PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. — With an improvised pole that consisted of a tree limb, parachute cord and metal pop-top, Spc. Carter Titlbach caught a bluegill outside of Fort McCoy.

The night of outdoor revelry, which included some fishing, marked the end of a recent round of training.

Titlbach, 23, is readying for his first deployment to Afghanistan.

He is among nearly 400 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry in the Wisconsin National Guard that has been assigned to support Operation Freedom Sentinel, the federal government’s current counterterrorism and support mission in the Global War on Terrorism.

“It’s kind of shocking, but also I’m very excited to go because I’ve always wanted to go overseas,” Titlbach said. “There is really not a feeling to it. It’s just kind of a ‘Wow’ factor.”

Soldiers will serve as a security detail for coalition forces operating within the region.

“We are kind of like that ‘Call of Duty’ soldier and we go out and deal with the people in close contact,” Titlbach said, referring to a popular military video game. “We search and destroy the enemy.”

Gearing up

Capt. Joe Trovato, guard spokesperson, said he could not provide a deployment date nor details about soldiers involved in the operation, citing security concerns.

Tours of duty typically last one year, subject to change based on local conditions, he said.

On July 14, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and senior guard officials will join soldiers and their family and friends at a private send-off ceremony at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry deployed to Iraq several times following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but its assignment to Afghanistan will be a first.

Titlbach received the news that he would be deployed about one year ago.

“You never think it’s going to happen,” he said. “You’re not going to see your family for a year and potentially you may lose your life or lose somebody over there. It’s a dangerous game over there, right now.”

Titlbach has trained at Fort McCoy in central Wisconsin for several months, alongside Afghan National Army personnel and police.

He will report for his last day of work as a correctional officer at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution this month.

Service to country

Following in his father’s footsteps, Titlbach joined the guard after high school in 2014.

The decision was a step he wanted to take since childhood when he played war games in his front yard with toy guns. Titlbach’s grandfather and great-grandfather also served in the military.

“I just love the country. I really do,” he said. “I just wanted to serve.”

His choice

Carter’s father, Dan Titlbach, said one word defines his feelings about Carter’s service.

Proud.

“I don’t know other words besides proud,” Dan said, his voice breaking. “It brings tears to my eyes. But he’s the one who made the choice.”

Dan served in the guard from 1977 to 1986. He said the military has provided him with an ever-present brotherhood.

“I pray to God that everyone comes back. In my eyes we shouldn’t be over there,” he said. “But it’s not my choice to make.”

Dan said his appreciation extends to all service members in all branches of the military.

He paused.

“It’s not just about our military but our locals at home protecting you,” Dan said. “You look at our emergency management. Our police officers that put their lives every day on the line. Our firefighters, our EMS. They serve our country too.”

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