FORT BLISS, Texas — Senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders paid a visit June 18 to the more than 120 Soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Military Police Company as they continue training at Fort Bliss in preparation for their upcoming deployment to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the deputy adjutant general for Army, Col. David O’Donahue, the commander of the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor, and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Sullivan visited the troops to wish them well before the unit leaves for Cuba to conduct a detainee operations mission there.
The unit departed Milwaukee in May enroute to Fort Bliss, and since arriving, the unit has been hard at work training for its important mission.
“We’re coming into the tail end of our collective training exercise and validation exercise, and the Soldiers are really starting to hit their stride,” Capt. Brian Schwalbach, the 32nd Military Police Company’s commander said. “Some of them have previous detainee operations experience, but a lot of them did not.”
Schwalbach said there are many differences between the unit’s current mission and the mission it conducted in Iraq in 2009-10 at a theater internment facility, so the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay-specific training the unit is receiving at Fort Bliss has been extremely valuable.
He believes that the unit is ready for its mission, and the Soldiers show their professionalism and commitment to that mission every day.
“They make my life easy, from the noncommissioned officers down to the lowest ranking,” he said. “They make it easy to be a commander. Morale is great. The operations tempo we had here, due to the hard work and long hours they put in on drill and annual training periods when we were back at home station, has really made this beyond manageable.”
“This is going to be my first mobilization,” Sgt. Spencer Holms, a Germantown, Wisconsin, native said. “It’s definitely going to be a different experience than what you get at annual training or drill, but it’s been a very good experience. The training has been very effective, and I can see my team developing very professionally down here.”
Holms recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a degree in criminal justice and now works in a correctional facility as a food service manager. He thinks the unit is well-prepared and ready for its mission thanks to the hard work the unit’s noncommissioned officers and other leaders have done in preparing their platoons.
Spc. Michael Falk-Wright, of Milwaukee, agreed.
“In regards to this deployment, we’ve done a lot of detainee operations, even just simple low-level team type training like handcuff drills, interpersonal communications skills and constantly drilling that over and over again,” he said. “So as we go into training lanes, we’re already ready. We’ve already been there and done that multiple times. I think it’s pretty much the repetition that’s got us ready.”
Others praised the facilities and quality training available at Fort Bliss in crediting the unit’s readiness.
“It’s been wonderful,” 2nd Lt. Ryan Schnake, of Mequon, Wisconsin, said. “They have wonderful facilities, wonderful training opportunities, and we’re coming together as a unit. So everything is coming together nicely.”
He said the unit has been focused largely on individual and team skills like handcuffing, evidence handling and interacting with the detainees.
“Military police have multiple aspects of their work depending on where they go,” Schnake said. “Right now we’re focusing on the detainees and treating them with dignity and respect, even though their worldviews are so far different than many of us.”
The contingent of senior leaders who visited the unit saw first-hand the kind of training the Milwaukee-based 32nd is conducting during their visit June 18, as they watched training scenarios where teams had to deal with non-compliant detainees and conduct handcuffing drills. Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the senior enlisted advisor for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, expressed the pride he feels knowing that Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers will take on such a high visibility mission.
“You can’t believe how proud we are to be sending Wisconsin’s finest on this mission,” Conde told the troops. “This is a real true mission. It’s a hard mission. It’s one of those missions that has a lot of focus and a lot of eyes on it, so they pick the right unit to go down there and that’s you. And the reason they did that is because you are the best, and I truly believe that.”
Brig. Gen. Anderson was confident that the unit was prepared for its mission.
“The knife has been sharpened,” he said. “You are razor sharp, and you are ready to go.”
Anderson urged the Soldiers to go into their deployment with personal goals in mind related to education, physical fitness and personal development. He also told the Soldiers to rely on their battle buddies and work to glean everything they can from their deployment experience both as a unit and as individuals.
“You are going to grow from this experience,” he said. “Take everything you can from it. Good luck.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar told the Soldiers they were true Citizen Soldiers, noting that the vast majority of them put their lives on hold and left school or a civilian job to carry out this mission when called.
“There’s a lot of pride in wearing this uniform, representing Wisconsin and the United States of America, and they’re calling you out because this mission is important, and it’s deadly serious,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar pointed out that America’s enemies around the world are put on notice when the Army can call on the National Guard as its primary combat reserve.
“The Army’s ability to pull National Guard Soldiers from their civilian lives for a few short weeks of training, and then send them on a frontline mission anywhere in the world shows America’s enemies that the United States Army has capabilities and strategic depth,” he said.
Approximately 60 percent of the unit’s Soldiers are deploying to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay to fulfill part of the National Guard’s unique dual-role mission as the Army’s primary combat reserve. The remainder of the unit will remain in Wisconsin and be available for domestic missions as the first military responder here at home.
The 32nd Military Police Company previously deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009-10 and 2003-04, and to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. It also deployed a detachment of military police Soldiers to Kosovo in 2011-12.
Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen continue to play a critical role in military operations around the globe. Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers with Detachment 1, Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division Multi-Component Unit deployed to Iraq earlier this year, and the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing recently concluded a series of air refueling operations deployments over the Middle East.