VOLK FIELD, Wis. — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders joined families and friends at a formal sendoff ceremony Oct. 4 for approximately 165 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team headquarters.
The Soldiers will serve as a headquarters element for Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in western Ukraine. There they will work alongside NATO allies and partner nations to help build professional units capable of defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We embark on our mission at the invitation of the Ukrainian government,” Col. John Oakley, commander of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team who will oversee this deployment, told families and guests at the sendoff ceremony. “Your Soldier will help strengthen the relationship and affirm the U.S. commitment to the success of a free and stable Ukraine.”
Oakley noted that the task force he will lead to Ukraine consists of Soldiers from throughout the Wisconsin Army National Guard, selected for their unique skills and variety of disciplines — including administrative skills. Sgt. Katelin Mack, of Norwalk, Wisconsin, will help Soldiers with their government travel cards and the Defense Travel System during the deployment.
“I will be making sure people get paid when they go out on their missions, and ensure they successfully get everything done,” Mack explained. She has a similar responsibility with the 32nd Brigade on drill status. In the Wisconsin National Guard for about 30 months, this will be her first deployment.
Sgt. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson, an intelligence analyst with the 32nd Brigade, will also be on his first deployment.
“I’ve got family members going all the way back to great-grandpas who have fought in the second world war,” Wilkinson-Johnson said. “I figured it’s my time to go.”
The Waunakee, Wisconsin resident is a full-time student at the University of Wisconsin, where he is pursuing a degree in applied mathematics, engineering and physics. He also represented the Wisconsin Army National Guard at the regional Best Warrior Competition earlier this year, and said learning how to push on during that grueling competition will help during this deployment.
“No matter the circumstance, no matter how you think you’re doing, no matter how limited you feel in the situation, you have to continue on,” he said.
Spc. Regina Wade of Madison, Wisconsin, is trained in electronic warfare, but on this deployment — her first — she will serve as a manager for the base exchange, a store where troops can buy clothing, food, hygiene and comfort items.
“I’m expecting a lot of really good training helping out the Ukrainian troops,” Wade said. “I look forward to learning a lot and getting the mission done.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, said the National Guard was uniquely postured for this mission.
“One of the reasons we do these types of missions is since World War I we have never fought a war without our coalition partners,” Conde said. “We’ve always fought with somebody else alongside. It’s important for us to get out there in front and teach our coalition partners what we can do, so they can understand what we can do together.”
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, acknowledged the families in attendance, noting how many of them have prior experience with their Soldier deploying.
“You have the tough job,” Mathews said. “Taking care of the home front, taking care of the family, and the emotional piece — you’re worrying, you’re wondering, you’re waiting for your Soldier to come home.”
Mathews also observed the casing of the brigade flag, symbolizing that the deploying Soldiers are leaving the command of the governor of Wisconsin and assuming their role as the Army’s combat primary combat reserve in a federal status.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, said the National Guard has been central to the nation’s defense dating back to the days of organized militias.
“The Army has a mission to do in Europe,” Dunbar said, “and they’re calling upon the National Guard — and this particular unit, the Red Arrow — to go overseas and develop capacity with Ukraine.”
Dunbar recounted the history of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Brigade, which dates back to the Civil War in some subordinate units. The 32nd Division formed in 1917 with 15,000 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and 8,000 Michigan National Guard Soldiers to fight in World War I, and also served 654 days in combat during World War II, and was mobilized for the Berlin Crisis in 1961. The 32nd was reorganized as a brigade in 1967 and has in part or in whole deployed multiple times during the global war on terror. Currently the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry is deployed to Afghanistan, and the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry is also bound for Afghanistan.
“You’re going to write your own chapter in the history of the 32nd,” Dunbar told the Soldiers assembled before him, “and continue to tell that story for future generations.”
Barnes thanked the Soldiers for their service to the state and the nation, and extended thanks to their families and employers.
“This involves all of us — it’s the sacrifice of so many people,” Barnes said.
“You, above all, are intimately aware of the cost of freedom and the sacrifices that are needed to preserve it,” he continued. “I want you all to know, on behalf of Gov. Tony Evers and a most grateful state, how appreciative we are of the service of both you and your families. All of you standing in front of us today represent the very best of our state.”
Barnes presented Oakley with a Wisconsin flag.
“We ask that you carry this with you as a reminder that you have the unwavering support of the entire great state of Wisconsin behind you,” Barnes said.
Oakley assured Barnes that the deploying Soldiers were ready.
“Sir, these Soldiers are professionally educated, proficient in their military skills, and well trained,” Oakley said. “You can see that their families, their communities and their employers stand behind them and eagerly await their safe return.
“We are ready for this mission,” Oakley continued. “We will set the example for other units to follow. We will perform our mission as disciplined professionals, and we will return to Wisconsin having added to the proud heritage and tradition of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Forward, Sir!”
The deploying Soldiers left Wisconsin for Fort Bliss, Texas for additional training before heading to Ukraine.