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Local guardsmen bound for Iraq

Five of Hudson's sons are bound for Iraq, part of the first overseas operational deployment of a state National Guard combat arms unit since World War II.

A send-off for the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry of the Wisconsin National Guard took place on Veterans Day at Camp Shelby, Miss.

Among the 680 Wisconsin soldiers applauded were Spc. Collin Gilbert, son of Bill and Carol Gilbert of North Hudson; Doug and Dave Till, sons of Herb and Karen Till of Hudson; and Jake and Micah Swift, sons of Jim and Mary Swift of North Hudson.

The Hudson soldiers served with Company D at River Falls before being called to active duty last June.

Since leaving Wisconsin June 23, they've trained in Mississippi for four months and at Fort Irwin in California for a month. It was the Army's intent that the hot weather at those facilities prepare them for the heat of Iraq.

The National Training Center at Fort Irwin is the Army's premier heavy maneuver combat training center. It is the only instrumented training facility in the world suitable for force-on-force and live fire training of brigade-sized military forces.

The Milwaukee Journal reported that the Wisconsin soldiers worked on basic infantry training first, and then trained for the specific missions they'll be performing in Iraq - urban warfare, combat patrols and securing bases.

"They won't be in a safe area. They're going in and replacing some regular Army units. They'll definitely be in the thick of things," said Bill Gilbert.

All five of the Hudson soldiers were home for 10 days in late October and early November before returning to Camp Shelby in preparation for last week's send-off.

Collin Gilbert, 29, who along with his wife, Rachel, recently purchased a house in North Branch, Minn., was home Oct. 29-Nov. 9.

"It was nice. We had sort of a family Thanksgiving and Christmas all together for him," his father said.

Gilbert recently was hired as a permanent employee at a Wells Fargo Bank in the Twin Cities after working for the bank as a temporary employee for a year. Bill Gilbert credited the bank for making him a permanent employee knowing that he would be in Iraq for a year.

Collin joined the National Guard 10 days prior to his 18th birthday while still a student at Hudson High School, Bill Gilbert said.

Gilbert added that he wasn't excited about him entering the Guard, but signed for him to do it because Collin said he was going to do it with or without his parents' approval after he turned 18. He got a bigger bonus by joining while he was still 17.

"You're a little more sober at 29," Bill Gilbert said, noting that his son isn't gung ho about going to Iraq, but is resolved to do his duty to the best of his ability.

As a parent, "it's not fun to go through," Gilbert said. "Your heart's in your throat all the time about it."

The 1st Battalion is headquartered in Eau Claire with units in River Falls, New Richmond, Menomonie, Rice Lake, Arcadia, Neillsville and Abbotsford. The group is part of Wisconsin's 32nd "Red Arrow" Brigade that earned its nickname from the French for its ability to cut through enemy lines during World War I, according to the Milwaukee Journal.

The Wisconsin soldiers are now part of the 278th Regimental Combat Team made up of soldiers from the Tennessee Army National Guard and guards from several other states. There are approximately 4,000 soldiers in the 278th Combat Team.

Randy Hanson can be reached at

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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