By Spc. Shelby Swansinger
32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team
Six Soldiers from the Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (TAUS) platoon of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team said goodbye to family and friends in Madison on June 18 before leaving for Camp Shelby, Miss., where they will train for a deployment to Afghanistan in support of active duty Army units there.
Gov. Scott Walker, Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, and Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, joined brigade leaders Col. Martin Seifer and Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde at the small, private ceremony.
The deploying Soldiers are members of the 32nd IBCT's Company B, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, who specialize in flying the RQ-7 Shadow 200 unmanned aerial vehicle. While often referred to as a drone - a generic term for all UAVs - the Shadow should not be confused with a Predator, which is a larger unmanned aircraft with weapons.
"The job of the Shadow is proven to save lives," said Warrant Officer Candidate Lucas Gordon, UAV platoon leader. He said the Soldiers have been preparing for this deployment for the past two years, gaining the UAV equipment in August of 2009 and taking part in a NATO exercise in August 2010.
According to Dunbar, smaller groups of Soldiers are being deployed as part of an effort to more effectively perform certain tasks.
"I would always prefer to send an integral unit, but if we need to send something smaller, the Wisconsin National Guard is always there," Dunbar said, adding that the number of Soldiers does not affect the support they receive. "It's important that every Soldier knows that whether it's six or 6,000 going overseas, the leadership is here for you."
The Soldiers were joined by family members at the sendoff ceremony. Many family members, including Kaleigh Lake, the niece of one of the Soldiers, shared their feelings about the upcoming deployment.
"I feel sad," she said. "I'll write him e-mails and letters."
The Soldiers also rely on their family for support throughout deployments. Staff Sgt. Matthew Sargent, who was leaving for his second deployment, said "[Family] is extremely important. They take care of the odds and ends so I can stay focused on my job."
"Family support is imperative," Walker agreed. "If families are taken care of, the Soldiers will be better prepared and more focused on the task at hand."
Walker also thanked the Soldiers and their families.
"We all know that freedom isn't free," he said. "It takes individuals to stand up and defend it. We can't thank you enough for what you do."
The group will spend the next phase of their training at Camp Shelby before deploying with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard. The Wisconsin Soldiers will be attached to a Maryland Army National Guard unit that is part of the 278th ACR.