MADISON, Wis. — A 10-year run as Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army would reasonably be considered a lengthy military assignment. But Maj. Gen. Mark Anderson, who handed the leadership of the Wisconsin Army National Guard to Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews during a June 1 change of authority ceremony, is amazed at how swiftly the time has gone.
“I can vividly recall the day I took command as deputy adjutant general, and it seems from that point on the treadmill’s been going pretty quick,” Anderson said in his final days as the deputy adjutant general for Army. While that position is not technically a command — the adjutant general commands the Wisconsin National Guard as a whole, and the governor is its commander in chief — the deputy is responsible for the manning, equipping, training and overall readiness of the Army or Air side of the organization, and is the principal advisor to the adjutant general on those matters.
“As the deputy I help set the priorities,” Anderson said, “sometimes as a recommendation to the adjutant general, more often than not based on his guidance, knowing his intent and employing what we call ‘mission command’ — generating the priorities and the strategic focus of the organization to achieve those readiness goals.”
To accomplish this, Anderson said the deputy adjutant general must exert influence through the brigade commanders, as well as the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s chief of staff, command chief warrant officer and state command sergeant major. Developing a culture of trust, of knowledge, competence and confidence has never been more critical, he said.
“The entire time I’ve been the deputy, we have been a nation at war, and so there has never been a year that we have not had Soldiers deployed,” Anderson said, noting the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s role as part of the nation’s primary combat reserve as well as Wisconsin’s first military responder. “My focus has always been on making sure that we’re providing the best possible training, the best possible equipping, and of course the best possible leadership for each and every organization.”
“I spend a tremendous amount of my time also looking at the organization, making sure that we’re providing the right experiences, the right opportunities for assignments and training for our officers and enlisted Soldiers to ensure that we’re building the next command sergeants major for the battalions and the brigades and, ultimately, the state,” Anderson said. “And the same thing for our officers, from company commanders to our battalion commanders and brigade commanders, and ultimately those that might get an opportunity to become a general officer.”
Anderson said that breadth of experience is important when assuming the responsibility of leadership in an organization, and explains his confidence in his successor. Mathews has command experience from the company through brigade level, has deployed as a member of the active Army, served as the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s chief of staff and, the past two years, as assistant adjutant general for readiness and training.
“I’m telling her to be her own deputy adjutant general,” Anderson said. “My guidance to her would be no different than my guidance to brigade commanders when they take command: You now have the guidon — be your own commander and set the tone for the organization. Understand where you want to see the organization end up, and create a path for the organization to meet those goals.”
Anderson said the Wisconsin Army National Guard has become a more proactive organization during his tenure, out of necessity as troops continue to deploy overseas. That has resulted in Wisconsin being among the very best in the Army National Guard, he said, in deploying units that are “completely prepared, fully trained, very well led and very ready to do whatever mission that’s being handed to them.”
He said the Wisconsin Army National Guard also became more intentional about continuous process improvement around 2009, and was regularly recognized among the top 10 Army National Guard organizations in the Army Communities of Excellence program. Twice in the past 10 years — in 2011 and again in 2016 — the Wisconsin Army National Guard earned the top Army Communities of Excellence program.
“Not so much a reflection of anything I did — quite to the contrary, I think it was just another indication of the evolution of the organization, going from being more of a reactive organization to a proactive organization,” Anderson said. “Going from a very good Army National Guard to a great Army National Guard.”
Anderson said he has learned to be more introspective during his time as deputy adjutant general, and has benefitted from the abilities and influence of the state command sergeants major, command chief warrant officers, assistant adjutants general as well as fellow deputy adjutants general for Air.
He also credited Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, with providing lots of mentorship over the past decade. It was at Dunbar’s recommendation that Anderson began looking at dual-hat opportunities, which led to his appointment as deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard at the Field Artillery Center, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, from 2009 to 2012, where he advised the commander on Army National Guard matters relating to field artillery training and equipment fielding. Anderson also served as special assistant for to the Chief of the National Guard from 2015 to 2018 for diversity issues.
Anderson was appointed to his current dual-hat position as deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) — the justification for his promotion to major general — earlier this year. He will continue in this role, advising the TRADOC commanding general how Army National Guard skill sets and capabilities pertain to training.
“That is going to give me the opportunity to get around to all of our [Army] Centers of Excellence, because we have Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to the various COEs that are there to advise and liaise, in a similar capacity to what I’m doing, with the active component leadership at each of those schoolhouses,” Anderson said.
In addition to these dual-hat roles, which allowed him exposure to policies, programs and leaders at the national level, Anderson recalled other memorable moments from the past 10 years. One came early in his tenure, when the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team — the unit he commanded from 2006 until his appointment as deputy adjutant general — was deploying to Iraq in 2009 and a massive sendoff ceremony was held in Madison.
“We get called forward and we come walking through the backdrop behind the stage and the first thing you see is this mass of Soldiers in front of us,” Anderson said. “It was the first time we had had the entire brigade in many, many years massed in such a concentrated formation. I literally got chills up my spine just seeing that huge formation and just understanding that we were getting ready to send these men and women down to a [mobilization] station and ultimately into harm’s way.”
Another came a couple of years later — an invitation from the Russian government to discuss common security issues with Russian counterparts. Anderson enlisted the Wisconsin Army National Guard in January 1983, when the United States was still engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and much of the military training was geared toward countering Soviet battle doctrine in a potential European conflict.
“Here I was, years later, physically standing in Red Square,” Anderson said. “I was awestruck just being there and having been afforded the opportunity, in the capacity I serve in.”
He described the past 10 years as “a phenomenal experience.”
“I would not trade them for the world,” Anderson said. “A lot of people get asked if they could turn back time, would they do something different. I honestly can’t say that I would do anything different. I truly believe that all the trials and tribulations that have come along with my career had a purpose, had a meaning — the good experiences and the bad experiences.
“I constantly remind myself that, even at this grade, at this position in my career, knowing that I’m getting to the end of my career, that each and every day is a learning experience, and each and every day should be looked at as a learning environment,” Anderson continued. “I think the time that you come into a day or an assignment and you think you’ve got it all nailed, you know everything, that’s probably a good time to retire.
“And I’m not there yet.”