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Even with the kickoff to football, the fall sports season and the start of their collegiate academic careers looming, freshman student-athletes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found time to write letters of appreciation to deployed Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

Badger freshmen from the men’s and women’s hockey teams, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, women’s soccer, and football teams sent 40 letters to Wisconsin National Guardsmen currently deployed to Afghanistan and Kuwait.

“Volunteering is a rich part of the student athlete tradition here at Wisconsin,” Kayla Gross, the university’s community relations coordinator, said. “Collectively, our student-athletes volunteered 8,100 hours last year, and they appeared at about 280 events across the state, which is something we’re incredibly proud of. And when you talk to our student-athletes, especially some of our older ones, and you ask them what are their favorite events or favorite experiences that they’ve had, a lot of them bring up the interactions they have with the military.”

Gross said the UW athletic department had the opportunity to host two groups of wounded warriors last year, which had a profound impact on many of the Badgers athletes. Over the years, teams have also visited area veterans hospitals as well.

The letters, she said, expressed each student-athlete’s appreciation for the military and their role in protecting the nation’s freedom.

“There is a general understanding, in reading through them, that they’re allowed to play their sport and do the things they love because of the sacrifice of our Armed Forces members,” she said. “And for them to be freshmen and have that understanding and be able to express that in a letter of appreciation is outstanding.”

Four units from the Wisconsin Army National Guard are deployed in support of overseas operations. Those serving in Afghanistan include, Madison, Wisconsin-based Detachment 52 of the Operational Support Airlift Command, the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based 829th Engineer Company and the Sussex, Wisconsin-based Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery. The 32nd Military Engagement Team and Base Defense Operations Center are also deployed to Kuwait and Jordan.