MILWAUKEE — More than 120 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers of the 32nd Military Police Company returned to Wisconsin April 13 following a nine-month deployment in support of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
Located at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, the Joint Task Force’s primary mission is operating the detainee facilities housing terrorists captured on the battlefield — including the so-called “9/11 co-conspirators” who plotted and supported the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
“You didn’t hear about this, and you’re probably not going to hear about this, but the assignment that they had was one of the most important our men and women in uniform have,” Gov. Scott Walker told families and friends gathered at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing to greet the returning members of the 32nd MP Company. “Every day they were on duty [they] had to look into the eyes of the most evil people in the world who want to do us harm — who in many cases have actively engaged in both doing and leading others to do harm against the people of the United States and our allies around the world — and to our way of life when it comes to freedom in the United States.”
The 32nd MP Company served as part of a battalion assigned to various responsibilities in secure detention facilities, ensuring the safe, humane, and transparent care and custody for more than 45 law-of-war detainees at the Defense Department’s only strategic detention operations facility. During the course of their deployment, the 32nd MP Soldiers also conducted custody transfer of more than 20 detainees, in accordance with presidential executive orders.
“We were there,” Walker said, referring to a visit he and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders made to the base in late December. “We saw what they did, how they had to act with great professionalism, not just because that’s how they were trained, but because the entire world was watching.”
Capt. Brian Schwalbach, company commander, told families and friends that off-duty images of their Soldiers stationed at a military base in the Caribbean could be misleading.
“I can assure you this was not a nine-month beach vacation,” Schwalbach said, with a smile. “Your Soldiers carried out one of the most strategically and politically sensitive missions that the United States military and our service members are tasked to conduct in the defense of our great nation. To be frank, your loved ones looked in the face of the enemy every day, personally interacting with those whose sole desire is to do harm to our citizens, Soldiers, and freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
“In light of long days and stressful conditions, your loved ones were beyond professional and set a new standard for our replacement unit to follow.”
Speaking after the ceremony, 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Piel agreed.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of this unit right now,” Piel said. “Things went so smooth there, especially knowing what some of our brother and sister companies went through while they were there. It was a blessing for those of us in charge to see them succeed, no matter what was put in front of them.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, a native Cuban who now serves as the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor, praised the unit.
“You’ve completed a great mission,” Conde said. “Eleven months ago we said, “Hey, you’ve gotta go” — and you went. And you accomplished the mission, and you did it to perfection.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, said the 32nd MP Company made its mark in the Wisconsin National Guard’s history.
“Each and every one of you had a vital mission while deployed to Guantanamo Bay, and each and every one of you accomplished that in a professional manner,” Anderson said. “As an organization, you absolutely knocked it out of the park.”
The ceremony began with Schwalbach and Piel uncasing the unit guidon. Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, explained the significance of that action.
“We are a state military organization under the governor’s command and control until we are called to active duty,” Dunbar said. “And that’s what happened — the Soldiers transitioned seamlessly into the United States Army. When we uncased those colors, it signifies that these Soldiers are no longer under the president’s command and control, but are back under the governor’s command and control.”
The adjutant general told the returning Soldiers they had done an exceptional job while deployed.
“The National Guard in Wisconsin is second to none because of our ability to be ready when the governor needs us, or the country needs us,” Dunbar said. “This unit has been called out for domestic emergencies and has been called out to respond overseas. You have done everything our country has asked you to do. I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of you. You’ve earned the honor of being a Soldier who has served his or her country overseas.”
The 32nd MP Company has deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the NATO mission in Kosovo. The unit also deployed to Hungary in 2002 and as part of the domestic relief effort for Hurricane Katrina.
Schwalbach cited 2 Timothy 4:7 as an apt conclusion to the unit’s deployment.
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith,” Schwalbach read. “This passage couldn’t be more fitting for the Soldiers of the mighty 32nd. I am proud, inspired and honored to have had the privilege to serve as your commander. Our country is forever indebted to you for your service and sacrifice. But it’s time to hang up our uniforms and go home. This race is over.”