2008/12/15:Vigil walk to be held in opposition to Guard deployment - Portage Area Peace Seekers

Vigil walk to be held in opposition to Guard deployment

By Jen McCoy, Portage Daily Register | Posted: Monday, December 15, 2008 11:00 pm

The Portage Area Peace Seekers will hold a vigil walk Saturday in opposition to the largest operational deployment of Wisconsin National Guard forces since World War II.

The walk will start at noon and go from the National Guard headquarters on West Wisconsin Street to the veterans memorial at Blue Star Park on New Pinery Road. Participants will hold signs and call out the names of Wisconsin soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The public is encouraged to attend.

"It's a peaceful action about awareness of the call-up to war, about those who have already died in the conflict, and also with the notice that many of these soldiers may have been enticed with the $20,000 signing bonus in front of the armory," said Charles Bradley, member of the Portage Area Peace Seekers.

The 132nd Brigade Support Battalion headquarters in Portage is assigned to the 32nd Brigade Combat Team, which provides logistics and combat health support.

The 32nd Brigade, the largest National Guard unit in the state, received a mobilization order in early September that will call up as many as 3,500 soldiers for an active duty mission in Iraq. The soldiers have been on alert of possible deployment since December 2007.

Capt. Nicholas Braun is a training officer for the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, 32nd Brigade Combat Team, of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

"It's their right to march. I don't think it would be appropriate to actually be on the property, but the reason we do our job is so that individuals are allowed to express any of their own beliefs as far as the Constitution goes," Braun said. "As long as it is a nonviolent protest, we are not going to attempt to stop it or deter them."

There are about 900 men and women in the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, Braun said, with eight separate companies headquartered in Portage. The soldiers will be deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This will be the second tour for Braun, who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. He said that the Iraqi people friendly and generally happy the American soldiers were present.

"We don't believe that we are being dishonorable to veterans. We are grateful for them, especially for past actions defending the nation. But we do not think these soldiers need to put their lives on the line for this particular war," Bradley said. "We are concerned for the soldiers, who are not treated with their health-care needs when they come back. We want to keep the soldiers at home, keep them alive."

Braun said he accepts any positive support from the community.

"No one wants to leave friends and family, but as a soldier, you get called to serve and you do your duty," Braun said.

The 32nd Brigade and supporting units include troops from Portage and 35 other communities statewide. Also mobilizing with the 32nd Brigade will be units from Oregon and Mississippi.

Portage's 132nd Brigade Support Battalion is the administrative headquarters for the battalion, overseeing companies dedicated to medical, maintenance, distribution and other specialities. About 40 percent of the company is made up of soldiers from Columbia County. There are 15 full-time soldiers in the company, including a recruiter.

There had been a banner in front of the Portage armory that promoted an incentive of $20,000 for joining the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

"It's an opportunity for anybody who wants to join the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and an added bonus of receiving up to $20,000. Just because you join, doesn't mean you're going to deploy. The National Guard is both a state and federal organization," Braun, 27, said. "It's not a matter of, 'We're in grave need of soldiers,' because the Army will always have rotations of people to go, and right now Wisconsin is going. We were called up, and it's our turn."

Nearing Christmas, Bradley said he took a close look at the peaceful actions of Jesus, he said.

"I believe that Jesus was conflictive, but totally nonviolent right to the bitter end. And I think this is the way we're suppose to behave. We have been given misinformation by our government about the conflicts and it is conducting it in a very wasteful manner," Bradley said.

Braun said he found it ironic that the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion is getting so much attention for being deployed, but received no attention for assisting locals during the summer flooding.

"We were sandbagging around people's houses this summer, blocking the highway off. We literally had carp swimming through Highway 33 and down Highway 39," Braun said. "The TV showed highway workers ripping sandbags off the highway, but didn't show us working overnight, 12 to 14 hour days, to keep people safe."

The 132nd Brigade Support Battalion will leave for Camp Blanding in Starke, Fla., in January, return to Wisconsin for more training, and leave in late February for Fort Bliss in Texas.

For more information about the vigil, contact Bradley at 742-7644.

jmccoy@capitalnewspapers.com

745-3519