GREEN BAY, Wis. — About 250 Soldiers and Airmen gathered at the Wisconsin National Guard’s birthplace to learn about leadership, Guard history and to hear an address by the National Guard’s highest ranking officer.
Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the combined 2019 Wisconsin National Guard Association and Wisconsin National Guard Enlisted Association Conference held April 26-28 in Green Bay. The Wisconsin Territorial Militia’s first unit organized here March 5, 1837.
“I appreciate and support military associations,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, during his introduction of Lengyel. “I am a member of the Association of the United States Army, Air Force Association, Military Officer Association of America and several National Guard associations including the National Guard Association of the United States, Wisconsin National Guard Association and Wisconsin National Guard Enlisted Association.”
WINGA and WINGEA are voluntary professional associations for officers and enlisted members of the Wisconsin National Guard. They provide opportunities for professional development, networking and serve as a line of communication with state and federal elected officials about issues important to the organization to remain relevant and ready to meet its dual mission to both state and nation.
“Like you, I am a professional and professionals need advocates, and that’s what these associations do for us,” said Dunbar. “These associations can do things for us that we can’t do for ourselves. The associations can go to Capitol Hill and they can represent the needs of the National Guard to our elected officials and help educate the American public”
Lengyel during his keynote address spoke about overall U.S. military policy and his position on the Joint Chiefs of Staff representing the National Guard’s role in national defense.
“The national defense strategy says, basically, you’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to be modern, we’ve got to have allies and partners to do our business around the world, and we’ve got to reform ourselves such that we can spend our resources towards making us a new and modern force,” Lengyel said.
The National Guard of each of the 54 states and territories are a relevant and ready force operating as the primary combat reserve for Army and Air Force missions around the world.
“We have 30,000 members of the National Guard who are deployed,” remarked Lengyel. “The enormity of our contribution to the war fight has never been stronger and has never been better recognized. Of 57 [Army] combat brigades, and we are 27 of them. Of 55 [Air Force] fighter squadrons, and we are 21 of them.”
The National Guard has also been busy conducting its equally important mission as the nation’s first military responder in times of emergency.
“In the last year, 195 times, governors mobilized their [National Guard] forces,” Lengyel said.
Lengyel thinks the Guard’s increased use over the past 15 years has benefitted the organization.
“We have never been better,” he said. “We have never been more professional. We have never been more diverse. We have never been more tolerant. We have never had higher expectations of ourselves about ourselves.”
Lengyel after his speech assisted with presenting the Wisconsin National Guard’s Soldier and Airmen of the Year awards. Several of the awardees were in attendance, however, the family of Capt. Cody Anderson, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery, accepted his award of Company Grade Officer of the Year. Anderson is currently deployed to Afghanistan as Battery B’s commander and provided his remarks via a videotaped message.
Lengyel next fielded questions at a breakout session from enlisted Soldiers, junior non-commissioned officers and junior officers. It was a unique opportunity for these front-line leaders to speak directly with one of the nation’s most senior officers.
“It’s interesting to look at things from the bigger picture,” said Staff Sgt. Susan Delaney, an instructor at the 426th Regional Training Institute, who was attending her first conference. “I think we get so focused on our own little track sometimes, especially in the National Guard because it’s more personal than active duty.”
Lengyel discussed several Guard policies with the group, and Delaney thinks his perspective will help her better teach some of her classes at the 426th.
“Some of Gen. Lengyel’s comments tie together really well with one of the courses I teach,” Delaney said. “It reinforces just how important this particular material is and why we teach it.”
In addition to Lengyel’s visit, the conference featured professional development sessions on leadership, organizational change, and Wisconsin National Guard history.
“This conference is about professional development,” said. Col. John Oakley, command of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “We are members of a profession and I want everyone to walk away with something you can use as you advance through your military and civilian careers.”
The 32nd IBCT hosted this year’s conference.
Spc. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson, of Headquarters Troop, 1st Battalion, 105th Cavalry, attended his first conference. He recently won the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Best Warrior Competition and was on hand to receive the Soldier of the Year award from Lengyel.
“Professional development, in and of itself is a big thing for me personally,” said Wilkinson-Johnson. “I’m trying to better myself so that I can have better troops when I lead troops. This event and events like this are crucial for that.”
The conference’s Wisconsin National Guard history presentations provided starting points for later speakers discussing leadership and proactive change. Attendees also viewed an extended trailer of the Wisconsin National Guard’s “Dawn of the Red Arrow” documentary about the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division in World War I. The 80-minute film debuts May 14 at Milwaukee’s War Memorial Center as part of Milwaukee’s Armed Forces Week.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Ard contributed to this story.