FORT HOOD, Texas - When 65 Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard leave for the Middle East in a few short weeks, they will become a key component of U.S. military operations in the region.
Senior leaders from the Wisconsin Army National Guard and the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team visited those Soldiers as they prepared here to deploy to Kuwait and Jordan. Two teams from the 32nd - the Military Engagement Team [MET] and the Base Defense Operations Center [BDOC] - were at Fort Hood for their pre-mobilization train-up.
The base defense operations center team will be responsible for mission command of security operations and camp operations in Kuwait, while the military engagement team will travel to as many as 18 different countries in the region to build military partnerships, share best practices in maintenance, logistics and communications, and reinforce positive relations. The MET will work with militaries from countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Tajikistan and Oman.
"That experience operating at the intergovernmental level and between militaries is something that we Soldiers, even at my level, do not get an opportunity to do," said Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the assistant adjutant general for Army, as he addressed the Soldiers of the Red Arrow during his visit. "So I ask you to really take your mission to heart and understand the significance that you play in the overall goal of the CENTCOM region and throughout that entire area. You absolutely and unequivocally are an important element to that group of commanders"
Anderson urged the deploying Soldiers to relish their experience overseas and to use it as a learning tool.
"No matter what position you're in, I think you're going to find you're going to have an experience that's going to carry with you," he said. "It's going to be a life-changing experience."
Col. David Monk, the overall commander for the two deploying teams said the Soldiers have been hard at work prepping for their respective missions. The unit has spent a lot of time conducting basic warrior tasks, staff planning, survival and evasion training and drafting standard operating procedures for the unit. The BDOC has also been hard at work on training for command post operations.
Meanwhile, with the amount of time the engagement team will spend with foreign soldiers and diplomats, language, negotiation and cultural sensitivity training has been a key focus as well.
The team has spent a lot of time studying the individual countries in which it will be working, Monk said. They will need to have a basic understanding of each country's history, culture and background in order to succeed. The MET got specialized cultural sensitivity training before it left Wisconsin, and it will also attend a training course at the Foreign Services Institute in Virginia before deploying.
Perhaps more importantly, they'll have to be able to communicate effectively and relate to their foreign counterparts.
"I think their understanding is that as funds are condensed and you can't do as much with money, the skill of negotiating and building personal relationships and networking is becoming more and more valuable," said Monk, who will be going on his third deployment. "And we're going to the best job that we can to show that level of professionalism that Wisconsin represents to all of the different countries that we visit."
The team is comprised of volunteers from each of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's four major subordinate commands. The teams were developed specifically for this mission, and many of the Soldiers are working together for the first time, but according to unit leadership, the Soldiers have gelled into a cohesive and tight-knit group very quickly.
"I can't say enough about this team," Monk said. "They're proactive. They're motivated. They're communicative. You couldn't ask for more as a commander."
Spc. Whitney Gardner, a native of Barron, Wis., who is deploying for the first time, said that while she'll miss her four nephews and her fiancÈ, she is looking forward to the opportunities presented by the deployment.
"I think it will be a great advancement in my career," she said. "I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be a wonderful experience. I'm very excited about it."
The same was true for Spc. Irene Baumann, an Elkhorn, Wis., native and a student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
"I just want to gain more experience with the Army, because I'm only about three years in," the intelligence analyst said. "I'd be considered somewhat fresh, I guess, so I'd like to learn any possible job and get any experience possible, even if that doesn't pertain to my [military occupation specialty]. As long as I'm learning something then I feel pretty excited about it."
Baumann added that she'd miss her mother's cooking and care while she was away.
Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Schumacher, of Manawa, Wis., will be going on his second deployment, and he was motivated by the opportunity.
"The engagements are going to be an awesome opportunity to see different countries, different militaries and different cultures, he said. "I'm excited to learn some new things I haven't seen before."
The team will continue training at Fort Hood for the next several weeks before deploying to the Middle East in early spring. They expect to return home next winter.