Student serves country with National Guard in Iraq
Marian College junior Ross Oestreich plans to return to Marian in August after one year away from the college.
That year away, serving with the Wisconsin Army National Guard in Iraq, has left Oestreich an unquestionably changed man.
âYou learn in deployment whatâs really important to you,â says Oestreich, a Specialist with the Army National Guardâs 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry (2â127th), based in Appleton with units in Waupun, Ripon, Green Bay, Fond du Lac and Marinette. The 2â127th was mobilized June 6, spent much of last summer in training at Camp Shelby, Miss., and then went to the Middle East in August.
Oestreich, 20, an Administration of Justice major, is in the middle of a six-year contract with the National Guard, signed while he was a senior at Waupaca High School. He spent the summers of 2003 and 2004 in, respectively, basic training and specialized airborne and infantry training in Camp Benning, Ga. He now is in the U.S. on a 15-day leave, which ends April 1.
During his leave, Oestreich, the son of Jeff and Beth Oestreich of Waupaca, spoke to two classes at Waupaca High School, and heard questions and opinions that, to him, show a lack of understanding of the situation in Iraq.
âItâs pretty emotional for me, but I try to hold myself back and realize that they just donât know,â he says. âIâve always been a really, really open person â sometimes too open for my own good. Right now, this is my vacation; Iâm all smiles.â
Oestreichâs unit, which is based in northern Kuwait, is attached to an Army transportation company to provide security for military and civilian convoys throughout Iraq. He is a member of the 2â127thâs Charlie Company.
âWherever the convoyâs supposed to go, weâre supposed to supply security for it,â he says.
As a result, Oestreichâs unit has one of the more hazardous jobs in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Military convoys are attacked by insurgents using small arms, Rocket Propelled Grenades, and what are called Improvised Explosive Devices (âTheyâve gotten more advanced with their bombs,â he says), and civilian convoys have been hijacked. While some areas of Iraq are quite friendly to the U.S.-coalition forces, others are not.
âThere really is no typical day,â he says. Escorting a convoy can take eight or more hours âif nothing happens,â and that time can double in the event of insurgent attacks or vehicle crashes, which are commonplace due to the poor skills of Iraqi drivers.
The worst day of Oestreichâs deployment was Sept. 26, 2005, when two soldiers in the 2â127th, Andrew Wallace of Ripon and Michael Wendling of Mayville, were killed by a roadside bomb. Wallaceâs and Wendlingâs funerals were marred by the appearance of protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., who believe that God is punishing the U.S. for condoning human rights for homosexuals.
âOur morale couldnât have been any lower for us,â said Oestreich about learning of the protests.
On another day, Oestreich provided emergency medical care for an injured soldier from another unit before the soldier died.
Going through such traumatic experiences hasnât changed his perspective about why he wanted to join the military. Being in the military has been Oestreichâs ambition since he was five years old. Rossâ father, Jeff, served in the National Guard for 27 years, including a deployment in Germany during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, and âreally got me into it,â says Ross. âThe benefits are great â they basically pay for everything when I come back for school.â His interest in serving was cemented after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He chose the infantry because âthatâs where Iâm most utilized â I picked the infantry because I wanted to do the most I possibly could.â
The one theme that comes through even a brief conversation with Oestreich is his loyalty to his fellow soldiers.
âTheyâve seen more of me than my brothers in real life have,â he says. âIâm kind of sad that the experiences Iâve had with these guys wasnât with my own blood. Veterans do get a new respect and realize how fragile life is.â
Oestreich has seen âalmost allâ of Iraq as part of his Guard duties. He describes the weather as similar to Las Vegas or Arizona, with high temperatures in the 80s and 90s now and as high as the low 130s in summer, but with no humidity. Lows drop as low as the high 30s. Clouds appear during the rainy season, and âit was pretty weird because otherwise itâs sun, sky, sand â thereâs nothing else.â
Oestreichâs leave has been a transition for him, particularly seeing the family and friends one ordinarily might see only at holidays. âYou see change very, very slowly â things are what I perceived them to be before I left,â he says. He claims to have been âmore nervous about coming back here [to Marian] on leave than on the first day of classes. My palms were sweating when I was driving here.â
Oestreich expects to remain in Iraq until August, the end of the standard overseas deployment period. He wants to enter the Reserve Officers Training Corps when he returns to Marian this fall, and get a teaching certification. He is considering making the military his career.
âI figure the only way officers can be officers is to be in it with the guys,â he says. âYou know what the guys have gone through so you can lead them better. This experience, no matter what I do, is going to help my military career.â
Leaders from Wisconsin infantry battalion prepare for mission with Iraq visit
by Capt. Benjamin Buchholz
2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry
CAMP SHELBY, Miss. â Five senior leaders from 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry flew to Iraq in late June to meet the unit they will replace, clarify mission details and see firsthand the living conditions the unitâs 600-plus soldiers should expect.
The unit will serve as an armed escort for civilian and military convoys traveling from Kuwait north through the entire country of Iraq, protecting supplies that allow security operations and the transition to peace to succeed. The unit will conduct operations in Iraq from a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Kuwait that has many of the same amenities as an Army post or a small town in the United States: a post exchange, shoppette, weight room, dining facility, internet cafe, theater, pizza parlor, coffee shop, and even a volleyball court â sand, of course. The soldiers will live in air-conditioned tents rather than barracks.
Lt. Col. Todd Taves, the unitâs commander, along with Maj. John Oakley, Maj. David Aponte, Capt. Frank Iovine, and Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde participated in actual convoys, received updates on the activities of anti-Iraqi forces in the area, and coordinated a smooth in-processing for the unitâs personnel and equipment when they arrive in August.
The visit provided the battalion with information to help tailor training to the unitâs specific mission. The unit will now devote more time to driving up-armored HMMWVs with convoys and less time to room-to-room searches, FOB defense, check-point operations and the many other tasks the unit might otherwise have been assigned.
As the battalionâs command sergeant major and senior noncommissioned officer, Condeâs primary task on the visit was to assess the FOBâs living accommodations for the troops. He was pleased with what he saw.
âOther than the heat, which was like hitting a wall when we got off the plane, my biggest concern is the food,â said Conde, âand not because itâs bad. Just the opposite: itâs too good. The FOB serves four meals a day, buffet-style, and if we donât have a good physical fitness program weâll return to Wisconsin a little too healthy.â
The other amenities all met Condeâs standard.
Because so many local groups, schools, families, and communities have asked what they can do to make the deployment a better experience, the battalion will identify a local charity in Iraq and organize donations to that charity on behalf of the battalionâs supporters. Contributions to these efforts will indirectly improve the quality of life for the battalion soldiers because they will help win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis among whom the Wisconsin soldiers will live for the next year.
For information on donating to the 2-127thâs local Iraqi charity, email Capt. Benjamin Buchholz, battalion civil affairs officer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Note to Editors: The Wisconsin Army National Guardâs 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry is headquartered in Appleton with units in Waupun, Ripon, Green Bay, Fond du Lac and Marinette. The battalion was mobilized June 6 and departed Wisconsin June 9 for several months additional training at Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, Miss.
The infantry battalion was augmented by soldiers from the Onalaska-based 32nd Engineer Company and from Troop E, 105th Cavalry of Antigo and Merrill.
Statement by Maj. Gen. Albert H. Wilkening on the death of Wisconsin Army National Guard Sergeant Ryan D. Jopek
Words fail to convey the depth of my sorrow following the death of Sergeant Ryan Jopek in Iraq early Wednesday. Ryan was one of Wisconsinâs very finest and served his nation with bravery, distinction and valor. He was on his final convoy security mission in Iraq after serving overseas for the past 50 weeks with his unit, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry.
My deepest sympathy goes to Ryanâs entire family and especially to his father, Staff Sergeant Brian Jopek, who served a year in Iraq with a different Wisconsin Army National Guard unit in 2004. I want the Jopek family to know just how proud Wisconsin is of Ryan, how grateful we are for his service, and how saddened all of us are for his tragic loss. I pledge to the Jopek family all the support of the Wisconsin National Guard we can provide them during the difficult days ahead.
In tribute to Sergeant Ryan D. Jopek I am ordering the flags at all Wisconsin National Guard armories, air bases and other facilities lowered to half-staff beginning Sunday morning and continuing until after his funeral service.
On behalf of all 9,900 of Sergeant Jopekâs fellow soldiers and airmen of Wisconsinâs National Guard, I salute this fallen hero and pray for the safe and speedy return of 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, and the continued safety of all 2,500 soldiers and airmen of the Wisconsin National Guard who are still serving overseas in harmâs way.
Major General Albert H. Wilkening
The Adjutant General of Wisconsin
Sgt. Ryan D. Jopek
Hometown: Merrill, Wisconsin, U.S.
Age: 20 years old
Died: August 2, 2006 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Unit: Army National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, Army National Guard, Waupun, Wis.
Incident: Died from injuries suffered when a makeshift bomb exploded near his convoy in Tikrit.
The Wisconsin National Guard light infantry battalion was called to active duty in summer of 2005. National Guard officials said the call-up of the entire Battalion included the Headquarters Company, four other companies, and one detachment, for a year and a half, with as much as a year overseas. The 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, part of the 32nd Infantry Brigade, includes Headquarters And Headquarters Company, Appleton; Company A, Waupun; Company A Detachment, Ripon; Company B, Green Bay; Company C, Fond du Lac; and Company D, Marinette.
Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, Public Affairs Officer, said that more than 600 soldiers were affected by the mobilization order.
In Honor Of
SGT Andrew Wallace
SPC Michael Wendling
2-127th Infantry Battalion (L)
30 September 2005
Camp Navistar, Kuwait
37th Transportation Group
2-127th Infantry Battalion
In Honor Of
SGT Andrew Wallace and SPC Michael Wendling
C Co. 2-127th Infantry
SERGEANT ANDREW WALLACE
MAY 26, 1980 - SEPTEMBER 26, 2005
Sergeant Wallace was born on May 26, 1980 in West Union, Iowa to Peter R. and Janie A. Wallace. He graduated with honors from Ripon High School in May of 1998.
SGT Wallace joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard on October 7, 1999. He initially served with Detachment 1, Company C, 173rd Engineer Battalion, located in Ripon, WI. SGT Wallace attended Basic Training and Combat Engineer Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. SGT Wallace graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a degree in physical education and a minor in adaptive physical education. He was a teacher with the Oshkosh school district where he worked with physically and mentally challenged students. He was an avid sportsman but his true passion was his family and numerous close friends. SGT Wallace attended Grace Lutheran Church where he was a Sunday school teacher. SGT Wallace later transferred to Company A, 2-127th Infantry Battalion where he accepted a position as a fire team leader and reclassified as an infantryman.
Sergeant Wallaceâs awards and decorations include The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart, The Good Conduct Medal, The Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, The National Defense Service Medal, The Iraqi Campaign Medal, The Army Service Ribbon, The Combat Infantry Badge The Air Assault Badge, and five awards of the Wisconsin Wright Medal.
Sergeant Wallace is survived by his wife Angela Wallace; his Parents, Peter Wallace and Janie Brockman; and his brothers, Matt and Tim.
SPC MICHAEL WENDLING
January 3, 1985 â September 26, 2005
SPECIALIST MICHAEL WENDLING
JANUARY 3, 1985 â SEPTEMBER 26, 2005
Specialist Michael Wendling was born on January 3, 1985 in Mayville, WI. SPC Wendling enlisted in the Wisconsin Army National Guard on February 12, 2002 and initially served as a rifleman for Company A, 2-127th Infantry Battalion in Waupun, WI. SPC Wendling graduated from Mayville High School in the summer of 2003 and was currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee majoring in Biology. He graduated Basic Training and Infantry AITat Fort Benning, GA. SPC Wendling was later transferred to Company C, 2-127th Infantry Battalion when the unit was mobilized to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He recently deployed to the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations where he served as a crew member providing security for the vital logistics convoys traveling throughout Iraq
Specialist Wendlingâs awards include The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart Medal, The National Defense Service Medal, The Iraqi Campaign Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, The Army Service Ribbon The Combat Infantry Badge and two awards of the Wisconsin Wright Medal.
Specialist Wendling is survived by his parents, Randall and Carrie Wendling; and his three siblings, Jennifer, Angela and Mark.
Three soldiers of the Appleton-based 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry will receive Purple Heart medals Friday [Sept. 8], 2 p.m. at the Appleton National Guard armory, 2801 W. Second St., for wounds received while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A fourth soldier will also be honored for his service.
The soldiers mobilized in June 2005 and after several weeks of mobilization training, deployed to Kuwait in August 2005 where they escorted civilian and military convoys throughout Iraq. The unit completed their mission and returned to the U.S. last month.
Receiving Purple Heart medals are:
Sgt. Luke Luther, Green Bay, and Spc. Andrew Neumeyer, Neenah, who were wounded by an improvised explosive device on Jan. 31; and
Spc. Rueben Macias, Menasha, who was wounded by an IED on March 9. Spc. Eric Neumeyer, Neenah, will receive the Army Commendation Medal for the duties he performed as a gun truck driver.
Medals will be presented by Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, deputy adjutant general and commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard â himself a Purple Heart recipient from a combat tour as helicopter pilot in Vietnam
The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died in Shaibah, Iraq, on Sept. 26, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their HMMWV during convoy operations. They were also attacked by enemy forces using small arms fire. Both soldiers were assigned to the Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Brigade, Fond du Lac, Wis.