2008/12/21:Group braves cold walk for vigil to recognize troop deployment - Portage Peace Peace Seekers

Group braves cold walk for vigil to recognize troop deployment
By Jen McCoy, Daily Register | Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008 9:30 pm


Trailed by other vigil marchers on Saturday, Father Jim Murphy, of St. Mary's Church in Portage, reads off the names of the deceased soldiers and civilians from the Iraq War. Sue and Charles Bradley, of Portage, hold signs as he reads the names.

Cassandra Dixon knows that public demonstrations are not for everybody, but it serves a purpose for those who shy away from them, she said.

"It gives you permission to think about the issues," Dixon, of Wisconsin Dells, said. "This is how policies get made."

For spiritual and political reasons, Dixon said she does not agree with sending the largest operational deployment of Wisconsin National Guard forces since World War II to Iraq next year.

Joined by six others - including members of the Catholic clergy - Dixon walked from the Wisconsin Army National Guard Armory in Portage to Blue Star Park. Names of deceased soldiers and civilians were read during the vigil, with a supportive honk from a passing vehicle and a wave from another driver. There were no representatives from the Wisconsin National Guard at the Armory.

Charles Bradley, a member of the Portage Area Peace Seekers, began the walk by reading an open letter to Capt. Nicholas Braun, training officer for the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, 32nd Brigade Combat Team, of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. For Braun, it will be the second time he will be deployed to Iraq.

"Thank you for safeguarding our freedoms, especially the freedom to hold a vigil concerning your call to active duty in Iraq. We will be thinking of our local guards, hoping they will not have to go to Iraq and praying that they will refuse to go," Bradley said. "We also pray for their well-being and that they will conduct their duties with fairness to all people. We thank them for the sincere part of their sense in protecting our homeland. Finally, we thank the guards people for their response to the flood this year."

The letter will be signed by all those in the vigil, Bradley said, and sent to Braun.

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

Malu Durkin, pastoral minister at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Portage, drove her van beside the vigil because she has trouble walking the distance, she said.

"It's just another way of standing up and being counted," Durkin said. "These are souls that are so important, and so young, and it just doesn't seem right (to deploy them.)"

Durkin has a niece and nephew in the National Guard, she said, but only her nephew has been deployed so far.

"My nephew was there for a year, and I hope the thing it did for him was to mature him without leaving scars," Durkin said.

Robert Rahn, of Lodi, is Durkin's nephew, and served in the staging area in Iraq away from the combat zone, she said. They do not know how she feels about the Iraq War, she said.

"We don't talk politics," Durkin 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.

Members of the vigil held signs such as, "Mourn the Dead," and "Take up Cross, not Sword."

Durkin said that she is eager to see what changes might happen with President-elect Barack Obama in January.

"I'm very hopeful that something will change, that is the platform he ran on, change. But, things can change for the better and things can change for the worse," Durkin said. "I have a feeling it's a change for the better. Time will tell."