Bussed in from their armories all over the state, some 3200 hundred troops attended the sendoff, which included most of the state’s congressional delegation: Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, and Representatives Paul Ryan of Janesville, Tammy Baldwin of Madison, Ron Kind of LaCrosse and Steve Kagen of Appleton. “Thank you for your service, thank you for securing our freedoms,” said Ryan. Kagen engaged the troops in “fired up, ready to go” call-and-response, while Feingold said he’d never been so moved as he was when he entered the Dane County Colosseum and saw the troops assembled there.
Despite the overall festive tone of the sendoff ceremony, Wisconsin’s Adjutant General, Don Dunbar, said few at the event were happy about the deployment , which for some soldiers marks their second or even third tour in Iraq. “Many have said, it’s not fair,” noted Dunbar. “And you know? It’s not fair. It’s never been fair. That’s what makes these soldiers special.”
The Red Arrows’ deployment to Iraq is the largest deployment of the Wisconsin National Guard into a combat theater since World War II, and unit’s commander gave his soldiers high praise. “Whenever you see a Red Arrow, I hope you will remember, remember where it came from, and the rich history that it represents,” said Colonel Steven Bensend. “Today I submit to you that the 32nd Brigade Combat Team is the best National Guard brigade in the nation.” Bensend praised his solders for the months of preparation they’ve done for this deployment, and he pledged to their families that he’ll do everything in his power to see them safely returned to Wisconsin.
“We look forward to the day when we can gather again to welcome you home safely,” said congresswoman Baldwin. “Good luck, and Godspeed.” Soldiers of the 32nd return to their local armories prior to reporting at Fort Bliss, Texas before their deployment to Iraq.