Soldiers and elected officials met with Wisconsin National Guard leaders at two National Guard armories Saturday (Dec. 5) to discuss the impacts of pending force reductions.
The meetings highlighted the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, recently passed by Congress, which eliminates 36 full-time positions in 2016 as well as an additional 274 traditional drill-status positions in the Wisconsin Army National Guard over the next two years.
Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, spoke with Guard members at both the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin and Hayward, Wisconsin National Guard armories.
Impacted the most by the reductions are the Chippewa Falls-based 724th Engineer Battalion headquarters, the 949th Engineer Detachment (Survey and Design) and the 724th Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company (FSC) in Hayward.
“My commitment to you is that every Soldier in the room has a future in the Wisconsin Army National Guard,” Dunbar said to the Soldiers that were present at the meeting.
Dunbar stressed the importance of maintaining unit strength and readiness up until the day the unit’s flags are furled.
“We are still responsible to respond with the force structure that exists today until we actually make the change,” Dunbar added. He also said that the need for a National Guard presence in these locations remains important.
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, a Hayward native representing Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, commented on the pending reduction that will affect his district.
“At a time of great international unrest, it is imperative that we do not limit our military capabilities or readiness,” Duffy said. “Last month, after discussing the proposed reduction with Maj. Gen. Dunbar, I urged the chairmen of the House Committee on Appropriations to utilize the appropriations process to restore the Army National Guard’s troop levels. I will continue my efforts to work with them, and will also explore legislative solutions that would ensure our military is prepared to take on the looming threats facing our nation.”
The cuts to the Wisconsin Army National Guard will amount to a 3.6 percent decrease in strength which would be spaced out over the next three years. The number of Soldiers is expected to decrease in 2016 by 151 with an additional reduction of 123 in 2017.
Some of the losses will be spread throughout other units, but the majority of these reductions will be due to the inactivation of the 724th and the 949th.
“We’re going to manage the loss of personnel through attrition,” Dunbar said, alluding to the state’s plan to make the transition as smooth as possible allowing the reductions to take place as Soldiers retire or decide to leave upon completion of their enlistments.
Dunbar also outlined the losses that will occur within full-time staff positions which are state Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) and technician positions.
“We are losing positions within the AGR and in our technician program, both of which are the foundations of our readiness,” he said. “These losses in personnel make it much more difficult for commanders and regular drilling Guard Soldiers to prepare for drill weekends and annual training exercises because these are the people who plan and schedule critical tasks and events that are crucial to our readiness.”
Full-time personnel who serve in temporary positions will unlikely be extended past their current terms, and normal attrition rates will serve as the key pathway toward the end goal of these mandated reductions.
“You may have to retrain. You may have to go to a different unit. But you will always have a home in the Wisconsin Army National Guard,” the adjutant general said.
The meetings were intended to address any concerns from Soldiers who will be affected by this transition.
After the town hall meeting, 1st Lt. Lisa Wiese, executive officer for the 724th FSC said, “As a leader in the company, I’m dedicated to stay with this company until the last day.
“The feedback from the company is that it was absolutely the most supportive move that the state could have made,” Wiese continued, “to bring everybody in our chain of command together to answer the questions from the simple ones to the complex ones. It really made a difference.”
According to the National Guard Bureau, the units affected do not inactivate immediately, and the actual transition will not occur until 2017.