Two great Wisconsin traditions teamed up to give the Soldiers of a Wisconsin Army National Guard unit a memory they will never forget.
Soldiers of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment stood patiently waiting in formation June 18 for a surprise they could not have imagined. After two weeks in the field training for the National Guard’s dual mission as the Army’s primary combat reserve and first military responder in the homeland, the only thought on the Soldiers’ minds was going home.
The unit had just returned to its armory after two weeks of hard training, sleeping in tents and bearing the summer heat, when the doors to their armory in Waupun, Wisconsin, opened and current and former Packers participating in the Packer Tailgate Tour entered.
“This was a pretty awesome way to end annual training and none of us saw it coming,” said Cadet John French, of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “The leadership was kind of baiting us making it sound like we were going to have to stay at the unit longer to do more work, but seeing these guys come through the door was outstanding and a great surprise for us.”
Staff Sgt. Jared Beyer took the call when the Packers asked if the unit would be interested in the exclusive experience.
“I think it is awesome,” he said. “I love it. I have been a Packer fan all my life, and I knew it would be a great experience for the guys.”
The leadership at the unit knew for nearly three weeks that the Packers were coming, and with such a tight-knit group, it was a challenge keeping the surprise from the Soldiers.
Keeping the surprise a secret worked.
“I had no idea who was coming today and was ready to go home, and I was waiting for it,” said Spc. Zakary Kurtz. “I thought it wasn’t going to be anything super important and then they bring the Packers team which was a huge surprise.”
As the question and answer session continued Jayrone Elliott, a Packer linebacker, noted the similarities between a military unit and a football team.
“We’re all teammates,” he said. “You need to learn about each other, the habits, and develop camaraderie in the locker room or in the field. Our schedules are similar. We get up early, work out, and be around your teammates all day and have your meals together. Great brotherhood.”
“I think it is good,” he said. “They come from a team-building activity, and we can relate to each other on how we work together and how they play as a team.”
Morrison said that there were many Packers fans among his formation.
“They watch the team every weekend and it’s huge to see them,” he said. “We use a lot of football analogies in our job, too. Talk about team. Talk about leadership.”
Kurtz was thrilled to have the opportunity.
“I think this was pretty sweet, and it is definitely a morale booster,” he said. “It was great having the NFL vets and new guys here, picking their brains, seeing where they are from and how they are normal people like us.”
The players were grateful for the opportunity also.
“It was tremendous,” Elliott said. “To be able to meet them and show them respect was great. They do so much for us, sacrificing their time for a bigger cause and giving great effort. We’re thankful at the end of the day.”
The Soldiers now have an unforgettable annual training memory and connection that they can share for years to come.