MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s largest current unit emerged 50 years ago from a massive Army-wide reorganization that concluded an historic era and enhanced the Guard’s ability to respond today both home and abroad.
In 1967, the Department of Defense — in an effort to redefine the National Guard’s capability as a combat reserve of the Army — reorganized Wisconsin’s historic 32nd “Red Arrow” Division into the smaller 32nd Separate Brigade.
As the 32nd Division approached its 50th anniversary, the Pentagon in March 1967 considered restructuring it and 14 other National Guard divisions maintained at half strength and with older equipment. The plan called for modernizing these divisions into smaller, full-strength brigades that could deploy in defense of the United States within weeks instead of months.
“This would result in a streamlined Army National Guard and Reserve force of eight divisions and 16 independent brigades, all of which would be at combat strength or close to that level,” reported the March 5, 1967 issue of the Appleton Post-Crescent.
Losing the 32nd Division was a tough blow for Wisconsin because of its record of distinguished service in two world wars, as well as during the 1961-62 Berlin Crisis where President Kennedy had “called them in to prevent a war, not to fight a war.”
The Army constituted the 32nd Division on July 18, 1917 for service in World War I with troops of the Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard. The division fought in four major campaigns in France and earned its distinctive “Red Arrow” insignia after it pierced the Hindenburg Line. The division fought for 654 days in New Guinea and the Philippines in World War II – the most days of any U.S. Army division during the war. In 1961, it commenced a year of training at Fort Lewis, Washington, so regular Army forces could deploy to Europe during the Berlin Crisis.
However, the Department of Defense since that time only maintained the 32nd Division at half strength — its 9,000 Soldiers consisted of almost the entire Wisconsin Army National Guard. Since half-strength divisions took months to deploy, the Army designated much of the 32nd as filler for Minnesota’s 47th Division — one of the Army’s high-priority Selected Reserve Force units.
The Army announced on June 2 its final decision to reorganize the 32nd Division into a brigade.
“We are deeply saddened over the loss of our famed ‘Red Arrow’ Division,” said Gov. Warren Knowles. “But if, in the best judgement of the Department of Defense officials, this course of action is vitally necessary to the defense structure of this nation, Wisconsin will continue to do its part in support of the defense effort.”
The 32nd Division’s 9,000 troops planned to observe the unit’s 50th anniversary during its final annual training at Camp Ripley, Minn.
“It is the 50th year of the 32nd Division and the aura of that tradition of excellence that is the 32nd’s demands the best efforts and results from this summer camp,” said division commander Maj. Gen. John Dunlap.
Knowles declared July 18 as “Red Arrow Day” and proclaimed, “The 32nd has answered the call of the President of the United States three times since its organization in 1917, serving during World War I, World War II, and the Berlin Crisis.”
With the 32nd Division’s fate a foregone conclusion, Knowles sought to maintain the Wisconsin National Guard as an effective force available to both state and nation and advocated successfully that Wisconsin retain an independent brigade.
“We are firmly convinced that Wisconsin should have been allotted a separate brigade, rather than a division brigade of Minnesota’s 47th Division,” Knowles wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
The National Guard Bureau published on Nov. 20 the final order that reorganized the 32nd Division and the entire Wisconsin Army National Guard. On Dec. 30, 1967, the history of the 32nd as a division ended and a new chapter as a separate brigade began.
In addition to converting the division into the 32nd Separate Brigade, the reorganization enhanced the Wisconsin National Guard’s state emergency response role by adding an Emergency Operations Headquarters — a command and control element over troops responding to state emergencies.
While the order consolidated the Wisconsin Army National Guard into 68 units stationed in 67 Wisconsin cities — a closure of armories in four communities — the Guard’s size actually expanded from 9,900 to just over 10,000 Soldiers.
Although a few troops had to drill in a different city, the biggest change for most was which unit insignia they would wear. Those in the new 32nd Separate Brigade continued to wear the distinctive “Red Arrow” insignia while those in other units switched to the “Badger” patch of the state headquarters.
“We are very pleased that the ‘Red Arrow’ can still be worn proudly by members of the separate brigade,” said Knowles. “And know that all of our Army Guard units will carry on the same proud tradition established over 50 years by the 32nd Division.”
The division’s transition into the 32nd Separate Brigade in 1967 provided long-term dividends for today’s Wisconsin Army National Guard and its dual mission of first military responder to the homeland and primary combat reserve to the U.S. military.
“Brigades, while significantly smaller and with fewer overall resources than a division, are far more agile, mobile, and flexible to respond to a variety of missions it can handle,” said Col. John Oakley, current commander of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Since 1967, the 32nd IBCT has had an active role both at home and abroad. During the Cold War era, the brigade deployed to West Germany as a demonstration of U.S. combat power during two REFORGER exercises. Beginning in 2004, elements of the brigade mobilized separately for the Global War on Terrorism and in 2009, the entire brigade deployed to Iraq. On the domestic front, the 32nd recently responded several times to emergencies within Wisconsin and in September of this year, it airlifted 600 troops to Florida to assist with Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.
“The 32nd IBCT stands ready if ever called upon to respond to a threat or emergency,” Oakley said. “The largest formation in the Wisconsin National Guard, the 32nd is uniquely postured in that a variety of wartime functions like security, logistics, intelligence, and engineering are found under a single command and can be applied effectively in a domestic response.”
The Wisconsin Army National Guard since 1967 has evolved into the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 64th Troop Command Brigade, 426th Regiment and Joint Force Headquarters-Wisconsin – most of their respective subordinate units have direct ties to the 32nd Division. The exceptional record of all of these organizations in response to state emergencies and service overseas continues the 32nd Division’s proud legacy.