Activation of Platteville guard unit hits home at UWP
PLATTEVILLE - Yellow ribbons lined the streets in front of the Platteville Armory Sunday, Feb. 9, for the 2 p.m. send-off ceremony for the Wisconsin National Guard 229th Engineer unit out of Platteville. More than 500 family, friends, students and community members - along with Wisconsin congressmen and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle - were in attendance to recognize approximately 80 soldiers who have been called for active duty.
Robert Pruitt, captain of the 229th Engineer Company and a native of El Paso, Texas, said the company consists of 166 members from four states. One member is a Vietnam Veteran, 28 took part in Desert Storm and nine soldiers have had more than 20 years experience in the military. Approximately 35 University of Wisconsin-Platteville students make up the Platteville unit that consists of men and women ranging from ages 18-56, with the average age being 25 years old.
Private First Class Tom Byal was currently enrolled in his fourth semester at UWP with a business administrative major when he first received the call to active duty. He took the call as any other call until the reality of the request hit him while talking to his parents and hearing their emotions and feelings. Byal says he feels well prepared and will be taking one day at a time to see where his duties will take him.
Sergeant Scott Johnson, a May 2002 UWP graduate currently taking graduate classes at UW-Madison, said he is ready to fight for his country. Johnson was working Tuesday night and did not receive the message from the Platteville armory until after finishing classes late Wednesday afternoon. He spent the next 48 hours awake, preparing for his absence by dealing with personal issues such as car payments and other bills. Now that those things are in order the seriousness of the situation is catching up with him. Johnson said his role in the Platteville unit is to be a team leader, staying focused and positive.
Specialist Jason Matthys, a 2002 UWP graduate, has left behind his current position as math teacher and wrestling coach in the Iowa-Grant School District to serve his country. Matthys said he was excited, scared and proud all at once when he first received his phone call.
"I never understood the pride of the community until I saw all these people here today," Matthys said. "It is really nice to know they are supporting us."
Sergeant first class Gary Olson from Lake Mills is leaving behind his wife and a two and a half month old daughter to answer his call to duty.
"There is definitely a situation over there that needs to be addressed," Olson said. "There has been plenty of time to deal with it peacefully, but more assertive actions have to be taken to resolve these issues. I look around [the Platteville Armory] and everyone looks professionally prepared. They are frustrated to leave behind their family, friends and life, but they are proud and have faith in the training they have received."
The 229th is a combat service support unit and is used for horizontal constructional earthwork such as building runways, base camps and maintaining supply needs. Having received the Eisenhower Award the past two years, the 229th was chosen for duty because of its impeccable record and the vast amount of training and preparation they have attained.
"The 229th is clearly one of the very best units in the country and that is one of the reasons they have been called to duty," Gov. Doyle said. "We all hope war can be avoided, but we have many young men and women who are prepared."
The Wisconsin National Guard 229th Engineer unit out of Platteville will depart for Fort McCoy today (Monday Feb. 10) at 8:30 a.m. Friends, family and community members are encouraged to show their support by lining the exit route through the downtown area to Hwy 81 going west toward Lancaster.