Guard on duty: Wisconsin sends troops to Afghanistan with vow to watch over families
La Crosse Tribune
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN — Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar promised nearly 150 members of the Wisconsin National Guard that their home state will look after their families during their deployment to Afghanistan.
Dunbar’s vow came during an emotional sendoff Saturday for members of the Platteville- and Prairie du Chien-based 229th Engineer Company and the Tomah-based Quarry Detachment. More than 1,000 people turned out to wish the soldiers well.
“You ask yourselves, ‘Am I ready?’ You bet you are,” Dunbar, adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard, told the soldiers.
“You ask, ‘Will my family be OK?’” he said. “You just focus on the mission. We back here in Wisconsin have your backs. You have my personal guarantee.”
Surveying the crowd filling the gym and spilling into the entryway, Dunbar said: “This is a crazy time in this country with everybody talking negative about the military. I think they should see this support for our soldiers.”
One of the most visible contingents was the immediate and extended family of Staff Sgt. Greg Geary of La Crosse, including his wife, Lindsey, their three daughters, his parents and several in-laws. Family members carried not only a large poster proclaiming “We (heart) Staff Sgt. Greg Geary” but also a 4-foot photo of his face.
Lindsey appeared to be trying to mask her worry as she and Greg and their girls, 6-year-old Hallie, 5-year-old Kaylee and 2-year-old Breleigh posed for photos with the poster and the picture.
The girls are sad “but the older two have been through this twice, so they have some idea,” she said, alluding to Geary’s previous deployments, to Kuwait and Iraq.
As for herself, “I’m holding up,” she said. “We’ve got Skype and email to keep in touch.”
Her 28-year-old husband said as family members swarmed him, “I’ve got a lot of support. I’ve just got to keep on.”
During the other deployments, the Gearys were able to contact each other once a day, Lindsey said, adding, “But we don’t know about Afghanistan.”
The soldiers, who now are en route to Fort Bliss, Texas, for 45 days of training before going to the Kandahar Province for construction missions, also don’t know how long they will be deployed. One spouse said it could be up to 400 days, but they just don’t know going in.
Speakers not only lauded the family and friends present for their support but also noted that they are the reason soldiers fight for freedom.
Quoting G.K. Chesterton, Capt. Jesse Augustine said, “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him but because he loves what is behind him.”
Augustine, commander of the 229th Engineer, said, “The 229th is the best-trained and equipped I’ve ever been deployed with. ... but we couldn’t do it without your support, wives, husbands, children, siblings.”
Among those contributing musically to the sendoff was Sgt. David Snyder of La Crosse, who plays tuba in the Guard’s 32nd Army Band.
“Our mission is to promote the nation and its heritage, and to instill in our troops the will to fight and win,” said Snyder, 31, a graduate of Central High School.
Among the dignitaries addressing the soldiers and family members was U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who said he had spoken to several family members as he walked in. “I noticed quivers in their voices and concern in their eyes,” he said.
“We can’t underestimate the danger,” he said, but added an assurance to families that the soldiers are the best trained in the world.
This deployment comes shortly after the death toll of U.S. troops in Afghanistan passed 2,000 since U.S. service members were deployed there after the Sept. 11, 2001, Taliban terrorist attacks against the U.S.
In May, President Barack Obama announced during a surprise trip to address troops at the U.S. Air Base in Bagram, Afghanistan, that U.S. military forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Maj. Gen. Dunbar expressed sadness about having to send the troops into harm’s way, saying, “I do not want to send you into combat. The president doesn’t want to send you into combat. ... Gov. Walker doesn’t want to send you into combat.
“But we have a strategic interest in Afghanistan. If you’re going to engage, you send the best, and that’s what we have to do here.”