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Area National Guard units still preparing for possible deployment

Local National Guard soldiers and their families were likely glued to the State of the Union Address presented by President Barack Obama last week.

Among Obama's key points in his speech was a proposed draw down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in early 2014. His plan is to reduce the fighting force in that war-torn country by half, from 66,000 down to around 32,000.

The news has the soldiers assigned to Company B, 1-128th Infantry National Guard units in New Richmond and River Falls wondering what's in store for them. Wisconsin National Guardsmen who are members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade, including River Falls and New Richmond-based units, were notified last fall that they may be called up to another overseas deployment during 2013.

The general announcement went out to about 3,200 soldiers in 34 Wisconsin communities statewide at that time. Many assumed that the troops, if deployed, could end up in Afghanistan. The deployment was slated to support Operation Enduring Freedom but gave no specific location for the call-up.

In a telephone interview last week, Maj. Paul Rickert said even with the president's announcement, state National Guard officials are moving forward to prepare for deployment, perhaps as early as this fall. Rickert, director of communications with the Wisconsin National Guard, said it's possible that the deployment could be changed or cancelled, but officials must continue to move forward as if the troops will be heading overseas.

"We will be ready to respond to the needs of the Army and the commander in chief," Rickert said. Rickert added that it's too early to set a date for possible deployment, and no announcement of a possible location for the deployment would come until Guard officials know for sure that troops are being called up. It's also possible, Rickert said, that only a portion of the 32nd Infantry Brigade will be called up if a deployment occurs, making it impossible to know what specific units could be part of a future overseas mission.

The 32nd Brigade last deployed in 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The brigade performed multiple missions at numerous locations in Iraq, including base security and detainee operations. Current Department of Defense policy calls for a 12-month mobilization, which includes nine months overseas.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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