Janesville wishes Guard members farewell with dinner and ceremony

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Gazette Staff
Saturday, February 7, 2009
— Hearts ached behind the smiles and hoo-ahs! at Craig High School on Friday night.

More than 130 members of a Janesville-based Wisconsin Army National Guard unit, along with their families, were treated to dinner and a ceremony honoring their sacrifice.

The soldiers will be away from their families for about a year, most of that time in Iraq.

“I’m sad, but it’s his job, and I’m from a military family,” said Alicia Thies of Round Lake Beach, Ill., as she stood in the food line in the Craig High cafeteria with her new husband.

Alicia recently married Spc. Jeff Thies. This will be Jeff’s second tour in Iraq. He said he’s less scared this time around.

Thies said he was grateful for the event, which helped families learn something about the military before their loved ones left them.

Janesville businesses, individuals, veterans organizations and others put the program together for Alpha Company of the 132nd Support Battalion.

“I’m glad to know that the city came together and pitched in. It was good to know—before we leave,” said Spc. Brett Lange of Milton.

Alpha Company is one of many comprising the 32nd Brigade, which still sports the Red Arrow emblem it earned in World War I. This will be the brigade’s largest deployment since World War II.

The unit will deploy to Texas for training before the end of the month.

Spc. Kenneth Gambill of Beloit said he was pleasantly surprised to be the object of appreciation, given that the war has gone on for nearly six years. He was worried that support for the troops had waned.

“It means a lot that the community—pretty much the whole nation—is behind the Armed Forces,” Gambill said.

“It makes you feel special that they’re putting on something for us,” said Sgt. David Cobbins of Milwaukee.

“It really means a lot to all the soldiers,” and it also helps the families who are left behind, said Sgt. Belinda Avila of Lake Geneva. Avila’s brother, Efrain Avila, is also headed to Iraq with Alpha Company.

The unit’s members were as young as Spc. Ashley Mullis, 21, of Whitewater, who said she is excited to finally get going.

And they were old enough to have gray hair, including Spc. Richard Sturms of Oconomowoc.

“This shows us that the American people and the people of Wisconsin are behind us, Sturm said. “And I’m looking forward to getting home when it’s all done.”

The dinner was for the troops and families, but the public was invited to the ceremony in the auditorium. Most of those attending seemed to be attached to one of the soldiers in one way or another. Perhaps half the auditorium was filled.

Speakers poured out their thanks to the troops and the loved ones they are leaving behind.

The audience seemed especially touched by the words of Bruce Terland Sr., who wore his World War II uniform and told of fighting the Battle of the Bulge. While growing up in St. Paul, Terland said, he remembers a Civil War veteran coming to his school and singing “Marching Through Georgia.”

“And now I’m the old soldier,” he said.

Some selections from the speeches:

n “On behalf of the Janesville City Council, we are here to support you and your families as you enter your country’s call to service … we are very proud of the sacrifice and dedication of the members of Alpha Company.” —Eric Levitt, Janesville city manager.

n “Take some time out to make some special memories (with your families) before you leave. Let them know how grateful you are for all they’ve done for you, and never let them forget why you serve.” —Capt. Chad Simandl, company commander.

n “Wisconsin is sending its best. It’s an honor to be standing before you here this evening.” —Rep Steve Nass, R-La Grange, a 33-year member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

n “Just know that you’re in my heart and prayers, and I wish for a safe return.”—event organizer Tina Russell.

n “I look forward to a great celebration when you come home. So thanks very much, and Godspeed.” —Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville.

Last updated: 9:42 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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