MADISON, Wis. — Eight Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers reaffirmed their commitment to serving Wisconsin and the nation during a reenlistment ceremony during a retention event in Madison Aug. 5.
Retaining Soldiers is of critical importance to the National Guard, because each Soldier brings different perspectives and experiences to the organization, and it ultimately builds the organization’s overall readiness, senior leaders said.
Approximately 40 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers and their families gathered for the Wisconsin National Guard’s first-ever Guard Your Future retention event, which culminated with a reenlistment ceremony and others gathering information about the many benefits of continued service in the National Guard.
Senior leaders speaking at the event stressed the value each individual Soldier brings to the Wisconsin National Guard — an organization with a no-fail dual-mission as Wisconsin’s first military responder in times of emergency and as a part of the Army’s primary combat reserve.
The Guard Your Future event was a first for the Wisconsin National Guard, but it is a concept that other states have begun using to retain talent. The concept gathers Soldiers within 180 days of their expiration term of service and gives them a chance to become familiar with all the resources provided by the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and an opportunity to take part in a reenlistment ceremony conducted by Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general.
Sgt. 1st Class Brian Ritchie, Wisconsin State Recruiting and Retention noncommissioned officer, organized much of the Guard Your Future event. He said that he hopes all the Soldiers choose to extend at the event and those that do not at least leave with new knowledge that will help them know the military benefits they take with them.
“My favorite part of the day was doing (eight) extensions right here, right out of the gate,” Ritchie said. “We visited other states to observe their programs and came back to implement the program in Wisconsin. I think the event went incredibly.”
Lt. Col. Dean Nemecek, Recruiting and Retention Battalion commander, said that he held events like Guard Your Future with his last unit and said that he thinks it is important to make Soldiers aware of the resources available to them.
“We really want them to know that there are these benefits for them in the National Guard,” Nemecek said. “I’m grateful that these Soldiers came. I hope that we keep them, but if they choose to leave we make sure to thank them for their service and remind them of the benefits the Wisconsin National Guard brings to them and their families.”
Those who decided to reenlist did so for a variety of reasons ranging from patriotism to the education, insurance and myriad other benefits services the National Guard provides.
Sgt. Shannon Schuenemann, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives liaison for Headquarters Company, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, was one of the eight Soldiers that reenlisted at the Guard Your Future event.
Shuenemann stressed the critical role families play in the readiness and service of a Guard Soldier.
“I think that this is awesome,” Schuenemann said. “I came knowing I wanted to reenlist. I would say Soldiers should come with an open mind. It was nice to bring my husband because the Guard is a family commitment. It was good they kept it open to significant others and allowed them to ask questions as well.”
Others reenlisted because they believed that serving in the National Guard sets them up for future success in both the civilian and military world. The National Guard develops resilience, leadership qualities and provides paid skills training that Soldiers can employ in both their military and civilian careers.
Spc. Jessica Vanvalkenburg, a truck driver also with Headquarters Company, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, said that she appreciated the visit from the state command team.
“I chose to reenlist because I feel like it’s the best possible way to reach my future endeavors,” Vanvalkenburg said. “You can never know what the future holds, but I know for a fact that the National Guard is my constant. This is my rock that will always be there for me.”
At the Guard Your Future event, Dunbar thanked the Soldiers and stated what he hoped the Soldiers take from the event.
“What you’ve done is substantial, consequential and significant to the country, and I am grateful to you,” Dunbar said. “This event is about making sure that whatever decision you make, you make with knowledge and with eyes open. I want you to stay. We need you.”
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, shared her hopes that the Soldiers would weigh the pros and cons of reenlisting and take the time to think about continuing their service to the Guard.
“You don’t have to make the decision today — many of you have many more days to decide,” Mathews said. “I hope that you all re-enlist today because nothing would make me prouder, because you are important to us.”
Those interested in learning more about how to serve their state and nation and the benefits the Wisconsin National Guard provides can contact a recruiter at 1-800-GO-GUARD or visit nationalguard.com.