By Linda Titel
On Thursday, Nov. 29 the Green Bay Packers Atrium was crowded, not for a Packer game but for a different reason. Family and friends gathered for men and women in uniform, National Guard uniforms. Four hundred National Guard soldiers were gathered for a military send-off before their deployment in Afghanistan. The 127th Infantry, 2nd Battalion will be heading to Afghanistan this winter to help protect U.S. advisers for Afghan security forces.
The unit will head to Texas and Louisiana for further training before it leaves for Afghanistan.
This deployment hits close to home, since family member, 22 year old Cody Wilfuer from Shiocton is one of the soldiers. This is Wilfuer’s first deployment.
Wilfuer was always intrigued with the military and after talking to recruiters and veterans that have been in the Army he decided to join the Army National Guard in his junior year of high school at the age of 17.
The summer of 2013 Wilfuer was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia for training (boot camp) for 11 weeks, and returned the following summer for 11 more weeks.
After graduating from Fort Benning Wilfuer went to drill once a month and to Fort McCoy for two weeks during the summer months and spent last summer at Fort Grayling in Michigan with the Michigan National Guard.
He first heard of possible deployment for one year in August and has had anticipation ever since.
Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Elder, the 127th Infantry’s commanding officer addressed the soldiers at Lambeau and said he was humbled by all the families and friends that showed up to send off the soldiers.
Elder said, “These men and women are 100 percent American Soldiers who have prepared and are ready for this mission. They are the National Guard, part-time soldiers, who are doctors, lawyers, policemen, business men and women who tell us that if there is something wrong tonight you can count on us to be there and defend what is dear to us; our freedom and our welfare. It’s an awesome responsibility and I could not be prouder.”
This is the first time the National Guard has partnered with a SFAB (Security Force Assistance Brigades) unit, said Elder. “Our job, our mission in this is to provide security and protection for those advisers,” Elder said. “We use the term ‘guardian angels,’ it’ll also be the first deployment for 80 percent of the soldiers now in the battalion.” Soldiers’ ages range from 18 to 56.
“Our soldiers have to be ready for anything. They have to be ready to adapt and be flexible enough to do whatever the leaders in Afghanistan need them to do,” Elder said.
The soldiers will support NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. They’ll provide security for the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That unit is training and assisting Afghan National Security Forces.
Speaker, Major General Donald Dunbar said, “Their heart, aching, because their loved one’s about to go overseas for a year. That’s a hard thing. I wish they didn’t have to go overseas for a year, but things that matter need to be defended, and they need to be defended by brave men and women and that’s what we have before us here today and with their families and friends support they will be able to accomplish their mission. \
These soldiers are ready and are Wisconsin’s finest.”
Lieutenant Govenor Rebecca Kleefisch said, “I am so humble and honored to address this crowd of soldiers, families and friends. I respect and admire you so much.
She said, “We are here in Green Bay at Lambeau field where we treasure our Lombardi trophy but what we treasure more are the brave men and women that sit before us, ready to stand against an enemy a world away, to fight for what is right and just.”
Kleefisch presented the infantry with the Wisconsin flag, which dates back to the Civil War.
The Wisconsin Civil War soldiers wanted everyone to know that they were from Wisconsin, so they had a Wisconsin flag made and carried it along with the United States flag. The Civil War flag is now in Madison at the State Capitol under glass. It is riddled with holes from bullets and shrapnel which proved the Wisconsin soldiers pride and courage.
Kleefisch talked about a quote she remembered reading from the Civil War. A man asked President Abraham Lincoln if he prayed to God to be on his side, the president said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
Kleefisch said, “You, soldiers are on God’s side.”
Wilfuer’s family, father Mick Wilfuer; mother Kelly Radtke; sister Bailey Wilfuer; sister and brother Penelope and Alex Radtke along with two aunts Jill Ruesch, Janet Herzfeldt; and grandpa (Wayne) and grandma (Muriel) Wilfuer attended the send-off at Lambeau Field’s Atrium.
It was an overwhelming sight. There were chairs set up for 1,000 people but there was well over 1,500 friends and family in attendance.
Wilfuer said, “It’s an honor to serve my country and I think this will be a good experience.”
On Friday, Nov. 30 Wilfuer along with his comrades boarded a plane at Austin Straubel Airport and headed for Texas.
There were many hugs, tears shed and aching hearts but all wished him and his comrades good luck.
As Kleefisch said, “This is not a farewell but a so long for now, Godspeed.”