FORT MCCOY, Wis. - While the new class of second lieutenants and warrant officers formed a relatively short line as they filed in for their commissioning ceremony Oct. 11, the Wisconsin National Guard's senior officer extended that line back to Concord and Lexington nearly 230 years ago, and the shot heard 'round the world.
"You are part of the great heritage, the great legacy," Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, said to the 21 officer candidates and warrant officer candidates in attendance. "The good news is, you've finished, and you've earned this commission. The better news is, you're just getting started.
"The best news is that each and every one of you has earned a commission in this organization - the Wisconsin Army National Guard, the United States Army," he continued.
Officer candidates traditionally spend 15 months, one weekend per month at the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 426th Regiment Regional Training Institute, in a rigorous and demanding program that forges leadership and develops strategic thinking one critical decision at a time. Three of the 13 officer candidates took advantage of an eight-week accelerated version of the course.
Warrant officer candidates typically have several years of enlisted experience when they undertake more than eight months of training designed to transform them into subject matter experts in their field as well as trusted advisors. This year's 13 candidates mark the largest graduating class since the 426th RTI began its Warrant Officer Candidate School.
Three officer and two warrant officer candidates were not at the commissioning ceremony - many were attending additional military schools.
"You have earned your commission - we didn't give it to you," Dunbar reiterated. "It's a high standard. If you hadn't met the standard, you wouldn't be here today."
Dunbar told the candidates that they share the same core values - and leadership expectations - as officers several grades above them. Soldier caring, Soldier development, a commitment to ethics and excellence, and readiness are among those values. Those who lead are recognized and promoted to greater responsibility.
"You are a leader today," Dunbar said. "I ask that you always remember that you lead starting today. It doesn't come sometime in the future when you're a major hoping to make rank. There's no secret handshake. We start leading right now."
The adjutant general is a fan of Bruce Sprintsteen's music, and cited lyrics from the song "This is Your Sword" to reinforce the message that the candidates waiting to receive their commission were fully prepared for what the future held:
Brothers and sisters, listen to me
These are the few things that I leave to thee
The sword of our fathers, with lessons hard taught
The shield, strong and sturdy from battles well fought
The times, they are dark - darkness covers the earth
But this world's filled with the beauty of God's work
Hold tight to your brawn, stay righteous, stay strong
When the days of miracles will come along
"The world is a dangerous place and the United States has a unique position in this world," Dunbar said. "We rely on men and women like you to back up the things that flag stands for. It is a noble calling that you have undertaken."