BAGHDAD, - The 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team headquarters officially transferred authority of the Joint Area Support Group-Command to the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Texas Army National Guard during a ceremony Jan. 7.
Their next mission is board a plane for Wisconsin, demobilize and begin the reintegration process back to civilian life.
The ceremony took place at the al Salam Palace at Forward Operating Base Prosperity in Baghdad. Following several months of historic transfers of property from U.S. control back to the Iraqis, the 32nd quietly ended its mission with Col. Steve Bensend, brigade commander, and Command Sgt. Major Ed Hansen furling and casing the brigade colors.
"It was only a few short months ago we set foot here in the [International Zone]," Bensend remarked during the transfer of authority ceremony. "I will tell you it was an eye-opening experience. There were things here I had not seen; there were experiences I had not experienced. But once I got into the mission, I found that there were people everywhere, Iraqi and American counterparts and people from all parts of the world working together to make this a better place."
Bensend thanked Iraqi officials and U.S. Embassy staff for their cooperation with the 32nd during its deployment, noting the challenges they faced and the accomplishments they enjoyed. He also recognized the contributions Air Force and Navy service members made to the 32nd Brigade's mission.
Bensend had words of praise for Col. Mark Campsey and the 72nd Brigade.
"Col. Campsey, you have assembled an amazing team," Bensend said. "Your team came in with enthusiasm and took charge, and I have full confidence in what you brought here, Mark. I think you will do a great job."
But his highest tribute was for the men and women of the Red Arrow Brigade. "To the Soldiers of the 32nd, I am most proud of you," he said. "This has not been an easy mission, but we did it together. When we departed Wisconsin I asked for your loyalty, your integrity and your initiative, and you gave me much more. Thank you."
Campsey promised to pick up where the 32nd left off. "The72nd will continue the superb work of the 32nd, facilitating the responsible drawdown of forces, focusing our efforts on the transfer of property to our Iraqi brethren and to the security of the IZ," Campsey said. "To the 32nd - thank you for all you have done. You, your families and your employers have sacrificed greatly over the past year, but your accomplishments over the past year have been remarkable. know that your families and friends anxiously await your safe return. Continue to watch over one another until you arrive back home, and Godspeed to you all."
Campsey acknowledged that his brigade was prepared to assume the mission, thanks to an 18-month collaboration with leaders in the 32nd Brigade. "72nd, it's time to go to work," Campsey said.
Bensend suggested that the 32nd Brigade would not entirely leave Iraq. "As I fold my 3,200 Soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team back through Kuwait and on to Wisconsin, we will leave a piece of our heart here," he said. "So it is with mixed emotions today that I step away, but it is with great pride that I am able to give it to such a deserving team as the 72nd."
The 32nd Brigade, augmented by six other Wisconsin Army National Guard units, was ordered to active duty Feb. 1, 2009 and deployed to Iraq in April and May following two months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas.
During training and while in Iraq, the brigade was organized into 27 company-sized units. Rather than operating as a brigade, the 32nd was tasked with a variety of missions throughout Iraq. These missions included forward operating base administration, base defense, area security, quick reaction forces, freedom of movement security support, detainee guard force operations at theater internment facilities, closing the largest internment facility in Iraq, transferring detainees, operating an academy to train Iraqi corrections officers, inspecting detention facilities, securing and administering the International Zone in Baghdad, and turning over U.S.-controlled properties back the government of Iraq.
The brigade's Soldiers operated around the clock, most of them working at least 12 hours a day - day after day, week after week, for eight full months in Iraq.
About 115 brigade Soldiers - members of Troop A, 105th Cavalry - have already returned to Wisconsin. The remainder of the brigade will return in stages throughout January. All are scheduled to return to Volk Field where they will be met by senior National Guard officials, a military band and family members - homecomings are not open to the general public.
Following an initial reunion with their families and a brief official "welcome home," the Soldiers will travel to nearby Fort McCoy to begin about five days of demobilization processing before being released from active duty.