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Activated UWRF soldiers honored at send-off

February 12, 2009

UW-River Falls student soldiers who are being deployed later this month were honored Wednesday at a community sendoff in the University Center Ballroom.
The soldiers are members of the River Falls-based D Company, First Battalion, 128th Infantry.

Soldiers and their families came together to address the deployment of 20-40 UWRF students, as well as the 125 soldiers in the River Falls, Prescott and New Richmond area. This deployment is the biggest mobilization of the Wisconsin National Guard since World War II, affecting more students than ever before. 

They are expected to be gone for one year, including two months spent at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will be first deployed.

They will complete mission rehearsal exercises, including a mock up of what will be expected in Iraq and will be emulating possible situations and trained until they get the standards down.

The soldiers do not know the exact day they will be deployed but they will all be deployed sometime before March 1.

This is the second rotation for the Wisconsin National Guard, meaning that some of these soldiers are going back for their second time. 

For student soldiers who are leaving, the veterans’ task force has talked about how they can academically support those who are leaving and how they can welcome them back once they return.

“They’re walking on one culture, being the academic culture here at school, and then going to something that’s going to be diversely different and then they’re going to have to come back,” Maj. Tabb Benzinger, assistant professor of military science for the Falcon Company ROTC, said. 

Communicating with advisors and mapping out what classes they plan on taking before leaving can help those students who are being deployed.

Benzinger said his advice for student soldiers is “take matters in your own hands, communicate with the faculty and staff at UW and they will work with you in sharing a smooth transition.” 

Some students have the option to take online classes while they are enlisted.

James Lauck, a veteran’s service worker majoring in sociology who was not required to but requested to be deployed, said that he is signed up for one online course in order to keep his UWRF account active while he is away.

Students are faced with questions about changes that may happen on campus while they are away. Questions include if their advisor will be the same when they return or if they will be able to sign up for classes that fill up quickly. 

“It’s not just like, well just go ahead and do your thing and when you come back come see us. No, it’s let’s help you leave on good standing and let’s reintegrate you,” Benzinger said.

Wisconsin Assembly Representative Kitty Rhoades was one of the speakers at the community send-off. She is working to stay in contact with those students who are being deployed to allow them access to information that is happening on campus. 

“I think what was happening is that a student would be deployed and they’d be gone for a year and no one would keep in touch with them,” Rhoades said. “Then they’d come back and they were like any other student, but they weren’t because of different needs. So I think that communication would go a long way.”

Being aware of the current situation and tracking progress of those students through faculty vessels is something UWRF is working on to help prepare those student soldiers for their absence and their return.

Family support chains help those soldiers and their families while their loved ones are gone by providing care packages that include items such as “food, toiletries, magazines and anything that will make a soldiers life more bearable,” Ryan McNamara, UWRF veterans service representative and veterans club president, said.

The support from the UWRF campus and community has been something that veterans are proud of.

“There’s definitely a positive veteran’s command climate around here,” Benzinger said. “I’m thankful for that.”