Battalion flag

Lt. Col. Aaron Freund and Command Sgt. Maj. Eric David, commander and senior enlisted leader for the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, encase the battalion flag and streamers — or colors — in a canvas sleeve to represent the unit leaving the direct control of the Wisconsin National Guard during a sendoff ceremony July 14 at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wis. The approximately 400 Soldiers will deploy as a security element for coalition forces in the Central Command theater of operations. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katie Eggers

State officials, family and friends bid farewell to approximately 400 Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers deploying to Afghanistan during a July 14 ceremony at Johnson Fieldhouse on the University of Wisconsin-Stout Campus.

The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, part of the famed 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team, mobilized for its upcoming mission in Afghanistan, where it will serve as a security element for coalition forces operating in the country. The unit will conduct additional training at Fort Bliss, Texas, alongside the unit it will support before deploying overseas.

The 128th’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Aaron Freund, invoked history as he addressed his assembled troops, their families and community leaders on hand at the send-off ceremony, noting the unit’s deep roots in Wisconsin military lore.

“The Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, come from a long line of professionals committed to the profession of arms,” Freund said. “We trace our history to the spring of 1861 when the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment joined with several other regiments to form the famous Iron Brigade, one of the most feared and respected units on either side in the Civil War.”

The 128th includes companies spread across West Central Wisconsin, including Company A in Menomonie, Company B in New Richmond with a detachment in Rice Lake, Company C in Arcadia with a detachment in Onalaska, and Company D in River Falls.

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, was quick to credit the communities, families and employers that support the National Guard and its soldiers. Without the support of any one of those three elements, he said, the guard simply could not succeed.

“You can see the pride in their eyes,” Dunbar said. “And I know there’s a little bit of nervousness, but I want to ensure each and every one of you that these soldiers are ready. This command team and our United States Army has made sure they’ve gotten and will get the best training possible, or we wouldn’t send them. They’re the best at what they do.”

Gov. Tony Evers also noted the service and sacrifice of the larger Wisconsin community, the families and the state’s employers.

“As your commander in chief, I’d just like to say I’m grateful to you and your families for your service to Wisconsin and our nation,” Evers said. “It is your service and sacrifice that helps ensure freedoms and liberties that we enjoy as Americans. It is you that helps ensure that these freedoms are passed on to the next generation.”

The governor said that the entire state is behind the soldiers of the 128th.

“I, along with millions of other Wisconsinites, will be thinking of you and praying for your safe return each and every day,” he said. “To your family members, we pledge our support to you as well. You bear an incredible amount of the burden when your soldier is deployed, and we are obviously grateful for all that you do.”