Saying goodbye to loved ones: Wis. Army National Guard soldiers - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Saying goodbye to loved ones: Wis. Army National Guard soldiers deploy

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CAMP WILLIAMS, Wis. (WXOW) – Family and friends filled Camp Williams Saturday to send off 65 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers.

The members of the 32nd Brigade will deploy to Kuwait and Jordan.

The Military Engagement Team will create and reinforce existing military-to-military relationships. The Base Defense Operation Center will work to enhance security and stability, and provide force protection in Kuwait.

The teams began preparing for deployment back in October.

Of the 65 soldiers, 29 are deploying for the first time.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, (R)-Wisconsin, helped send them off.

"The fact that this is such an important mission and that these men and women come from Wisconsin speaks volumes on how the U.S. military and the United States of America views our great state," Kleefisch said. "Clearly if you have an important mission, you send people from Wisconsin."

A number of soldiers in the 32nd Brigade are from the La Crosse Area, including Onalaska, West Salem, and Tomah.

Staff Sgt. Ben Van Auken is from Sparta.

"Can you say American flag," Van Auken asked his son Brody.

Patriotism can start at a young age.

But two-year-old Brody will soon learn sacrifice.

Saturday, his dad deploys overseas.

"Leaving loved ones is always difficult, but leaving ones like your son and your wife that you're extremely close to, that you're with every single day, is gonna be a lot more difficult than even I'm used to," Van Auken said.

He's been deployed three times, twice overseas.

But this is the first time he's leaving behind Brody and Mandi, his wife of just six months.

"It's like I have a little Ben with me," Mandi Van Auken said about Brody. "But it's harder because he's at such a crucial age that it's so hard for (Ben) to be away."

"He's really our little rascal. He's finally at that age, the terrible twos, where he's running around and talking and getting into all sorts of trouble," Staff Sgt. Van Auken said.

Van Auken has been at training but that's only for up to a month at a time.

This deployment could be as long as 400 days.

"Every morning he asks where daddy is. And that's probably the hardest part for me," Mandi Van Auken said.

Staff Sgt. Van Auken said he plans to Skype with his family as much as possible.

He also recorded an audio book for Brody and Mandi to read together at night.

Mandi Van Auken said she'll take a picture of Brody every day so her husband can see how he grows.

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