Saturday, December 18, 2010

Medical college helps Madison-based unit that lost everything in mortar attack

We received this today from Maj. Matthew Lawrence, an Army public affairs officer who has helped keep us updated on the work on the Madison-based 911th Forward Surgical Team:

"I thought you might be interested in this. The 911th Forward Surgical Team
from Madison, Wis., lost virtually everything in a rocket attack in
September. The Medical College of Wisconsin sent a number of
computers they were life-cycling to the junior Soldiers to replace some of
their more expensive items lost in the fire."

The photos were taken by Army Maj. Patricia Olsen, a member of the 911th. Above,
Soldiers from team survey the damage in September after the nighttime attack destroyed their sleeping tent at a base in Iraq's Maysan Province along the Iran border. The soldiers lost most of their possessions and equipment in the fire. They were not in the tent when the rocket hit, and no injuries were reported in the unit.

At left is another view, a fire extinguisher stands amid the rubble, and below right, the "DELAYED" sign indicates that the team was anything but defeated.

Maj. Lawrence tells the soldiers were able to get out of the tent thanks to the base defense system:

"... many times, there is a warning
in advance while a mortar is detected in trajectory. I have been told
recently that the hit was actually not a mortar, but a 107mm rocket.
Apparently, those make a whistling sound when they come in. All of the Soldiers had taken shelter in a concrete bunker when they were alerted to the attack, and none were in danger when the rocket hit the tent."

Here is an item about the donations, written for by Medical College of Wisconsin officials for college employees:

The Department of Surgery, along with the departments of Pediatrics and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Tushaus Computer Services, recently shipped nine computers to Iraq for U.S. soldiers who lost theirs in a rocket attack. It is expected that the computers will arrive in time for Christmas.

Lewis B. Somberg, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery (Trauma and Critical Care), is assigned to the 911 Forward Surgical Unit, which was deployed to Iraq in May. Dr. Somberg was not able to go with the team because he is in Command School, but said that on the evening of Sept. 4, the base the unit was stationed on came under rocket attack. All members of the unit were able to safely make it to a bunker, but their sleeping tent, where their computers and all of their other personal belongings were located, was hit and burned to the ground. Members of the unit who used that tent lost everything.

“I can tell you from personal experience that having a computer over there is an absolute necessity,” Dr. Somberg said. “It is the only lifeline you have to your family and the world.”

David Gourlay, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery (Pediatric), is also part of the Surgical Unit and was stationed in Iraq when the rocket attack occurred.

“When I returned, I was proud to see that my department had spearheaded this effort,” said Dr. Gourlay. “It is particularly difficult for the junior enlisted personnel to replace more expensive items like a computer, and will mean so much to them to know people back home continue to keep them in mind.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

President recognizes McFarland dad during Medal of Honor ceremony

Mike Brennan, the father of Joshua Brennan, was among those recognized today at a White House ceremony awarding the first Medal of Honor to a living soldier since the Vietnam War.

The award went to Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who is credited with saving several members of his platoon and preventing the capture of his critically wounded friend, Sgt. Joshua Brennan of McFarland, a few miles south of Madison.

Joshua Brennan died from his wounds, and his father has made a mission of staying connected with other members of the unit.

The President's remarks are posted here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Paper Wall comes to Madison

The Paper Wall, a visual tribute to the 1,244 killed or missing in action from Wisconsin during the Vietnam War, opens today in the state Capitol, on the second floor rotunda.

The display continues until Sunday, Nov. 14.

Developed by the Brown County Library in association with dozens of statewide volunteers, this exhibit features obituaries and newspaper articles about Wisconsin’s fallen heroes from the Vietnam War.

Wisconsin Public Television, the Brown County Library, and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum are presenting the exhibit. It was first displayed in May at the LZ Lambeau event in Green Bay.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wisconsin's women soldiers: 'Watch your back'

She was a small-town girl who joined the Wisconsin National Guard to escape a life of repeated sexual abuse, but she found more of the same among her new band of brothers.

A fellow Wisconsin soldier raped her at Fort Bliss, Texas, where 3,200 members of the state Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team soldiers trained for weeks in 2009 before deploying to Iraq, she said.

"I do get nightmares and I do have really bad flashbacks," the woman said.

The Wisconsin native asked not to be identified in this article because she fears harassment from other soldiers.

"I don't want people to say ‘the girl is a whiner,'" she said.

While the experience has tormented her, reawakening painful memories of childhood assaults by family friends and boyfriends, the woman remains a loyal soldier because the military lifted her out of what she called a dead-end, small-town existence.

Read the full story in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Last chance to see Wisconsin exhibit on Iraq and Afghanistan fallen

Here's the word from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum:

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum will be closing “Faces in the Sand” and “The Rise of the Fallen” exhibits which honor the men and women who fought and fell in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, on Saturday, October 30, 2010.

The Museum needs to make room for the upcoming Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2011. Exhibits featuring some of the Museum’s rarest and most historically significant Civil War artifacts will replace “Faces in the Sand” and “The Rise of the Fallen.” A portion of “Faces in the Sand” will relocate permanently to the Museum’s 20th Century Gallery and “The Rise of the Fallen” will travel the state in 2011.

For more information, contact Jeff Kollath, Curator of Programs and Exhibitions, at (608) 261-0541. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is a free public educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and is located at 30 W. Mifflin St., across the street from the State Capitol. For more information go to

Sal Giunta will be awarded MOH on Nov. 16

The White House today announced the date for Sal Giunta's medal of honor ceremony.


Office of the Press Secretary


October 18, 2010

President Obama to Award Medal of Honor

On November 16, President Barack Obama will award Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Staff Sergeant Giunta will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan in October, 2007. Staff Sergeant Giunta's wife, Jennifer, and his parents, Steven and Rosemary Giunta will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

Further information about the media logistics for this ceremony will be released at a later date.


Salvatore Augustine Giunta was born on January 21, 1985. He is a native of Hiawatha, Iowa. He enlisted in the United States Army in November 2003. He attended Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Staff Sergeant Giunta is currently assigned to 2-503rd Infantry Battalion, Rear Detachment, Camp Ederle, Italy.

Staff Sergeant Giunta has completed two combat tours to Afghanistan totaling 27 months of deployment.

His military decorations include: the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal w/oak leaf cluster, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, two Army Good Conduct Medals, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, to name a few.

He is married to Jennifer Lynn Mueller. His parents are Steven and Rosemary Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa



The Medal of Honor is awarded to a member of the Armed Forces who distinguishes themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while:

engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hero talks of Wisconsin ties

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, has some strong ties to Wisconsin.

In the battle that led to President Barack Obama designating him for the medal, Giunta prevented Afghan attackers from carrying off a wounded Wisconsin soldier, Sgt. Josh Brennan.

Brennan's father, Mike Brennan, is a McFarland resident and a Madison police officer.

Josh Brennan's cousin Joseph Brennan of Mequon is serving in the same unit in Afghanistan. You can read about the Brennan family here.

In a Sept. 11 interview, Giunta told the Wisconsin State Journal that he hopes the medal will increase awareness of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He doesn't know how his life will change as the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but he hopes to be able raise awareness about what his fellow soldiers are experiencing.

"Nobody is over here is trick or treating, no one's handing out candy to us," he said.

Many in the military and elsewhere see life going on as usual in the United States while the wars continue to extract heavy sacrifices from those on the battlefields.

"We're sitting here in an air conditioned office in a reclining chair living this life, and we're able to live this life because there are people out there who are not living this life," Giunta said. "We'll spread the word. Sooner or later, they'll get tired of hearing it and they'll start listening."

In a press conference on Sept. 15, here's what Giunta told representatives of national media organizations:

And if other people don’t know, well, hopefully they’ll listen to this and they’ll remember that there’s out -- there’s men and women out there every single day giving everything for their country.

For more, read the State Journal's coverage on the day Giunta's medal was announced by the White House, and a preview article on July 4, 2010.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Emotional Wisconsin ties to Medal of Honor nominee

Family members of a Wisconsin soldier killed in Afghanistan believe that a member of his platoon may be on the verge of becoming the first living soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 24, (left) is credited with saving the lives of several fellow soldiers in a 2007 ambush that killed two, including Sgt. Joshua Brennan of McFarland.

Giunta charged the ambushers and prevented them from dragging the mortally wounded Brennan away, according to newspaper accounts and Brennan’s father, Michael Brennan of McFarland.

“Not only did he save Josh, so that we were able to have him back and have an open coffin at the funeral, he really saved half of the platoon,” said Brennan, a Madison police officer who has thanked Giunta and stayed in touch with other members of his son’s unit.

Read the story here.

In the photo at left, Mike Brennan of McFarland with a photo of his son, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, who was killed in a 2007 ambush in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Celebration will provide overdue recognition

Laura Gilbert is a volunteer leader for Operation Celebrate Freedom, a fun event scheduled for Saturday, May 15, at the Jefferson County Fair Park Activity Center and grounds.

I got started with Operation Celebrate Freedom because I felt that when my husband was deployed that not only did my community not only not know that he was gone, there was no recognition for his return home. Although we don't look for that recognition, it sure doesn't hurt to get it, so I felt with the 3,200+ troops that were deployed last year the time to give them ALL appreciation was NOW. So I approached a local business owner Randy Schopen of Capn's Catering in Jefferson and asked for his help getting people together to get the ball rolling. So in September we had our first meeting. We are a completely volunteer committee comprised of Military and non Military members who just believe that our troops deserve to be welcomed home in a special manner.

We started making plans to have music, food, beverages, as well as educational booths for the veterans returning home about thier benefits post deployment. It turns out that we are also having a motorcycle ride into the event from the five counties surrounding Jefferson County that will meet at the Jefferson VFW and stage there then ride to the fairgrounds down Hwy 26 to Puerner St into the fairgrounds, the final leg of the ride will have the support of the SE WI Patriot Guards flags, citizens will hold flags as the motorcycles ride through to the fairgrounds. Basically we will have bands, food, beverages, kids activities informational booths, and hopefully a day of fun for our Veterans and families and an opprotunity for the general public to show appreciation to our recently returning Veterans.I can only tell you that this whole thing just started for me because I could not let the troops from WI be treated in a negative way on their return home, they deserve to be shown that we appreciate what they do for us no matter what our views on the war are, they are still fighting for our Country, they are still volunteering to do what they do they deserve to be shown a little appreciation for what they do. And ,we must not also forget the sacrifices of the families and what they go through during deployment it is a rough road for them too, they go from two parent families to one parent families. The children are often times too young to understand when mom or dad are leaving and even when they are old enough they still don't always understand the reason behind why their parent must leave.
Deployment is a difficult thing to have to go through and not every family makes it through sucessfully but for the ones that do, it changes your life forever! Your life becomes "before deployment and after deployment" references. That is why this event is so important to me, for those who made it they desereve to be recognized! I am proud to be an American Military family now more than ever, and I hope that all Military families feel the same way, we really go through more than civilians can imagine!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wisconsin military family program honored at Pentagon

Sun Prairie's Janell Kellett, the Family Readiness Group leader for the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Wisconsin National Guard, was presented with a plaque during the 2009 Department of Defense Reserve Family Readiness Awards at the Pentagon on Friday. Awards went to the top program from each of the seven Guard and Reserve branches. Kellett - who recently told us about her visit with First Lady Michelle Obama -- and more than 100 other volunteers supported family readiness and morale during the 32nd IBCT's 12-month deployment. (American Forces Press Service photo)

Update: After I posted this, Janell was quick to email me the group photo -- you can't spell Family Readiness Group without the "group" -- showing other honorees: Top row: Karin Texidor, Becky Hynes, Catrina Bennett, Andrea Simonis and Pam Kletzien

Bottom Row: Janell Kellett and Tim Benz

Wisconsin WWII veterans fly high

Ninety seven Wisconsin veterans of World War II took an emotional, whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C. war memorials Saturday.

If you missed the Wisconsin State Journal coverage, you can find it here.
Our online package includes a very nice photo gallery (31 photos), and if you want to see even more stellar images, take a look at State Journal photographer Steve Apps' personal blog.

Steve and I heard dozens and dozens of stirring, funny and heartbreaking stories while researching the story spending the day with the veterans. We put as many as we could in the paper, and there will be opportunities in future editions to share more.

Folks in Beaver Dam asked that we use this blog to mention the names of the veterans from that area who were on the flight. Click here for the information in the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen.

If your are a veteran, on active duty, or a member of a Wisconsin military family, this blog is for you. Send your stories and photos to me at

For more information on Badger Honor Flight, click here.

-- Steve Verburg

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My visit with Michelle Obama

Janell Kellett is the lead volunteer for the Wisconsin National Guard Family Readiness Group. The photo at left show Janell in Washington, D.C. The photo below shows her in the White House Theater, where the reception was prior to the State of the Union address. Janell's husband, Mike, stayed there while she went to the Capital. She agreed to share the behind-the-scenes story of her very special trip.

I was invited by the First Lady and Dr. Biden to be their guest at the State of the Union Address in January 2010. I represented military families and the importance of volunteerism. Below is a detailed account of how this all came about.

January 12, 2010 – My very good friend and fellow military spouse, Jen Van Kirk, called me to let me know that she nominated me to be a guest of the First Lady at the State of the Union Address (SOTU.) Jen said she called me after the packet was submitted so that I wouldn’t talk her out of it. I thanked her for thinking of me and for the kind words she wrote in the nomination packet. Of course, I felt like I had little chance (basically no chance in hell) of actually being chosen to sit with Mrs. Obama. However, I was very grateful to Jen as she took the time to complete the packet and thought that what I had been doing over the past several years was worthy of such a great honor. My packet was forwarded to National Guard Bureau for consideration.
January 13, 2010 – I received an email that stated that National Guard Bureau forwarded my packet on and they said it was the only packet they forwarded for consideration. I was absolutely shocked. Again, what a great honor that National Guard Bureau would forward on the packet. I told my husband when he called me from Maine as he was on his way home from Iraq. He was very proud and thrilled. When I saw him at Volk Field I told him that I am not sharing this nomination information at this time because we don’t know anything yet. He informed me that he already told everyone he saw from the moment I told him in Maine until he saw me. It was wonderful that he was so happy, but I was trying to keep it quiet as I was confident that I would not be chosen.
January 18, 2010 – I picked my husband up at Volk Field, watched the last plane of our Soldiers come in and headed home. The kids and I were so glad to have him home. I was tired. Leading the FRG was a wonderful opportunity to serve and I was very proud of everything we had done, but I was just exhausted. It was such a relief to have my husband home and not have that constant worry in the back of my mind.
January 20, 2010 – I was sitting at my computer doing FRG work when the phone rang. It was Trooper Stanton calling from the White House. I turned around to see my husband hovering behind me and pointed at the phone mouthing “White House.” He chuckled and said he could hear and then stood there wide-eyed waiting to hear what was happening. Mr. Stanton then extended the invitation, to which I had no response, until I realized he was waiting for me to say something. A non-committal, “Wow” came out. He laughed and talked a bit longer until I realized that I had not accepted the invitation. So, I gratefully accepted the invitation. My husband was standing behind me whispering, “Do I get to go too?” Mr. Stanton informed me that I would be allowed to bring a guest so I turned and nodded to my husband. After we got off the phone I was just shocked for a minute or two and then I jumped up and down for a while. I even had to put the dog outside as he was getting all riled up so I could jump up and down some more. My husband did not jump up and down, because Infantryman do not do that kind of thing, but he did hug me. I then got on the phone to make some important calls as we had to inform the Wisconsin National Guard of course. I then called Jen Van Kirk to tell her the news. She jumped up and down in her law office while I jumped up and down in the house. I thanked her again since had she had not written the nomination this amazing opportunity wouldn’t have come to be. I set up child care for the kids and called a couple people and then I found out via email that I was not supposed to share the information until the White House releases the guest list…oops. So, I did my best to keep a lid on it from that point on.
January 21, 2010 – The “What do I wear?” panic set in. This is the first question that everyone asked when they found out I was going to the SOTU. I went to White House Black Market in Middleton and found a great suit. I ordered a beautiful pair of Stuart Weitzman heels off the internet, because a woman can really do anything if she has great shoes…it is a fact. I then felt a lot better. The next few days were a blur of shopping, calls from National Guard Bureau, calls from the Pentagon, calls from the White House etc. Just a crazy few days of strangeness. Packing was an issue as my husband could not understand why we would have to check bags when we were going to be in D.C. for less than 48 hours. A girl needs back up clothes in the event of a clothing emergency was my response. He accepted it and moved on.
January 22, 2010 – I mistakenly thought that I was one of several military spouses chosen to be the guests of the First Lady and Dr. Biden. I found out via email that I was representing all military spouses. I was again shocked, which is really a recurring theme for the next week. I was chosen because of the several years I have volunteered for the Wisconsin Army National Guard and because of the community service work that I have done.
January 26, 2010 – We leave for Washington D.C. – The phone started ringing at 7:30 AM until… basically for two days. Senator Kohl’s office called to set up a meeting for Wednesday and the local papers/television stations wanted information of course. I did phone interviews in the Madison, O’Hare and Reagan airports. My husband and I went to our hotel and walked to Old Ebbitt’s Grill a wonderful restaurant and bar in D.C. We had a lovely time just the two of us as it was our first alone (without the kids) time since he got home. My husband went from being in Baghdad to the White House within two weeks. Isn’t that incredible! Most of our dinner conversation consisted of me saying, “Can you believe this?”
January 27, 2010 – Mike and I start out the day by going to Senator Kohl’s office. He has staff that was absolutely wonderful to us and he was a very gracious host. We then went to the National Mall and walked around for a little bit. Again, I was conducting a lot of phone interviews and had to do an in studio interview so we didn’t have a lot of time. I really wanted to spread the message about volunteerism and how important it is to volunteer in the community so I did my best to get the word out while I had the chance.
SOTU – At 6:15 PM a car picked us up at our hotel and took us to the White House. I was impressed with the security precautions taken to ensure our safety and the safety of others throughout the whole night. We were taken to the East Sitting Room until they were ready for us. It was in this room that I met Kim Munley and Mark Todd the two officers that stopped the Ft. Hood massacre. It was a great opportunity to thank them for everything they had to do to protect our Servicemembers. This room has some beautiful portraits of former First Ladies in it. We were then escorted to the Theater down the hall. They had set up hors d'oeuvres and beverages for us. White House staff visited with us and I met the other amazing guests that were each representing a different segment of our population. Excited doesn’t begin to explain the feeling during the night. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of it and very proud to have been asked. I thought of other military spouses and volunteers while I was there and did my best to make them proud. After about 45 minutes or so we all were asked to sit in the theater and Mrs. Obama came down and made a brief speech. She welcomed us all and pointed out that each of us was asked to be there for a special reason and how grateful she was we could attend. She had to leave and join the President to go over to the Capitol. She was absolutely lovely and gracious. This is when I parted with my husband. He stayed at the White House to watch the SOTU on the screen there while the 23 guests of the First Lady went to the Capitol for the speech. We were taken to the Capitol and escorted upstairs to the box.
We were in our seats by 8:15 PM so there was plenty of time to visit and look around. It was absolutely amazing. To see the President, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs and our government officials all in the same room was just incredible. Everything about the experience was incredible. I simply still can’t believe that I was there. After the speech was over, the guests were escorted downstairs to stand in line and meet the President and First Lady. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous, very nervous actually. Up until this point I was just very excited, but the nerves kicked in at this point. I gave the President and First Lady a Red Arrow lapel pin. The Red Arrow is the symbol for the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. We talked for a minute or two and I thanked them for this amazing opportunity. The photographer took our picture and I was off. We went back to the White House to pick up my husband and then back to the hotel. Mike and I then changed and went out for the night. I was too excited to even consider sleeping and didn’t really go to sleep until about 4 AM. I checked my email and Facebook page before I went to bed and I had received many emails from my wonderful family and friends about the experience. It was really very exciting to see how much enjoyment others got from this as well so that was really an added benefit to the entire experience.
January 28, 2010 – Mike and I went to see Senator Feingold. Senator Feingold and his staff were very gracious to us as well. It was very kind of them to invite us to the office. Secretary Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, invited us to his office for a luncheon along with the other veterans that attended the SOTU. He, his Chief of Staff, his Undersecretary and staff were absolutely great. It was a great honor to be their guests. Secretary Shinseki talked about the importance of Family Readiness Groups and he really understands the importance of the FRG and the support of military families for our Servicemembers. Secretary Shinseki is a retired general and former Chief of Staff for the Army. It was a great honor to speak with him. He gave us his coin and a very nice lapel pin as did his Chief of Staff, John Gingrich. They were all wonderful hosts and we very much appreciated the invitation.
Since we got home, Mike and I have shared our Washington D.C. trip details with great excitement. My husband jokes that he was just “and Guest” to the White House. However, everything we do is a team effort and if it weren’t for his service we would not have been invited on the amazing journey. I am very grateful for all the cards, emails and calls of congratulations. It really means a lot to us.
March 6, 2010 – Every year in March the Kellett family has our Diamond Lil Christmas Party. Diamond Lil was my grandmother and although she has passed away we still continue the family tradition. The party was dedicated to my husband and I for our service. I had a great time showing off my White House memorabilia, which includes a signed picture from Senator Kohl, a thank you note from Mrs. Obama and a White House cocktail napkin. It was a wonderful party.
March 15, 2010 – After many trips to the mailbox, the picture is finally here. I was at the front window of my house talking to a military spouse when I saw the mailman. He put a large manila envelope in my box that looked a lot like a few others that have come from Washington D.C.. I told my friend to hang on while I ran out to the mailbox like I was being chased by someone really scary. It was in fact the picture of myself along with President and First Lady. How fantastic. I look at the picture and still find it hard to believe that I was chosen to represent our military spouses and volunteers in such an amazing way. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.

There's more: On April 16th , 2010 the volunteers from the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team will receive an award at the Pentagon for outstanding Family Readiness.

Meet Janell Kellett

A World Away is shifting gears, and opening its doors to all Wisconsin military families. If you have a story to tell, contact Steve at

Today, meet Janell Kellett:

I am Janell Kellett and I am the full-time Family Readiness Group (FRG) volunteer for the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. I say “full-time” because volunteering becomes a full time job when your unit is preparing to deploy and does deploy. The primary function of the FRG is to pass on important information from the military to the families of our Soldiers. We do this via email, newsletter and by having a phone tree set up to contact families with important information. We also set up social events for families so they get an opportunity to make friends with other parents, siblings, spouses and friends of Soldiers.
I have the pleasure of working with the most amazing volunteers. I am so proud of them and of what they have accomplished over the years. I was a lead volunteer in the FRG during both of my husband’s deployments. His first deployment was from August 2005 – November 2006. His second deployment was with Headquarters Company of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team from February 2009 until January 2010. Throughout this deployment the 32nd Brigade FRG leadership decided that we wanted to focus the families on community service to show our appreciation to the community and help keep them focused on something positive throughout the deployment. We set up community service events for the families and partnered with other service organizations in the community to show our support to our community.
Our individual groups of families did a variety of things to support the community. For example, one group conducted a community wide clothing drive for our homeless Veterans, another group of families conducted a coat drive for children in need, a group of military families along with the Boy Scouts and other groups conducted a carnival with the proceeds donated to the local elementary school. These are just a few examples of the great things our military families have accomplished in 2009 to support their community.
A few things that I organized in 2009 were a team for the Race for the Cure, a diaper/wipes drive for a local food pantry in Madison, I organized a group of military families to man a watering station for the Madison Mini-Marathon, I set up a food drives for Second Harvest and another local food pantry. I also organized Servicemembers and families to ring bells for the Salvation Army in December. I have been a military spouse for 12 years and have been active in the FRG since we got married.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wisconsin teen follows slain cousin's path to dangerous eastern Afghanistan

When Army Sgt. Joshua Brennan of McFarland was killed in Afghanistan in 2007, it only stiffened the resolve of his 17-year-old cousin, Joseph, to join the fight.

“After Josh died, I told Joseph, ‘You can’t be getting out there for vengeance to find Josh’s killer,’ ” said Joseph’s father, Terry Brennan of Mequon. “But that wasn’t it. He was proud of what Josh did and wanted to follow in Josh’s footprints.”

Joseph, now 19, followed more closely than anyone in his big Wisconsin family expected.

Above: family photo shows Pvt. Joseph Brennan of Mequon and his fiance, Emily Barikmo, a UW-Milwaukee student.

Read the full story in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ups and downs of liberty in Beaver Dam

From Nick Druecke in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, roughly 6,339 miles from his post at Camp Taji, Iraq. Nick is in the regular Army. He just happens to be home on leave just as 3,200 state Guard soldiers have returned to their homes at the end of a yearlong deployment. He offers a little advice.

What is it like being on leave? Well honestly there is a certain amount of duality to it; because everything is different now, but nothing has really changed. It's been over a year since I was last home, and Beaver Dam has changed very little in that time. Yet my friends and family are all scattered to the four winds. I will give you a little run down of my life on leave.

My father picked me up from the Milwaukee airport and we started driving home, when it occurred to me that I didn't have any civilian clothes at home, so we stopped at a WalMart so I could pick up some cheap jeans and t shirts. After taking a few steps into the stop I was honestly a little disoriented, the enormity of the store combined with all the sales and advertisements seriously left me a little daunted. I told my dad to stop for a second so I could get my bearings. That might seem a little cheesy, but I swear it happened. Next time you walk into a WalMart just take a moment to look at the shear size of them, you might be a little amazed.

So after that I go home, shower, and begin to relax. Over the course of the next few days I hang out with the few friends who are still in town, have a few drinks, and share mutual boredom with them. Of course you have to see your family, and it's a little funny how that works. Everybody knows that your time home is limited in the service, yet they are always unable to come and see you, you have to go see them. It's a little frustrating at times. As you might imagine most people have the same questions, so you begin to develop a sales pitch of what Iraq is like. While I do understand that people are curious, it can be a bit annoying to answer the same questions every time you meet someone. Not much you can do about it though, just take it in stride with a grain of salt.

So while my friends are all off doing different things with their lives, in different parts of the world (mostly Wisconsin) I am at home. I no longer have a car, and I have been away from everything so long that I no longer know what peoples work schedules are.

"Is school in?", "Do you work today?", "Do you have any free time on Tuesday?", "Where can I meet up with you?" All these questions have frequently left my mouth, and are usually left unanswered.

I think I am painting this picture a little black, which I didn't intend to do. Leave has been awesome, I was just expressing some of the complications I run into. The only really huge difference between life over there and here, is the time schedule. Even when we have days off over there we still have things to do, you work every day of the week, weekends don't exist in a combat zone. I go from working literally 24/7, to having nothing to do. Stress levels at 99% go down to zero. You get so used to being busy in Iraq that you feel like you should be doing something on leave. I go to the gym mostly everyday, yet I still feel uneasy about just sitting around. In the 8 or 9 days I have been home I have slept in my own bed twice, I can't help but run around until I find something to do with someone. Usually that runs long into the night, and I end up crashing there.

I don't want anyone to get the wrong message here, leave has been a blast for me, and I don't want it to end. It's just very difficult to readjust to a lifestyle that is so calm. So if anybody out there has a soldier back from "over there" please be patient with them, it just takes some time.

Live from Wisconsin,

(Large photo: From left, Nick Druecke, Raj Renfro, Tyler Schreiner, Matthew Odum)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Madison troops come home from Iraq

Amy Alston embraces her husband, Maj. Jeffrey Alston, of Madison, at a homecoming for the 105th CAV at the Wisconsin National Guard Armory on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Mike DeVries - The Capital Times

Amy Alston, left, Sarah Marks, center, and daughter Kaitlin Marks, 12, anxiously await the arrival of soldiers for their homecoming at the Wisconsin National Guard Armory on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Alston is waiting for her husband, Maj. Jeffrey Alston. Sarah and Kaitlin Marks are waiting for their husband and father, respectively. Mike DeVries - The Capital Times

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Homecoming halfway point draws near

More than 1,200 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers were back in the state as of this morning with another planeload expected today and two more tomorrow, officials said.

While the number of soldiers on each plane hasn't been confirmed, a Guard press release estimates a total of 750 will come home on the next three flights into Volk Field.

That would bring the total to about three-fifths of the roughly 3,200 who were mobilized a year ago.

Guard officials hope to have all the soldiers back before the end of the month.

Units expected home today and tomorrow are from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, Fond du Lac; soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, Appleton and Clintonville; 829th Engineer Company, Chippewa Falls, Richland Center and Ashland; soldiers from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, Portage; some members of Company A , 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Onalaska; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, Appleton and Clintonville; Company B, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, Green Bay; Company B (Support Maintenance), 257th Brigade Support Battalion, Kenosha; and some members of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry, Madison and Troop C, Reedsburg.

For a recap of the homecomings so far click here.

Family members have instructions on how to confirm estimated flight times. The homecomings are not open to the public.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More coverage of Fort Atkinson Marine Lance Cpl. Meinert

A Fort Atkinson Marine who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday is being remembered as a quiet but funny young man who had a passion for jazz band in high school.

“He was a very funny, loving boy,” said Michael Edquist, the stepfather of Lance Cpl. Jacob Meinert, 20, who Edquist said died from injuries he suffered from the blast of an explosive device. “We’re not sure if he stepped on it or was standing close to it. They couldn’t tell us.”

Maj. Alan Crouch, public affairs officer at the Hawaii base where Meinert was stationed, said he couldn’t confirm the specifics of Meinert’s death.

Read the Wisconsin State Journal story by Samara Kalk Derby here.

Above is the last photo that Jacob Meinert took of himself in December before leaving Hawaii for deployment in Afghanistan. He sent the digital camera with this photo to his brother in Fort Atkinson.

Next stage of Wisconsin Guard deployment is that first year back home

Veterans coming back from long overseas tours must cope with changes they’ve undergone in dangerous, foreign environments, and in the way life at home has changed as well.
Read the Wisconsin State Journal story here.

500 more Wisconsin National Guard back from Iraq soon

Another big chunk of the biggest operational deployment of Wisconsin National Guard troops since World War II will be coming back home on Wednesday.

About 500 of the more than 3,000 soldiers in the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team will be returning to Wisconsin on Wednesday after spending the past eight months in Iraq.

Two flights are expected to arrive at Volk Field near Fort McCoy on Wednesday, said Lt. Col. Jackie Guthrie of the Guard's public affairs office in a news release.

For a story in The Capital Times click here.

For La Crosse Tribune coverage of the homecoming for 290 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers Monday click here.

For Wisconsin State Journal coverage of the first wave of 115 returning Wisconsin Guard soldiers on Tuesday, Jan. 5, click here.

For video from The Capital Times click here.

Fort Atkinson recalls fallen Marine as good, quiet kid

Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert was killed when he stepped on a landmine while serving with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, a family member said.
For Wisconsin State Journal coverage click here.
For Racine Journal-Times coverage click here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

They're back

The first wave of Wisconsin National Guard soldiers is scheduled to return home Tuesday after a yearlong deployment that included seven months in Iraq, officials announced this afternoon. The 3,200 soldiers made up the largest operational deployment of the Wisconsin Guard since World War II.

Click here for continuing coverage from the Wisconsin State Journal.