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National Guard moves in to help with clean up

The 724th Engineer Battalion, which returned from Iraq earlier this year, is being deployed on a mission to help Burnett and Douglas County recover from the damage of a series of storms since July 1.

The 724th Engineer Battalion, which returned from Iraq earlier this year, is being deployed on a mission to help Burnett and Douglas County recover from the damage of a series of storms since July 1.

About 64 soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard unit, working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are expected to work in the two counties through much of September.

Winds toppled trees over more than 130,000 acres in six northern Wisconsin counties. Local government officials pushed most of the debris off roads, but rights of way remain littered with tangled branches, limbs and tree trunks. This debris poses a fire hazard and will impede winter snow plowing if not removed, and exceeds local government removal capabilities.

This mission is part of an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) project, which allows Guardsmen to use their military skills and equipment to assist communities in response to Gov. Scott Walker's state of emergency declaration. The mission will use existing federal funds from fiscal year 2011.

In Douglas County, the National Guard will work primarily in Dairyland, said Emergency Manager Keith Kesler.

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"This is a win-win situation," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin. "Not only does this mission provide much-needed assistance to northern Wisconsin, but it is an excellent opportunity for our combat engineers -- who just returned from the battlefield a little more than six months ago -- to gain valuable real-world training in a domestic setting. It also underscores the dual-mission value the National Guard brings to Wisconsin and the nation."

Walker said he was thrilled the men and women of the 724th would begin preparing to clear away the debris on Tuesday and begin onsite work next Friday.

"During times of crisis, it is important that all units of government work together to efficiently and effectively use taxpayer resources to assist those in need," Walker said. "That is exactly what will happen in this case, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Wisconsin National Guard."

The IRT mission may have some Soldiers providing assistance in the communities where they live. The 724th Engineer Battalion is headquartered in Chippewa Falls with subordinate units in Hayward, Tomah, Prairie du Chien, Platteville, Medford, Richland Center, Ashland, Superior, Spooner, Tomahawk and Rhinelander.

About 200 battalion members returned to Wisconsin in February following a deployment to Iraq in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
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