FORT HOOD, Texas — Wisconsin National Guard senior leaders paid a visit Thursday to a group of Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers headed to the Middle East to build relationships with allied nations.
The Soldiers of the 157th Military Engagement Team (MET), from the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, will work with allied nations to build stronger partnerships through joint military exercises, military-to-military non-training engagements and assessment of partner nation military capabilities. The team will be split between Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, traveling extensively throughout their deployment.
Visiting the team was Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, assistant adjutant general for readiness and training, and Command Sgt. Major Raphael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor.
“I am a bit jealous right now, in a professional way,” Dunbar said during an informal roundtable discussion with the team. “I think this is a great opportunity to go off and do something like this — it is not a typical mission.
“One of the key aspects of the new National Defense Strategy is about building partnerships with other nations, so everything you are doing falls right into that,” Dunbar continued. “If the U.S. can build relationships in countries it can rely on, everyone does better.”
Given its unique mission, the team attended special training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, to hone the skills needed to work effectively with military leaders from other nations.
“Our training at Fort Polk was excellent,” said Col. Jeffrey Kurka, the 157th MET commander. “The course accounted for numerous cultural factors and added realism of having many of the role players and interpreters from the region that the 157 MET will operate in.”
“We went in with actual situations that our predecessors from other METs had done before,” Capt. Alexander Fhlug added. “It was all about building relationships and going from stranger to friend and finding out what their issues are and building that partnership.”
Mathews asked the group what they thought was the most important lesson they learned during the training.
“Don’t make the engagement more than it is,” Sgt. 1st Class Randall Hammock said. “You are having a conversation with a peer, and even if your ranks don’t match, be respectful and confident and go ahead and have the meeting. You will be successful if you are honest and sincere — you will end up with a good meeting.”
The 157 MET is not a regular unit it in the Wisconsin Army National Guard — it was assembled for this specific mission.
“I understand that there was a lot of people who wanted to go on this mission, so you are all selected — I congratulate all of you,” Mathews said. “What a great opportunity. I am also very glad that females are on this mission now because years ago they didn’t allow females on this type of mission.”
“This group is really talented and brings all sorts of capabilities that MET teams may not have had in the past,” stated Col. John Morgan, the team’s executive officer. “We have a whole bunch of people who are subject matter experts, and there is a diversity here and a level of knowledge and skills sets that is quite impressive.”
A major reason why the National Guard conducts these types of missions is the civilian skills each member brings to the team. Command Sgt. Major Conde expanded upon that perspective and urged the Soldiers to talk with their civilian employers about what they are learning.
“This mission that you are on also helps you on the civilian side, if you think about it — you work with a lot of people from different backgrounds and areas,” Conde said. “As a Guardsman, I can take that Army stuff that I learned on missions like this and apply it to my civilian career as well.”
“This is a great opportunity,” Dunbar added. “You are going to learn great things in this period of time — it will make you better Soldiers and it will make us a better National Guard when you come back.”
The Wisconsin National Guard remains heavily engaged fulfilling its mission as a key component of the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. A team of public affairs Soldiers from the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment deployed recently to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo in Cuba. Three Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 5, 641st Aviation deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year, and Soldiers from the 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East in September. Approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January, and approximately 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison from a deployment to Korea, and more than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field returned from Southwest Asia. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin National Guard has been busy fulfilling its other mission as the state’s first military responder in times of emergency. Last fall, the Wisconsin National Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding last summer in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.