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Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit
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Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit


"Private Soldiers" chronicles the 2-127th's year-long deployment from the unique perspective of the soldiers themselves. Written and photographed by three battalion members, the book provides a rare …

"Private Soldiers" chronicles the 2-127th's year-long deployment from the unique perspective of the soldiers themselves. Written and photographed by three battalion members, the book provides a rare first-hand account of war and life in Iraq.

This slideshow is an excerpt of images and text from the book and was originally used as a traveling museum display (for larger text, scroll down to "transcript").

For more on the book: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whspress/books/book.asp?book_id=312

By Benjamin Buchholz, Photographs by Joseph Streeter and Nathan Olson

Hardcover: $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-87020-395-4

Published in Education
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  • 1. A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit In April 2005 they received the official alert: The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2-127th Infantry Battalion was being mobilized. The 620 soldiers of the Gator Battalion would serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom, providing armed convoy escort and route security throughout all of Iraq, from Umm Qasr in the south to Mosul in the far north. Their mission would take them into the most dangerous regions of Iraq, and during the next year the battalion would withstand hundreds of attacks, see dozens wounded, and lose three members killed in action. Unit members Captain Benjamin Buchholz, Lieutenant Nathan Olson, and Staff Sergeant Joseph Streeter chronicled their battalion’s year in Iraq from the unique perspective of the soldiers themselves in Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit. Through Buchholz’s candid prose and Olson’s and Streeter’s compelling photographs, Private Soldiers captures the experiences of these citizen soldiers, from training and deployment to their unique mission to their return to homes, jobs, and families.
  • 2. The 2-127th left Wisconsin for Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in June 2005 for three months of intensive training before deploying to Camp Navistar, Kuwait. Training at Camp Shelby was adequate, if not glorious; at least Mississippi’s sweltering heat prepared our soldiers for the scorching weather of Kuwait and Iraq. At Camp Shelby soldiers practice entering and clearing room-to-room in a mock house. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 3. Training continued when the 2-127th arrived in Kuwait in August 2005, where our troops requalified on our weapons, conducted live-fire exercises, learned how to drive the heavier up-armored Humvees, and got our first training on the specialized communications equipment aboard each vehicle. Here crews refresh marksmanship skills at Udairi Range in Kuwait. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 4. All the training pays off when a team finally hits the road for its first mission. From that point forward teammates rely on each other for almost everything. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 5. The soldiers of the 2-127th, Decisions made by young drivers, gunners, and vehicle commanders determined not only the success of the mission but also the safety of the crews and vehicles. Photo by Nathan Olson who hailed from all over Wisconsin, provided armed escort for convoys of up to fifty civiliancontracted and military semis throughout Iraq from August 2005 to August 2006. It was a lonely mission, with three uparmored Humvees operating independently to shepherd each convoy to bases far from headquarters. This independence required enormous maturity, responsibility, and tactical know-how from junior soldiers.
  • 6. Before each mission, and each day as the convoy moved from base to base, security personnel met with the convoy commander. Together they decided what tactics to employ and discussed known danger areas. Photo by Nathan Olson
  • 7. The 2-127th completed 5,232 combat missions, traveling more than 5,700,000 miles in a single year. Some missions were one-day, round-trip journeys to the first base on the route north, which usually took about eight hours. Others, heading farther north, required multiple stops. Depending on the distance, these assignments lasted between five and fifteen days, with each leg of the journey taking three to eight hours—a long time on the road, no matter how you break it up. Soldiers meet at the front of the trucks just before a night movement. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 8. Only a few of our convoys’ semis were military. The drivers of civilian-contracted semis often spoke Urdu or Arabic or Hindi, turning the convoy into a rolling Tower of Babel. These contracted drivers lived with their vehicles, sleeping in them while on missions, eating in or around them, playing soccer in the semi staging lots. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 9. The 2-127th fielded three regular infantry companies, each with twentyfour Humvee teams of three soldiers each. The battalion’s headquarters company, with three Humvee teams of its own, added another layer of support along with specialty staff to keep abreast of intelligence, operational planning, and soldier welfare during the fight. In total we had 620 soldiers and around 150 Humvees on the road or working to support the road crews, day and night. A convoy rolls north through a sandstorm. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 10. While the majority of the 2-127th’s troops performed convoy escort throughout Iraq, a smaller group patrolled the first 40 miles of the main highway leading from Kuwait to Baghdad. The Route Security Element, or RSE, cleared debris from the road to reduce opportunities for insurgents to camouflage IEDs (improvised explosive devices), maintained a presence to deter criminals from hijacking convoy trucks, escorted convoys with damaged vehicles to safety, and conducted checkpoints to search vehicles for contraband, such as bomb-making equipment and unregistered weapons. Two members of our Route Security Element and an interpreter talk with a driver during a vehicle inspection. The driver has a very old ID card, a sign that he may be trying to avoid official records. The man is a little argumentative, in a hurry, he says, but he complies. In the end the RSE team finds nothing, and the driver and his passengers are allowed to continue on their way. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 11. The 2-127th’s presence around Safwan was the only U.S. presence in an area otherwise overseen by British troops; thus our soldiers were representatives of everything “American” to the local Iraqis. Here two patrol members question an Iraqi youth about unexploded ordnance found nearby. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 12. Left: With convoys stretching over several kilometers, communication among teams and back to headquarters was one of the mission’s greatest challenges. Our communications staff mastered a myriad of gear, including MTS, an onboard computer and map-enabled tracking and email system; global positioning system (GPS); SINCGARs, the encrypted radio (usually two per vehicle to allow monitoring of multiple radio networks simultaneously); and electronic IED countermeasures. Photo by Joseph Streeter Below: One of the 2-127th’s biggest success stories was the performance of our battalion maintenance staff. Here Sergeant Jesse Fenske of Fremont, Wisconsin, works on a guntruck’s suspension. Photo by Nathan Olson Sending teams of soldiers into a hostile environment requires a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes support and planning.
  • 13. This war, unlike any before it, brought modern amenities to the battlefield, helping provide some rest and small comforts in the long, bleak year away from family. Still, the days passed slowly. We filled our off-time by playing video games, calling or writing email home, watching movies, reading books from the camp library, working out in the gym. Companies challenged each other in flag football and softball on the hardscrabble back lots of camp. A quiet evening behind the living tents. Photo by Nathan Olson
  • 14. The 2-127th shared the roads with local Iraqis and passed through cities and villages where life has slowly begun to take on a more natural rhythm after twenty-five years of almost constant war and embargo. Every day of our mission we sent between fifteen and fifty convoys through Safwan, a city of 50,000 and Iraq’s main border crossing with rich Kuwait. Transportation for Iraqis is catch-as-catch-can. Anyone with room in his car will pick up travelers for a small fee. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 15. Capitalism is alive and well in Iraq. Anytime our convoys stopped, even in the most inhospitable desert, merchants appeared to attempt to sell us knives, cigarettes, Viagra, and movies. Photo by Joseph Streeter
  • 16. Staff Sergeant David Hottenstine of Pulaski, Wisconsin, lowers the flag to half-mast. The 2-127th lost three soldiers killed in action and saw twenty members wounded, all by IED explosions. The first two casualties happened when we had been on the ground for less than a month, and everyone, to the man, questioned how many more deaths those months would hold. Photo by Nathan Olson
  • 17. Below: All the way home, from town to town, we were amazed at the show of support: banners, flags, handmade signs, parades. Local VFW, Legion, Kiwanis, and other groups asked battalion members to attend events, to speak and share their stories. We were truly and wholly welcomed home. Photos by Joseph Streeter Right: The battalion colors descend the steps of one of three planes that brought us home. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin National Guard Office of Public Affairs
  • 18. ... I unwrapped a little white and green clay pot of the type kindergartners excel at producing. My five-year-old son’s fingerprints were hardened on the rim. I set it on the desk beside my bunk, filled it with POGs (fake money) from the PX and other knickknacks, and took a picture of it to send home to him: “See, daddy’s using your dish.” I caught, in the background, other knickknacks, things I’d collected during my work in Iraq, things I’d saved from previous care packages.... The picture made me think about living crammed together with grown men in a tent eight time zones away from my family. It made me wonder how much I had been changed by the experience of being deployed. I began to interview guys, taking photos of their living areas.... That was the project’s genesis. It greatly expanded and improved in quality when I added the skills of two professional photographers, First Lieutenant Nathan Olson and Staff Sergeant Joseph Streeter. They carried their own expensive cameras around Iraq with them on missions, sometimes holding a .50cal gun in one hand while propping their camera in the crook of their other arm. That view from the turret of the Humvee provides this project something that few other books can boast: a direct view from the level of those who led missions and participated in all facets of the deployment. —CAPTAIN BENJAMIN BUCHHOLZ November 27, 2006 Photos by Benjamin Buchholz The Wisconsin Historical Society Press published Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit in 2007. Through Captain Buchholz’s candid prose and Lieutenant Olson’s and Staff Sergeant Streeter’s compelling photographs, Private Soldiers provides a rare first-hand account of war and life in Iraq. Fascinating soldier interviews reveal the effects of deployment on the troops and on their families back home, and interviews with Iraqi civilians describe the Iraqis’ perceptions of life, war, and working alongside Wisconsin troops. Brilliant photography illuminates the 2-127th’s year, from training to “boots on the ground” to their return home. Candid photos taken by battalion members capture the soldiers’ day-to-day lives and camaraderie. All royalties from sales of Private Soldiers will go to the 2-127th’s family support groups and to funds established in memoriam of the battalion members who gave their lives in the Iraq war. Captain Benjamin Buchholz of Brandon, Wisconsin, was the 2-127th Infantry Battalion’s civil affairs officer during deployment. He works full time for the Wisconsin National Guard as the 2-127th’s training officer. Staff Sergeant Joseph Streeter of Madison, Wisconsin, has been a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard for over twelve years. While deployed in Iraq he served as a squad leader in the 2-127th’s C Company. Lieutenant Nathan Olson of Columbus, Wisconsin, has been a member of the Wisconsin National Guard for more than eighteen years. During his time in Iraq he served as a platoon leader in the 2-127th’s C Company.
  • 19. For more information about the book: www.wisconsinhistory.org/whspress