MARSHFIELD, Wis. — Soldiers from Battery A, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery Regiment, based in Marshfield, spread holiday cheer and goodwill in their community by delivering wrapped presents to the local children’s hospital and singing carols at an area retirement facility Saturday, Dec. 1.
“We’re not expert singers — we just wanted to come out and put a smile on your face,” Sgt. 1st Class John Battista, the readiness noncommissioned officer for Battery A, told residents of Stoney River Assisted Living, who had gathered around the facility’s large stone fireplace to see several unit members donned in their dress uniforms sing carols to them.
After singing several holiday songs to the residents, the Soldiers made the rounds shaking hands and passing along warm greetings to all in attendance. The residents gratefully accepted the greetings and expressed their gratitude and appreciation with heartfelt smiles and kind words.
“It started off with the idea of caroling,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ray Newstrom, a platoon sergeant with Battery A. “These guys weren’t too thrilled with the idea of singing — not too many hands went up to volunteer for that,” he joked, adding that “they really got behind the idea of a toy drive for the Children’s Miracle Network. My Soldiers were very generous with their limited personal funds to make this happen.”
Soldiers from the unit delivered more than 50 individually wrapped presents to the Marshfield Clinic for the Children’s Miracle Network, and Newstrom happily indicated that this was only the first wave — additional Soldiers from Battery A would be delivering roughly an equivalent number of gifts in the following week.
“The Marshfield community was really good to us back when we were deploying to Iraq in 2009, and it’s really important and feels great to give back to this community,” Newstrom said.
Pfc. Derek Ruck, a cannon crewmember with Battery A and one of the Soldiers responsible for wrapping and delivering the first wave of presents, stated that this is one of the many reasons that the National Guard is here and important for communities.
“We love helping out whoever we can,” Ruck said. “It’s good to give back since we get a lot of support and love from the community and anything we can do to help, like in this case wrapping presents to brighten a sick kid’s day.”
“I’m an artillery man — wrapping presents is hard,” Ruck added with a big smile.
Sara McFarland, lead volunteer with the unit’s Family Readiness Group, helped to coordinate the toy drive and provided necessary wrapping training for the Soldiers. Her husband is currently deployed overseas with 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. McFarland indicated that community engagement was central to truly accomplishing the mission of supporting our communities and our state.
“It matters because it gets them out there with the community they support,” McFarland said. “They support our community by being here and being Soldiers, but they truly help it by getting out there and helping people, especially people in need.”
As for their proficiency at wrapping presents McFarland added, “Well, they got better as they went along.”
This was the first year that Battery A put together a toy drive for the children’s hospital, and Newstrom intends to make this an annual unit tradition and to further their community outreach to help people in need. For more than five years the unit has also held a food drive after the holidays to support the local food pantry. In the spring the unit supports the annual 1K/5K Run/Walk in honor of Staff Sgt. Joe Altmann that raises funds to support local veteran-based organizations.
“As Guardsmen we have the dual federal and domestic role, the domestic role is helping our communities, but that help can’t be limited to a big crisis,” Newstrom said. “We care and we push that forward with Alpha Battery.
“The 32nd always finds a way to accomplish its mission,” he continued. “Nothing stops The Red Arrow.”