National Guard troops saluted at Sheboygan Co. send-off

PLYMOUTH -- Pride filled the auditorium Saturday morning at Plymouth High School. Families and dignitaries, including Governor Scott Walker, crowded the school as about 80 Wisconsin National Guard troops prepare for deployment to Afghanistan.

It's a unique mission. Captain Matthew Magnerson says, to his knowledge, it's the first time a Wisconsin National Guard unit has been assigned a combat artillery mission. While it elicits pride for the troops, relatives aren't as excited.

"It's hard," said Kari Stoffel, "Because it's scary and he's got a little brother, a family and the unknown is scary."

Stoffel's stepson, Kolton Stoffel, will be making his first deployment. He said he'll miss relatives the most - especially his daughter who's just starting to crawl.

"She's grown a lot already," he said, "And I'm gonna miss some of the other (milestones) too that I'd like to be here to see."

Stoffel may be gone but his voice will stay in Wisconsin. Through Build-a-Bear, the troops were able to record personal messages into a voice-box that was placed in teddy bears given to their children.

It's a small measure of comfort for relatives of all ages. After the troops depart Monday, they'll cling to the voice of their soldier - whether it's through phone calls, Skype, or their bear.

Before leaving for Afghanistan, the unit will train for several weeks at Ft. Bliss in Texas. The "Battery B" unit was last mobilized in 2006. Back then, the troops provided route security in Iraq.