Prescott Historical Society to honor local military veterans Sunday
PRESCOTT -- For the last six weeks, guests of the Prescott Historical Society have seen a fresh and unique perspective to the Iraq War.
The PHS has been running an exhibit called "Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with the Wisconsin National Guard Unit," in which three members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 2-127th Infantry Battalion chronicled their deployment in Iraq from 2004-2005.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the PHS is inviting all area military personnel and families who have served to a reception from 1-4 p.m. this Sunday at the Historical Society, located at Prescott's Welcome and Heritage Center (by the bell tower) at the Hwy. 10 bridge.
The exhibit is a spin-off of the book of the same title written by Cpt. Benjamin Buchholz, with photos from then-Lt. Nathan Olson and Staff Sgt. Joseph Streeter.
"It's a series of photographs that are very beautiful," PHS Secretary Jenny Taevs said.
Buchholz said the battalion was mainly assigned convoy escort duty, which was about 90 percent of their missions. It meant they met up with about 30 civilian-type semis at the border of Kuwait and Iraq and, with the battalion's three HUMVEEs, provided armed escort throughout all of Iraq.
"It also meant that we were the targets for most of the roadside bombs," Buchholz said via e-mail. "... A lot of our guys grew up very quickly and have come back into their Wisconsin communities with tremendous levels of experience and competence."
Added Olson, who was recently promoted to Cpt.: "Day-by-day, it was excurating, but overall, our time there went quickly."
Streeter said the book idea came from Buchholz, who had the goal of showing how soldiers lived and what they did in their free time. Buchholz then asked Streeter if he was willing to add his photos to the project as well. Olson came on later to the project.
"Being a photographer, I wanted to make sure that I captured where we were and what we were doing," Streeter said via e-mail. "I didn't even know about (Ben's) idea until I asked him about a separate mission to take photos of the local area and the people that lived there."
Buchholz and Streeter explained how they're able to balance working on their project along with their assignment in Iraq.
"Military time means a lot of 'hurry up and wait'," Buchholz said. "One of the big differences between our generation of soldiers and past generations is that we are technologically enabled over there."
So with internet, laptops, iPODs, cell phones, at their disposal, Buchholz spent most of his down time interviewing other soldiers and writing.
Streeter would take his camera along on missions and then spend his personal time working on them.
"I would ride in the truck with my camera in my lap," he said. "Being a Squad Leader definitely came first, so there were times when the camera was literally thrown aside. That camera is pretty beat up now, but it never missed a frame."
Olson stated privacy is what he missed most about life in the United States.
"It was mostly the ability to relax," he said. "With about only 20 square feet of your own space, you miss getting away from it."
Buchholz said a key to the book was the Wisconsin Historical Society Press getting involved early in the project.
"We knew it was going to be a book, a high-quality book, and we were able to plan, fill in gaps, while still deployed," he said.
Streeter is still amazed about the whole process.
"I was surprised enough to find out that there was really going to be a book," he said. "It was almost a feeling of shock to hear that the Historical Society thought enough of the book to do a traveling exhibit."
Added Buchholz: "I'm excited for the exhibit and think that the book offers a lot to current military families and those who might choose to serve."
All royalties from the book sales of "Private Soldiers" will go to the 2-127th's family support groups and to funds established in memoriam of the three battalion members who lost their lives in Iraq.
"You couldn't help but think about it," Olson said, about losing your life. He added that none of the authors were injured while in Iraq. "A lot of people got worried, especially within the last month-and-a-half we were there."
Taevs added the exhibit, which came to the PHS from the State Historical Society in Madison, was originally going to be in Prescott from May 26 (Memorial Day) to July 4. It was a solution PHS officials weren't happy with.
"We wanted to honor the local vets," Taevs said, as they were granted an extension through next Tuesday, which enabled them to have the reception. Food and drinks will be served.
Buchholz lives in Brandon and works full time for the Wisconsin National Guard as the 2-127th's training officer. He is also a published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Olson has been a member of the National Guard for more than 16 years. He also works for the National Guard as the environmental assessment and reports manager for the state. Along with his wife, Ann, Olson owns an event and portrait photography business in Columbus. Meanwhile Streeter, who lives in Madison, has been a member of the National Guard for over 12 years. He works as the system administrator at the Wisconsin Joint Force Headquarters and runs a sports photography business.
If unable to attend the reception, the exhibit is open the hours of the Welcome and Heritage Center, which are Tuesdays-Fridays 10 a.m.-3 p.m.