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'Operation Farewell' gears up

New Richmond's National Guard unit won't be leaving for Iraq until the end of February, but plans are already being made to give them a big send-off.

Members of the B-Company, 1-128th Infantry Family Readiness Group met with city officials and veteran, Scouting and media organizations Jan. 14 to begin discussing ways the community can say goodbye to the troops.

Dubbed "Operation Farewell," the effort is an attempt to show support for Guard members as they leave the community for their second year-long deployment overseas.

Company B is among some 3,500 Wisconsin troops that will be part of the biggest single deployment of state soldiers since World War II.

The National Guard unit is currently in Florida for several weeks of training in preparation for their eventual duties in Iraq. They will return to New Richmond by the end of January, but will remain on active status until their departure sometime between Feb. 20-25.

The Family Readiness Group is planning a patriotic send-off ceremony on the morning of the unit's departure. More details on the time and date will be available at a later date.

Organizers, including Ken Penttila, father of one of the deploying soldiers, hope to have a crowd of area veterans, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and emergency personnel on hand at the Armory on that morning to form a two-sided flag line for soldiers to walk through as they board the buses that will take them to their waiting airplane.

The buses will then receive a police escort out of town.

Businesses along Knowles Avenue are asked to display flags and messages of support, and the city will put up flags along the parade route.

Scouts will be tying yellow ribbons on light poles along Knowles Avenue and plan other surprises during the route.

Community members are asked to gather along Knowles Avenue, and especially along the road near Starr Elementary, to bid farewell to the troops and wave flags, which will be provided by the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce.

Russ Korpela, chamber executive director, said he would coordinate with the Roberts community to encourage business people and residents to line up along Highway 65 to say goodbye to soldiers as their buses drive by that morning.

For more information, or to volunteer your assistance to the planning process, contact Penttila at 651-455-1814 or e-mail him at klpenttila@com

When they become available, further details will be printed in the New Richmond News or posted on the newspaper's Web site,