Thursday, November 19, 2009

November roundup from Baghdad PAO

From Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, public affairs officer for the Wisconsin National Guard in Baghdad:

With a little less than two months left in the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat
Team's mission in Iraq, this is an update on some of our units from their
locations around the country over the past month.

When detainees at Camp Cropper want to get under the skin of
guard force soldiers from the 829th Engineer Company, they employ a
tactic that would be more at home along the St. Croix River than inside
a theater internment facility in Iraq: they needle the Wisconsin Guard
troops about Brett Favre's success as a Minnesota Viking.

It seems the Green Bay Packers logos that sprouted up all over Camp
Cropper since May tipped off detainees that Packer fans were in the
house. It's a small world.

The 3,200 men and women of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team have
accomplished a lot during their time in Iraq so far: big accomplishments
like closing the largest detention facility on Earth at Camp Bucca;
small accomplishments like winning the flag football championship at
Camp Cropper.

And wherever they are serving in Iraq, Red Arrow soldiers are making a

Here is what some of our units want their Wisconsin hometowns to know
about their service in Iraq--the big things, the small things, and all
of the individual and organizational accomplishments in between.

Headquarters, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Camp Douglas)

The 32nd Brigade's headquarters continues working to change the face of
Baghdad's International Zone--the government quarter in the center of
the Iraqi capital--and to keep it secure. Since taking over their
mission as Joint Area Support Group-Central May 27, the Wisconsin troops
have returned 19 properties covering more than 70 acres from U.S. to
Iraqi control. The properties include Ibn Sina Hospital, made famous in
the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER," along with former U.S. military
compounds and a palace once used by Saddam Hussein. Before they're
finished, the JASG will turn over a half-dozen more properties, and a
significant part of this city once dominated by U.S. military forces
will be run by the government of Iraq.

As properties changed hands during the past year, responsibility for
security for the International Zone also shifted, from U.S.-led efforts
up until the end of 2008 to Iraqi forces in the months since. These
developments in Baghdad are important for the entire nation, and 32nd
Brigade soldiers from Wisconsin are at the very center of them.

Company A, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion (Janesville, Elkhorn)

Few soldiers on forward operating bases in Iraq deal with a more diverse
group of customers than those who work in the convoy staging lanes. At
Camp Bucca, this is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation that supports
all military and civilian convoys either entering or departing the
southern Iraq base. In a typical day, staging lanes personnel from
Alpha Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion receive and stage as many
as 40 civilian trucks that haul everything from fuel to mail to
hamburger patties for the camp's Burger King restaurant. By
deployment's end, the Janesville and Elkhorn-based troops will have
processed more than 3,000 trucks with drivers from Vietnam, Pakistan,
Turkey, India, the Philippines, Iraq and Kuwait, to name a few.

Spc. Michael Vallarta, West Allis, describes the most challenging part
of this mission as "dealing with people who don't speak English, and
then they get mad at you for not understanding what they are saying."
Vallarta said the language barrier can cause both sides to get
frustrated with each other, and cultural differences make it even more
difficult for female soldiers who often have a harder time getting male
truck drivers to follow their instructions.

The best part of the staging lanes mission, according to Spc. Ashley
Mullis, Whitewater: "It's bonding with other soldiers." Mullis says it
is much easier to get to know the other soldiers in the unit when they
work closely together every day.

Company A, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Waupun, Ripon)

The soldiers of Waupun's Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry
conduct detainee operations and operate the modular detainee housing
unit at Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad. Camp Taji's detainees are
some of the least compliant detainees in Iraq, according to Capt. Eric
Krueger, Mayville.

"Alpha Company troops work in the most extreme conditions and with the
most violent detainees at Camp Taji and Iraq, and they are doing an
outstanding job," Krueger reports. "They continue to make me proud to
be their commander and continue to do a great job in one of the most
difficult and important missions in Iraq."

Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Fond du Lac)

Soldiers of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry were among
the Wisconsin troops from several units that worked through October to
close the theater internment facility at Camp Bucca.

"We completed the detainee air transport mission last month by providing
security for the transfer of more than 7,000 detainees from Camp Bucca
to COB (Contingency Operating Base) Basra for further transport from May
to October," said Capt. Tony Klemme, Green Bay, Charlie Company's

The Fond du Lac-based company continues to provide security on a combat
outpost and will soon take over a U.S. Air Force route and area security
mission for more than 125 square miles in southern Iraq.

"We have also driven more than 120,000 incident-free miles conducting
'Bucca to Buehring Express' missions, driving from Iraq to Kuwait and
back, escorting soldiers and civilians going home on leave and pass,"
Klemme said.

Company D, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (Marinette)

Marinette's Delta Company started out in May at Camp Bucca, but moved
north to Camp Taji as Bucca's detainee population shifted to other

"Operationally, things have been rolling along nice and steady and
mundane," according to Capt. Nathan Olson, Columbus. "In our
environment (an internment facility), 'mundane' is the goal."

Olson reports no shortage of volunteers to help with customs inspections
as the company prepares its extra gear for shipment home. This is a
sure sign that the deployment is nearing an end. Another sign: with
low temperatures at Taji now in the 50's, soldiers are starting to wear
fleece jackets and watch caps in the chilly evenings. A few months ago,
the word "chilly" wasn't in any of these soldiers' vocabularies.

Battery A, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery (Marshfield)

Like other units with detainee missions, Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion,
120th Field Artillery works around the clock at Camp Cropper. But 1st
Sgt. Scott Peplinski, Pulaski, reports that not even graveyard shifts or
an especially challenging mission can keep 1st and 2nd Platoons from
finding time for a little recreation.

"Both of the platoons are engaging in some friendly, semi-competitive
sporting activities, including 'Midnight Madness,' where 2nd Platoon
scratches together a little four-on-four basketball after shift at 0200
in the morning...(and) 1st Platoon stays active with a football league
they are throwing together and near daily basketball or volleyball after
shift," Peplinski said.

Two soldiers, Sgts. Don Furrer, Wisconsin Rapids, and Eric Trubee,
Marshfield, were recently awarded Army Achievement Medals for
outstanding work they have done to support the battery's mission. Staff
Sgt. Raymond Weaver, Spencer, Wis., was inducted into the prestigious
Audie Murphy Club after studying for months and completing three
challenging boards. Audie Murphy was the most highly decorated U.S.
soldier in World War II and the club named for him admits only the very
best of the Army's NCO corps.

Alpha Battery soldiers appreciate all the care packages and phone cards
they have received from the unit's family readiness group and from the
American Legion post in Marshfield.

Company A, 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion (Onalaska)

Company A, 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion reports the unit's
soldiers are doing well and looking forward to returning home in

"Our time here is quickly coming to a close and we find that... we have
been doing a mission vastly different than that which we trained for or
that many within our company anticipated or wanted," said Capt. Shawn
Vele, Milwaukee. The company normally has an engineer mission, but not
in Iraq, where soldiers have been working in detainee operations at the
theater internment facility at Camp Taji. As Wisconsin National Guard
troops always do, though, the engineer soldiers adapted to their new

"Our unit has done extremely well and been recognized by both military
police battalions we have fallen under during this deployment for our
professionalism and ability in detainee operations," Vele said.

Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry (Arcadia, Onalaska)

Autumn is football-watching season for some of the 32nd Brigade's
Arcadia and Onalaska-based soldiers during their time off at the four
forward operating bases where they are assigned. Charlie Company, 1st
Battalion, 128th Infantry soldiers gather every weekend to watch college
and NFL football games shown on American Forces Network television.

On Oct. 6, the company had a tailgate party for the first Packer-Viking
game of the season. Soldiers had a good time grilling fresh steaks sent
from the states and watching the game on a large projection screen. The
downside: the Monday Night Football contest didn't start until 3 a.m. in
Iraq, and the game's outcome was more than disappointing. But more than
50 gifts from supporters in Wisconsin were distributed to the troops to
take away a little bit off the sting of the Packer loss.

Soldiers get mail twice a week. Packages and letters have been coming
in steadily, providing soldiers with snacks, necessities and news and
photos from back home.

Company B, 257th Brigade Support Battalion (Kenosha)

Capt. Sean Phelps, Oak Creek, reports that Bravo Company, 257th Brigade
Support Battalion is "happy, healthy and ready to finish strong."

Phelps said the detainee guard force mission on Forward Operating Base
Cropper has proved to be both challenging and rewarding. "Even though
the weather has started to cooperate, the days are still long and work
is still exhausting," Phelps said.

The Kenosha-based soldiers are also helping to train a corps of Iraqi
correctional officers who will take over Cropper's internment facility
when U.S. forces eventually depart. "Even though we will turn this
mission over to another unit soon, it's exciting to know our initial
efforts will help advance the Iraqi corrections system to a level
consistent with our standards of dignity and respect," Phelps said.

Bravo Company has in its ranks one of the nation's newest citizens.
Sgt. Anna Duncan, Minneapolis, was sworn in as a citizen of the United
States of America during a Veterans Day naturalization ceremony at
Al-Faw Palace near Baghdad. Duncan, a native of the Caribbean island
nation of St. Lucia, was among more than 150 service members who became
U.S. citizens at the event hosted by Multi National Corps-Iraq
commander, Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr.

Flag football bragging rights on Camp Cropper now belong to Bravo
Company following the company's 40-26 FOB championship victory over the
previous champs from Task Force 14.

Company D, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion (Baraboo, Madison)

Baraboo-based Delta Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion has seen
its mission take a new direction now that the theatre internment
facility at Camp Bucca has been officially closed, and soldiers are now
performing jobs that are more directly related to their military
occupational specialties (MOS).

"Soldiers are very excited to gain experience conducting their actual
MOS during this deployment," said Capt. Craig Jansen, Milwaukee, who is
Delta Company's commander. "This is an opportunity that not many
soldiers get conducting SECFOR (security force) missions, especially
those coming from a support company," Jansen said.

Now comes the daunting task of tearing down the largest theater
internment facility in Iraq, as many Delta Company soldiers are assigned
as a demolition team to start deconstruction of the TIF.

Troop A, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Fort Atkinson)

Capt. Matthew McDonald reports that soldiers of Alpha Troop, 1st
Squadron, 105th Cavalry will be extremely busy as they prepare to return
home in the next few months. McDonald notes that upcoming Iraqi
elections will require his troops to remain vigilant against those who
might try to discredit the government and destabilize the country in the
months ahead.

To keep in touch with home, 1st Lt. Mark Weigel's troopers in northern
Iraq are corresponding with new pen pals from Cushing Elementary School
in Delafield, Wis. "The first graders there are learning about us and
Iraq," Weigel said. "They've sent us pictures they've drawn and we've
sent them Iraqi currency and a reference sheet to read Arabic numbers."

Weigel said his troops are working with the Delafield kids to collect
school supplies for a small orphanage in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Home-cooked American food is on most soldiers' lists of things they're
looking forward to when they get back to Wisconsin. According to 1st
Lt. Eric Giese, his troopers are mightily bored with Iraq's ubiquitous
chicken kabobs. "We have had plenty of kabobs up here, as every
restaurant has the same menu unless you have a restaurant by a river and
then you can have fish," Giese reports.

One condiment most of the troops enjoy is "Family Sauce," which is made
in Iraq and tastes a little like A.1. Sauce. "The secret to this sauce
is 'intensifiers,'" Giese said. "It is on the ingredients label but, for
the love of God, no one knows what intensifiers are."

32nd Military Police Company (Milwaukee, Oconomowoc)

The Milwaukee and Oconomowoc-based 32nd Military Police Company is
providing overwatch support at Forward Operating Base Future's entry
control points, in addition to maintaining a quick reaction force.
Wisconsin's MP soldiers are also at the center of efforts to turn over
all detainee operations to the Iraqi government.

A dozen soldiers of the 32nd MP Company were recently honored by Brig.
Gen. David Quantock for their efforts in transporting 2,882 Iraqi
government prisoners during one eight-day period in September. Quantock
reminded the soldiers of the importance of their mission and the vital
role it plays in turning over the last of the detainees in U.S. custody
to the government of Iraq and moving the U.S. closer to closing all of
its theater internment facilities in Iraq.

By mid-November, the 32nd Military Police Company had conducted 170
missions, including transporting more than 10,000 detainees during
detainee air transport missions conducted at all hours of the day and

Troop C, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Reedsburg)

Reedsburg-based Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry is
headquartered at Joint Base Balad north of Baghdad, but most of the
troop's soldiers are widely dispersed throughout Iraq. The Charlie
Troopers who were at Balad on Oct. 30 got a visit from 32nd Brigade
commander, Col. Steven Bensend, and brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Edgar

Bensend and Hansen get around to other brigade locations whenever they
can, and Balad was the last of the brigade's major locations to get a

Few Wisconsin communities have embraced their deployed hometown soldiers
as warmly as Reedsburg has. The soldiers have received several thousand
cards and letters, lots of local cheese, and a giant banner signed by
hundreds of hometown supporters hangs outside the troop's operations

Every day these soldiers report for their duties they are reminded of
the support they have at home.

Troop B, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Watertown)

Bravo Troop's new one-hole golf course became the latest improvement to
Camp Cropper Nov. 3. The unit received a box of golf balls and a few
clubs a couple months earlier from the Red Arrow Club in Milwaukee, but
the troops had no place to use them until two enterprising soldiers,
Spc. Craig Detert, Watertown, and Staff Sgt. Casey Freeman, Fort
Atkinson, created the "course" outside the troop's command post.

"It may only be a one-hole course, but it is pretty nice considering the
limitations they had to work with," said 1st Sgt. Thomas Bruss,
Appleton. "It only has one water hazard but it has lots of sand
traps--lots and lots of sand traps."

Bravo Troop continues to execute its base defense mission, manning entry
control points and a quick reaction force for Camp Cropper and the
western portion of Victory Base Complex. The QRF periodically conducts
exterior patrols of the troop's area of operations outside Victory Base
to detect vulnerabilities and become familiar with the area in the event
soldiers are called on to respond to an outside-the-wire incident.

The troop's exterior patrols have recently been supported by an air
weapons team, which the soldiers find reassuring. "It was nice having
air support for this (recent) mission since we were dismounted," said
Staff Sgt. Ryan Johnson, Eagle, Wis. "It makes you feel a little safer
since the enemy doesn't like to show themselves with Apaches flying

In late October, Bravo Troop received care packages from a family nobody
in the unit knew. From an enclosed letter and photographs, soldiers
learned that the Leinstock family in Watertown had an Army-themed
birthday party for their 5-year-old son, and the kids then assembled a
couple care packages for the hometown National Guard unit to thank
Watertown's troops for their service.

"We thought it was a very nice gesture from friendly, caring people we
have never met," Bruss said.

Bravo Troop also received care packages of candy, snacks, magazines and
DVDs from 6th and 8th grade classes at St. Bernard's church in

Troopers who took part in "Tailgating with the Troops" Oct. 18 say they
appreciated the tireless efforts of those back home who worked so hard
to make it happen. Many of the soldiers were able to talk to their
families on webcams over the Internet. "It was a wonderful opportunity
to see and talk with my 12-year-old son, Nathan," said Sgt. 1st Class
Ken Tennies of Jefferson. "(Nathan) said he had a great time at the
event in Madison and he especially enjoyed making a poster."

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry

Soldiers from Appleton's 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry knew from their
2006 deployment that residents of the southern Iraqi cities of Safwan
and Umm Qasr led difficult lives, so even before the battalion's current
deployment began, plans were underway to help them.

More than 3,200 pounds of school supplies, toys, clothes and hygiene
items were donated from Wisconsin and five other states, and by August
the packages started rolling in from families, co-workers, businesses,
church groups and community organizations.

The items were divided up and delivered to each of the cities at the end
of October.

"It was amazing to see the number of children lined up, their eyes all
excited as they paraded through the line receiving the items," said Maj.
John Oakley, Appleton. "With the donations we were able to help 400

829th Engineer Company (Chippewa Falls, Richland Center, Ashland)

When they're not being teased by detainees about Brett Favre's purple
football jersey--and even when they are--the soldiers of the 829th
Engineer Company from Chippewa Falls, Richland Center and Ashland are
busy with their detainee operations mission at Camp Cropper.

For engineer soldiers assigned to the company's Repairs and Utilities
Section, the work is familiar. "We are still involved in making
hundreds of wooden products, pouring concrete, fixing fences and, in
general, doing what it takes to support the main mission of TIF
operations," said 1st Lt. Joel Busboom, New Berlin, the section's
officer in charge. "The end is in sight now, however we know that the
end of our tour doesn't mean it's time to relax."

Staff Sgt. Mark Meuer, La Crosse, is night shift lead for one of the
compounds and claims "the hardest working soldiers of the 32nd Brigade"
have made the place a lot better. "The compound improvement projects
still continue, such as replacing sniper screen, painting, and
everybody's favorite, filling and replacing sandbags," Meuer said.

Some of the 829th's soldiers are using their time off after their
12-hour workdays to better themselves. According to the company's
senior medic, Sgt. 1st Class Ginger Macdonald, Muskego, 17 soldiers are
enrolled in a 153-hour emergency medical technician course. These
soldiers will come home with extra skills they hope to use as they
continue or pursue civilian careers in medicine or emergency services.
"(This is) not an easy task to complete with the day-to-day
responsibilities of soldiering and deployment and, oh yeah, getting
ready to redeploy back to Wisconsin," Macdonald noted.

The main job at Camp Cropper, though, is guarding detainees. Sgt. 1st
Class Andrew Traaholt, Ashland, reports the last few weeks have been a
bit busier, but "detainees seemed to settle into their zones, and the
temperatures cooled off, which helped everyone."

"The compound guard force has installed new sniper screen around their
compounds, along with many other projects to make the TIF look and run
better, and there are Red Arrows adorning every compound," Traaholt
said. "Whoever replaces the soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National
Guard will have a hard act to follow, as Wisconsin soldiers are some of
the hardest working soldiers in the nation."

As the 32nd Brigade's soldiers head into the final two months of their
time overseas, the change of seasons in Iraq is attempting to prepare
them for their return to Wisconsin. The high temperature in Baghdad
Nov. 18 was only 62 degrees and the overnight low is forecast to be down
around 40. It's not January-in-Wisconsin weather yet, to be sure, but
high temperatures are more than 60 degrees cooler than the troops were
experiencing just a few months ago.

They'll be ready for Wisconsin.