wisconsins men and women of the north, the Soldiers of the 724th Engineer Battalion, in a transfer of authority ceremony today (Feb. 14) in Iraq. The parting comment from Lt. Col. Patrick Kinsman, incoming commander of the Army's 326th Engineer Battalion, signifies the end of the Wisconsin Army National Guard unit's 10-month deployment to Iraq and brings them one step closer to returning home.

The 724th Engineer Battalion deployed to Iraq last April with approximately 400 Soldiers from units in four northern Wisconsin communities. 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 Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, active Army units from Fort Lewis, Wash., and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and an Army Reserve unit from Fort Belvoir, Va.

The 724th's organic Wisconsin units include Headquarters Company, 724th Engineer Battalion in Chippewa Falls; Company A (Forward Support) in Hayward; 230th Engineer Company (Clearance) in Superior; and the 273rd Engineer Company (Sapper) in Medford.

"To the men and women of Task Force Badger, I'd like to express my sincere thanks," said Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Dave O'Donahue. "You have amazed me with your ingenuity, perseverance and dedication to mission accomplishment."

Task Force Badger's principal mission was to provide freedom of movement throughout Iraq. This included 200,000 kilometers of route clearance - searching for and removing roadside bombs - leading the battalion to adopt the motto, "We hunt what others fear." Task Force Badger also removed five major military bridges, completed construction work for Iraqi forces at combined check points near Kirkuk and Mosul, trained Iraqi forces in bridging techniques and procedures, and moved more than $90 million of vehicles and equipment out of Iraq 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.

The deployment remained dangerous even as Operation Iraqi Freedom became Operation New Dawn. Task Force Badgers have been awarded 135 combat action badges, six Purple Hearts and four combat medic badges.

O'Donahue wished their replacements, the Soldiers of the 326th Battalion well.

"May God provide you wisdom, strength, and courage as you serve our nation in Iraq," he said. "I also ask God to bless the Soldiers of Task Force Badger as we head back to the high ground. May we have safe travel and a joyful reunion with our loved ones."
According to 1st Lt. Joseph Waggoner, public affairs officer for Task Force Badger, the incoming battalion has some historical connections with Wisconsin. The 326th was reconstituted in Milwaukee in 1921 following World War I; Milwaukee is home to the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the parent unit of the 724th. The 326th is part of the 101st Airborne Division, whose shoulder patch depicts "Old Abe," the bald eagle which served as the mascot of the Wisconsin 8th Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.

The 400 Soldiers deployed with the 724th make up about half of the approximately 800 Wisconsin Guard Soldiers and Airmen currently serving on active duty. Since Sept. 11, 2001 every unit in the Wisconsin National Guard has deployed troops in support of the global war on terror - many more than once.

However, the National Guard remains ready to answer the call at home. Over the past decade, the Wisconsin Guard has called troops to duty to support recovery efforts following numerous floods, blizzards and tornadoes in the state as well as airport and air base security following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Southwest border operations, Hurricane Katrina response, North Dakota flooding, Kentucky ice storms, Haiti earthquake relief efforts, and Deep Water Horizon air space management. Most recently, approximately 100 Wisconsin Guard members were called to state active duty Feb. 1-2 to assist local authorities during a major winter storm.

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