MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker promoted Col. David O’Donahue to the rank of brigadier general during a formal ceremony March 16 in the Senate Chamber of the state capitol building.
O’Donahue, formerly the commander of the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, will serve as the deputy adjutant general for civil support. His primary role will be planning and preparing the Wisconsin National Guard’s domestic response for state emergencies, man-made or natural disasters, and federal military mobilizations. He will also assist the adjutant general in managing and directing the administration, coordination, planning, development, execution and supervision of the Wisconsin National Guard’s Joint Staff.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, called O’Donahue a “true Guardsman” for his military experience — which includes deployments to Iraq in 2004 and 2010 — and his civilian work experience.
“What a great day for Wisconsin,” Dunbar said, who thanked O’Donahue’s wife and family for their support and sacrifice during his military career.
Dunbar and Walker spoke of the tradition of the governor promoting general officers in the Wisconsin National Guard.
Walker recalled his first opportunity, six years ago on a cold February night at Volk Field, to welcome a Wisconsin National Guard unit back from deployment. That unit, commanded by then Lt. Col. O’Donahue, operated as Task Force Badger — the only remaining engineering battalion in Iraq directing a total of eight engineer companies, Guard, Reserve and active duty units. The battalion was tasked with providing freedom of movement throughout Iraq, which included searching for and removing roadside bombs along 200,000 kilometers of Iraqi roads.
Only a few months later, Walker noted, members of that same battalion reported to state active duty to remove debris in northwestern Wisconsin left by powerful summer storms.
“That’s a great reminder of how important the Guard is,” Walker said.
O’Donahue’s son Joseph described his father as “a father most of us would be unbelievably lucky to have,” someone who made time for his sons despite a busy work and military schedule.
“I know my father by a different standard, much different from the military [standard],” Joseph said. “And once again, the bar has been set high.”
Noting that his parents would celebrate their 28th anniversary this year, Joseph credited his mother Amy for providing the support that made his father’s military career possible.
“Countless weekends away, annual trainings, and times when his country asked for his service abroad would crush many other couples,” Joseph said. “Yet it only succeeded in strengthening their commitment to each other. My father will be the first to tell you his success is directly attributable to my mother’s steadfast support.”
O’Donahue thanked his family, his superior officers, and God.
“Miracles still happen, and this is quite honestly living proof of it,” he quipped. “There are ROTC leaders from Michigan Tech that will say, ‘Yes, that’s a miracle — maybe not a great miracle.’”
O’Donahue spoke warmly of his time with the 724th Engineer Battalion, and the work ethic and perseverance in that unit. Later, when he commanded the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade he found those same qualities evident statewide.
He also recounted a conversation with country singer Trace Adkins, who was performing for the troops in Iraq. Adkins said he wanted to tell his grandchildren that he had shaken hands with men and women who had done great things.
“I’m a lot luckier than Trace Adkins,” O’Donahue said. “I got to do more than shake the hands of men and women who did something great. I got a chance to share a meal, serve alongside — whether overseas or a state emergency. Those are just great men and women that serve our nation and state.
“I’m very blessed to be able to continue to serve.”