Gov. Scott Walker, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined family and friends at a Jan. 4 sendoff ceremony in Madison, Wisconsin, for approximately 65 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers mobilizing for a mission to Iraq and Kuwait as part of a deployment with the 101st Airborne Division.
The Wisconsin Soldiers assigned to Detachment 1, Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division Multi-Component Unit (DMCU) will deploy as an element of the storied active duty division with approximately 500 Soldiers from the active and reserve components in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
The 101st Airborne Division Headquarters will assume the role of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Iraq, replacing the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters. The division headquarters will provide command and control of coalition troops training, advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces.
The deployment will be the first combat test of a first-ever Army initiative to integrate Soldiers from the National Guard and Reserves into a single multi-component unit alongside their active duty brethren. The deploying group of Guardsmen was up to the task.
Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor, once served with the 101st while on active duty in the 1970s. At the time, there was a wide gulf between the active duty and the National Guard. Those days are gone, he said during the unit’s deployment ceremony at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Madison.
“I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this organization and see what I see in the Soldiers out in front of me here today,” he said.
“You have set the standard,” Shields said. “This was a pilot program, and as we did during previous deployments, you have gone above and beyond demonstrating to the active component that we are as good, and in most cases, better than they are in terms of being ready and being tactically proficient.”
Dunbar spoke of the National Defense Act of 1916, which formally declared the National Guard a component of the federal U.S. Army. Since that time, the National Guard has fulfilled two key missions.
“Here we are about to fulfill one of our two missions in the National Guard,” Dunbar said. “We’re the primary combat reserve of the United States Army and nobody does it better. And we are the first military responders here at home.”
Dunbar pointed out that while the Guard is simultaneously sending Wisconsin Soldiers overseas to combat threats abroad, it is also serving domestically in states ravaged by floodwaters and raging rivers in the south.
“Make no mistake about it, you are part of an organization that is a national treasure,” he said. “And you’re now part of the 101st Division — a storied division and one of only 18 divisions in the United States Army.”
He also said that when the Pentagon developed the concept of a DMCU, the National Guard Bureau sought to align active duty units with states it could trust. They turned to Wisconsin and Utah first to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept.
“As you go downrange into a difficult part of the world, there is no doubt that you will stand shoulder-to-shoulder and not one dot below the quality of the 101st,” he said. “Because that’s what the National Guard is, the primary combat reserve, and you’re ready for that today.”
The 101st already had a deep history in Wisconsin’s storied military lineage, and the current partnership will only add to it. The iconic “Screaming Eagle” that adorns the division’s famed unit patch is a depiction of Wisconsin’s Old Abe – the mascot adopted by the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. The men of the 8th Wisconsin carried Old Abe into battle alongside the national and regimental colors during the unit’s campaigns.
At one point shortly after the division’s formation, the 101st was headquartered in Milwaukee as part of the Organized Reserves, where Old Abe first became associated with the division.
Gov. Scott Walker invoked that history during his remarks to the deploying Soldiers, noting that a painting of Old Abe hangs in his office at Wisconsin’s capitol and a replica sits perched high above the Wisconsin State Assembly chamber.
More than 150 years ago, Soldiers from Wisconsin units fighting in the Civil War asked for something they could carry into battle that would remind them of home, Walker said. Thus the state flag was born, he explained as he presented a Wisconsin flag to Col. Leland Ward, the commander of the detachment of Wisconsin Guard Soldiers.
“So today I give you this flag both as a reminder first and foremost of the courage of those that preceded you into war,” he said.
“You are part of that proud tradition, not just of the United States Army, but of service members from Wisconsin who carry that tradition on. Go forward with that kind of courage and bravery. “But it’s also a reminder, particularly when you are in a tough time, particularly when you are a little homesick or challenged along the way between now and the time when we welcome you back home – the other reminder of this flag – just as it was in the Civil War, is about all the other people back home.”
Walker said that 5.7 million Wisconsinites will be praying for and thinking of the deployed Soldiers while they are away.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan also spoke at the sendoff and thanked the Soldiers for defending the country as well as its rights, values, freedoms and all for which it stands.
“We want to send you our thanks and best wishes on behalf of the people of Wisconsin and on behalf of the federal government,” he said. “And we want to make sure that you know that we have your back while you’re there and when you come home. We are going to be there for you like you are there right now for us.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, pointed out that the families and employers of deploying Soldiers are key elements of the overall success of the unit’s mission.
“The love and support that you provide to your loved one allows that Soldier to be able to focus on their mission,” he told the families. “And then collectively as an organization be able to achieve whatever mission that that organization is given when it goes overseas.”
“To a person you will continue to represent the Wisconsin Army National Guard at-large by your performance and your professionalism, and I am absolutely confident that each and every one of you will do an outstanding job,” Anderson said to the Soldiers.
The detachment commander, Col. Ward, proclaimed the unit ready to take on its mission and praised the Soldiers for their commitment.
“Today we change our effort,” Ward said. “We put on the mindset of the leaders of the 101st Division. We will plan, prepare and execute effective operations. Remain ready.”
“Thank you, good luck, and Godspeed,” he added.
DMCU Soldiers agreed.
“We’re more than ready,” Master Sgt. Joseph Gudleske, an operations non-commissioned officer in the division’s engineer section said.
Sgt. Alec Libby, a geospatial engineer who is deploying for the first time, looked forward to the deployment.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m ready to go no matter where they send me,” he said.
The detachment will head to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to link up with the rest of the 101st Airborne Division Headquarters before beginning its journey overseas.