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New Richmond Guard unit prepares for Iraq deployment

About 3,500 Wisconsin National Guard troops, including 130 from New Richmond's Company B, will leave this weekend for their initial training in preparation for a 10-month assignment in Iraq.

Members of the 32nd Red Arrow Brigade will leave Jan. 10 for several weeks of training at Camp Blanding in Florida.

They'll return to Wisconsin Jan. 31 for a short time to prepare for the bulk of their mission.

Then they'll be off Feb. 25 to Fort Bliss in Texas for up to two months of additional training prior to deployment overseas.

When they finally get to Iraq, they'll be on a security mission.

Captain Andrew Johansen, company commander for Company B, said about 40 percent of his unit has prior experience overseas. About 60 percent are new soldiers since Company B's previous deployment to Iraq in 2004-05.

"Pretty much all of our leadership has previous experience in Iraq," Johansen said. "It's good because the young guys have a better sense of what's going to happen over there."

Because of the unit's previous deployment, Johansen said, the families are also better prepared for the challenges of life without their loved one around for a year.

"Plans are moving along as smooth as they can be," Johansen said.

As the Feb. 25 deployment approaches, plans are being made to give the local troops a community send-off. Details will be published in the New Richmond News when they are finalized.

The February deployment of Wisconsin Guard troops will be the largest since World War II.

The brigade is made up of units in 36 communities throughout Wisconsin, including River Falls, New Richmond, Rice Lake, Eau Claire and Menomonie. Soldiers from every county in the state will be involved in the upcoming Iraq mission. There are also several dozen Wisconsin Guard members from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

The soldiers' first notice of a call-up came in mid-September, and they've been officially on alert since last month.

More than half the troops are combat veterans. Many have been to Iraq at least once.