ONALASKA, Wis. (WEAU) Dozens of families braved the heat Sunday afternoon, gathering at the Onalaska American Legion to honor soldiers in the 327th Engineer Company of the U.S. Army Reserve.
The brave men and women of the company took a break from their training for a family day full of food and games.
“It’s a relaxed environment where people can mingle and get their minds off the training that we have to do in the next year,” said 327th Engineer Company Commander Steven Keister.
Organized by the company’s family readiness group, the picnic was a way for soldiers and military families to band together.
“During deployment can be a difficult time so it’s great the families get to meet each other and lend support,” said military supporter Patti Lokken.
The soldiers from Onalaska are part of the efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The unit spent four months in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, working with locals to construct military facilities.
Commander Keister said employing locals is a way to engage them in the democratic efforts in the Middle East.
“Using the local forces and getting them involved or even employing some of the local construction companies so they’re building up their own country,” Commander Keister said.
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jack Stultz said while there has been progress in Afghanistan, it may be a while before the U.S. completely withdraws troops.
“Success in Afghanistan is when the Afghan people secure and govern their own country without our help. But they’re not ready to do that yet. So what we’re doing is train their military, train their government and how to stabilize,” Lt. Gen. Stultz said.
And with thousands of men and women returning home from the Middle East, Lt. Gen. Stultz said the U.S. must prepare to receive them with employment opportunities and gratitude.
“We got to do what we’re doing today. We have to say ‘Thank you for what you’ve done’. We didn’t do that in the Vietnam War and that’s a lost generation that we didn’t thank,” Lt. Gen. Stultz said.
In Dubuque, Iowa on Sunday, 220 soldiers from two Army National Guard Units were dismissed from service in Afghanistan.
The units were the first to be withdrawn under President Barack Obama’s troop withdrawal plan for Operation Enduring Freedom.