Thirty-eight employers of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers sampled a slice of annual training July 18, catching a ride on a C-130 Hercules from Volk Field, Wisconsin to the nation’s largest National Guard training center, Camp Graying Joint Maneuver Training Center in northern Michigan, where their employees were participating in a massive training exercise to validate their readiness to deploy.
The visit was made possible by the Wisconsin Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, which organizes several daylong “Bosslift” events each year to give employers a better understanding of the role the military’s reserve components play in the nation’s overall defense.
“The Soldiers seated next to you, that work next to you most of the year, here are diligently working through this exercise,” Col. Brian Wolhaupter, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s chief of staff, told employers as they sat with their Soldiers during a briefing at Camp Grayling.
“They represent the finest traditions of our nation,” Wolhaupter said of the Soldiers whose employers took part in the Bosslift. “The National Guard represents our oldest military service. You represent the ability for them to continue to serve, along with their families. Without that, they wouldn’t be here.”
Wolhaupter informally surveyed the employers and found that only three or four had military experience. He used Spiderman to explain the life of a military reservist.
“On a daily basis, he or she is there trying to live a normal civilian life,” Wolhaupter said. “And yet, behind it all, they put on a different uniform and do things that no one else is willing to do. That’s your employee.”
The employers and their Soldiers shared a lunch of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), learned about some of the military equipment on display for the visit, and learned a little more about what their Soldiers do during annual training.
“I kind of know what he does on the weekends, but as far as this kind of training goes I didn’t have a clue,” said Bill Walters, owner of William Walters Excavating.
His employee, 1st Sgt. Joe Gudleske, is the senior enlisted leader with Company A, 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion. Gudleske’s military training is as a heavy equipment operator, a skill he also uses at his civilian job of 18 years.
“We’re a busy trade, we only work when the weather is nice — in the wintertime we don’t do that much work,” Gudleske explained. “So when does the Guard like to do its training? When it’s nice outside. So it’s hard being in the trade, but I’ve done two deployments with Bill, he sends care packages, writes letters, always a good welcome home banner hanging in our shop. Second-to-none treatment.”
Sitting next to Walters and Gudleske were Dean Aschbecker of Truss Specialists in La Crescent, Minnesota, and his employee, Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Aasen, the senior enlisted leader for the 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Aschbecker said Aasen brings decision-making ability to the job he’s held for 26 years, designing roof trusses and providing IT support.
“The other thing is willingness to follow an instruction,” Aschbecker said. “I don’t always make decisions people agree with, but sometimes they have to support them. That is a noticeable trait. I’ve had the good fortune of working with several Guard members, and it’s consistent within that group.”
Sgt. Jared Baumann, a vehicle recovery specialist with nine years military experience, has worked for the past year as a plumbing apprentice for Jeff Seis of PGA Incorporated in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Baumann said Seis has been very supportive of his Guard responsibilities, despite not understanding the full scope of those responsibilities.
“I knew he would leave on a Friday and be back on a Monday,” Seis said. “Did I take a lot of time and ask? No.”
“There have been times where it’s been two or three days’ notice before I go on orders and I have to leave, and he’s always said yes,” Baumann said, adding that last year’s call-up to assist with hurricane relief efforts in Florida came with one day’s notice. “He’s always worked around the schedule for me.”
Nikki Marvin, a kindergarten teacher, was the Barrons Area School District’s representative for its employee, Staff Sgt. Dustin Weinert, a squad leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry and a custodian with the district. Marvin taught Weinert’s daughter last year, and will teach his son this fall.
“We would talk occasionally at school when he would have to go do his training and he would tell me some stories, but I never really knew the depth of it all until today,” Marvin said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Weinert said the district, where he has worked the past three years, supports him when he needs to take time for Guard training or for unanticipated missions like last year’s hurricane relief effort in Florida. He said the district developed a plan of action after he was hired to respond when he has to be away for military service.
Aschbecker said that understanding what Soldiers do when they are at military training or on mission helps employers and coworkers deal with their absence.
“Is it easy to deal with? No,” Ashbecker acknowledged. “But I think people respect what they’re doing, and by understanding what they’re doing it’s easier to support for the people who have to fill that void when they’re gone.”
Col. John Oakley, the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s commander, spoke to the employers about the scope of the three-week annual training their employees were taking part in at Camp Grayling.
“This training is really about the growth and development and maturity, the decision-making, the complex problem solving in an environment that is uncertain and ambiguous and where things change very, very rapidly,” Oakley explained. “It’s really been about creating leaders — regardless of their rank, regardless of what they do — who can operate in that very intense environment. It’s my goal here is for them to walk away and bring those same skills back to you.
“That’s what employers really need today,” Oakley continued. “You can train somebody to do a task, but you really need someone who can think critically. People who can understand the environment and the situation, and as complex as it is still come up with really good solutions to drive your business forward. That’s what they’re getting out here over these three weeks.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Scott Legwold emphasized how important employers are to the reserve component.
“A service member in the reserve component really can’t survive and do his or her job in their military unit without the support of their employer,” Legwold said. ““Today’s Army can’t do its mission without the reserve component. Arguably, none of the branches can do their mission without their reserve components. We owe you a great debt of thanks for your support.”