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VIDEO & PHOTOS: Company B leaves for deployment to Iraq

Students wave to the passing buses filled with Company B soldiers.2 / 2

The Company B, 1-128th Infantry unit from New Richmond left town Monday to the cheers of community supporters and the tears of loved ones.

Hundreds of family and friends were on hand in the morning to see the 130 National Guard soldiers off.

A 10 a.m. ceremony was conducted at the Armory, including the presentation of Blue Star flags to mothers and spouses. The flags are to be displayed in local homes while loved ones are in harm's way.

Local Girl Scouts also presented soldiers with a pocket flag to be carried with them at all times. The New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce handed each family a gift bag, filled with donated items from local businesses.

But as quickly as the ceremony was over, the clock watching started. As the noon hour approached, the troops were given a chance to say goodbye. A lot of hugs were troops were given a chance to say goodbye. A lot of hugs were exchanged and a lot of tears were shed.

Rick and Sherry Hinz of New Richmond were on hand to bid their son, Derek, farewell on his second deployment overseas.

"I'm certainly feeling a lot of pride," Rick Hinz said of his emotions on the day. "I'm hoping it's a safe and quick deployment."

Sherry nodded in agreement. "I'm proud ... but sad," she added.

Sgt. Derek Hinz said he'd miss his family while gone from home for a year, but added that he was anxious to begin his mission in Iraq.

"I'm ready to get started and get it done," he said.

Pfc. Brandon Willert, New Richmond, standing with his family nearby, echoed those anxious feelings.

"I'm excited to finally get started," he said.

Next to him stood his father, Jeff Willert, who served in Company B from 1979-1991. His grandfather, Bob Willert of Amery, served with the local National Guard unit from 1979-1983.

Brandon is the first in the family to ever be deployed overseas for active duty, however. Jeff Willert said he was proud of his son.

"I hate to see him go," added Bob Willert. "But we've got to be pragmatic about things as well."

At around 12:30 p.m., Company B soldiers headed to the three waiting buses outside. They boarded up and the buses traveled downtown.

Thousands of local residents lined a frontage road and Knowles Avenue to wave goodbye and wish the soldiers well. Businesses temporarily suspended their work to stand outside and show their support. Many had flags proudly displayed. Others had signs providing encouragement.

Company B will spend a few days at Fort McCoy before heading to Texas for more training. They will then deploy to Iraq for an expected 10 months of active duty in the war zone.

This is Company B's second Iraq deployment. The first came in 2004.

This deployment is part of the largest single deployment of Wisconsin troops (including all of the 32nd Brigade) since World War II.