Today marks the Wisconsin National Guard’s 183rd birthday, and the beginning of another year in the long and distinguished history of a military organization that predates Wisconsin’s statehood by 11 years.
Dating back to the days of a territorial militia protecting the Wisconsin Territory, the Wisconsin National Guard officially began its legacy 183 years ago today on March 5, 1837 when territorial Gov. Henry Dodge commissioned Morgan L. Martin of Green Bay, as a captain and the commander of the Green Bay Rangers volunteer company of mounted riflemen.
Year 182 was a momentous one, culminating in the appointment of a new adjutant general to lead us into a new era with even brighter days ahead. Year 183 promises to be a pivotal point in the Wisconsin National Guard’s history as well. Not only is new leadership at the helm to shepherd us into the next generation, but the Guard expects a decision this spring on whether F-35s will be coming to the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing. More mobilizations and deployments await the Soldiers and Airmen of the Wisconsin National Guard, as the global security situation remains fluid and dynamic. New partnerships are emerging, and as always, the Wisconsin National Guard will stand Always Ready, and Always There to respond during emergencies here at home when our state needs us.
While the Wisconsin National Guard is always looking “forever forward,” we pause today, on our birthday, to reflect on the many accomplishments of the year gone by since we celebrated our last birthday.
More than 1,500 troops mobilized or returned from deployment and hundreds served on state active duty in the wake of major storms. Some Wisconsin National Guardsmen earned lofty honors, and new commanders took the reins as the organization engaged with the community about potentially bringing F-35s to the state.
Three of the four major subordinate commands in the Wisconsin Army National Guard welcomed new commanders in 2019. After Col. Carl Meredith took command in February 2019 of the 426th Regiment Regional Training Institute at Fort McCoy, Col. John Morgen subsequently took command of the state’s most diverse brigade when he took the helm of the 64th Troop Command in May, and Col. Matthew Beilfuss took command of the “Iron Brigade” – the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade during a ceremony at Milwaukee’s historic Richards Street Armory in August.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s lone brigade not to welcome a new commander was the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which mobilized approximately a third of its roughly 3,000 Soldiers for deployments overseas. The Appleton-based 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry mobilized nearly 400 Soldiers for deployment to Afghanistan in late 2018 and returned to Wisconsin a year later in late 2019 after making history as the first Red Arrow unit to serve in Afghanistan and the first National Guard unit to serve as a security element for the Army’s new security force assistance brigades.
Their Red Arrow brethren from the Eau Claire-based 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry followed in their footsteps after mobilizing nearly 400 more Soldiers in July for a similar deployment to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Red Arrow’s headquarters embarked on a historic mission of its own when approximately 160 Soldiers from across Wisconsin assigned at Camp Douglas deployed to Ukraine in September as part of Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine. In that role, Red Arrow Soldiers serve as the headquarters element overseeing a group of multinational “partner and advise training teams” – or PATTs – based at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in western Ukraine.
The high operational tempo continued throughout the rest of the Wisconsin National Guard in year 182 as well. More than 350 Soldiers from the Milwaukee-based 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery and 108th Forward Support Company concluded a dynamic fire support mission that spanned 15 locations from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan and supported three concurrent military operations in the U.S. Central Command theater. Not only did they play a critical role in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, they also took the fight to the Taliban in Afghanistan and trained alongside partner militaries in Jordan, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
In the fall, nearly 150 Soldiers from Spooner and Ashland’s 829th Engineer Company embarked on their own mobilization and headed to the Middle East, where it continues a construction mission.
The Army was not alone in shouldering the heavy load of mobilizations the Wisconsin National Guard endured over the past year. Approximately 250 Airmen and F-16s from Madison’s 115th Fighter Wing and 176th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron made a major impact in the skies over Afghanistan during a four month combat rotation that concluded in the fall. The 115th’s commander, Col. Erik Peterson received a personal note from Brig. Gen. R. Scott Jobe, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, regarding the Airmen while they were deployed.
“The dedication of your Airmen in the fighter squadron to the flight line is truly inspiring,” Jobe said. “I witnessed attention to detail, devotion to duty, and exquisite discipline in all things. Your team taught me the latest and greatest in tactics. I know what right looks like, and the leadership of that team is right. The 176th EFS is the finest F-16 unit I have encountered.”
The 115th Fighter Wing simultaneously continued its participation in the process that could potentially bring F-35s to Madison to replace the aging F-16s the unit currently flies. The National Guard completed a draft of its environmental impact statement and solicited public comments, which concluded with a site visit from the assistant secretary of the Air Force in November. The unit expects a final record of decision from the Secretary of the Air Force this spring on whether F-35s will be based in Madison.
Other Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee continued worldwide deployments throughout the year, while Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center celebrated its 65th anniversary serving the state and nation as an air base. One of its tenant units, the 128th Air Control Squadron, also unveiled a new state-of-the art operations center in April, which continues to set Volk CRTC apart as one of the nation’s premier training areas. The unsurpassed quality of Volk CRTC and its surrounding airspace was on display at the twice annual Northern Lightning exercise, which brought the world’s most advanced aircraft from each of the armed services to participate in a massive national exercise that simulated combat with a near-peer threat.
While the past year marked a heavy year of overseas deployments in support of the Guard’s federal mission, the Wisconsin National Guard remained busy supporting its domestic mission as well. The year began with the return of nearly 200 troops that served on the southwest border in Arizona and New Mexico from June 2018 to March 2019. The Wisconsin National Guard’s highly trained and highly specialized 54th Civil Support Team, responded to a real-world incident in Manitowoc, where it assisted civil authorities responding to a home explosion with identifying unknown and hazardous substances. The Wisconsin Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package – or CERFP – made up of engineer, decontamination, medical, and communications units from the Army and Air National Guard also validated, in the event its specialized services would be needed in Wisconsin or elsewhere.
In late July, devastating storms and high winds cut a wide swath of destruction across northern Wisconsin. But Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard jumped into action at the request of local authorities that needed help clearing debris and downed trees from roadways, conducting damage assessments, distributing potable water to residents without power, and more.
Just weeks after concluding that mission, Hurricane Dorian lurked ominously off the coast of Florida and threatened to wreak devastation on the panhandle and the southeastern United States. Thankfully, the storm changed course and largely spared the U.S. mainland, but not before 450 Soldiers from the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion mobilized in a matter of hours on Labor Day weekend to armories across the state after receiving a request for assistance from Florida. Ultimately, Florida did not require their services, but the Guard’s readiness for any mission, anytime, anywhere, was once again on display.
That sort of readiness was similarly on display again in September, when just weeks after conducting an aerial search and rescue training exercise with civil authorities at Devils Lake, Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators and the Baraboo Fire Department rescued an injured hiker on the same Devils Lake bluffs.
And while the Wisconsin National Guard accomplished a lot collectively in year 182, many of its individual Soldiers and Airmen achieved significant recognitions and awards for their service and professionalism over the course of the year.
In addition to the Wisconsin Army National Guard earning the coveted Army Communities of Excellence Award overall winner award for the fourth time since 2001, the organization also took home Department of Defense awards for environmental stewardship in 2019.
Capt. Cody Anderson, of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery was among one of just 30 officers nationwide across all components of the Army to receive the prestigious General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. Meanwhile, Capt. Bradley Kelly from the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Control Squadron received the Theodore Roosevelt Leadership Award from the National Guard Association of the United States.
They, along with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Soldier and Noncomissioned Officer of the Year – Sgt. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson, of Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry, and Sgt. Jason Wagner, of Detachment 1, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery respectively – the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Airmen of the Year, and the 2019 inductees into the Wisconsin Army National Guard Hall of Honor and the Wisconsin Air National Guard Hall of Fame, were all honored at an awards ceremony in September for their accomplishments.
The year also brought about inactivation of a unit with a storied lineage in Wisconsin military history, as the 257th Brigade Support Battalion, headquartered in Oak Creek, with armories in Kenosha, and Whitewater cased its colors for the final time due to an Army force structure change.
As a new decade dawned, two additional Wisconsin Army National Guard units mobilized – the 924th Engineer Facilities Detachment deployed to Kuwait, and the 1967th Contracting Team deployed to the Horn of Africa.
The year concluded with the announcement that Brig. Gen. Paul E. Knapp would assume the role of Wisconsin’s Adjutant General and lead the organization into a bright future.
Year 182 now enters the history books, along with the rest of the Wisconsin National Guard’s storied legacy. It’s a legacy that dates back to the territorial militias of the late 1830s and the state forces that answered the call during the Civil War in units like the Iron Brigade. It continued with Wisconsin National Guard troops mobilizing for the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th Century, before the drums of war in Europe led to a date with destiny in World War I.
The now-famous Red Arrow smashed its way into history in World War I as the 32nd Division pierced every enemy line it encountered in Europe, including German’s vaunted Hindenburg Line, for which it earned its Red Arrow nickname. Now known as “Les Terribles” for the fierce reputation Wisconsin National Guard troops earned for their tenacity in combat, the Red Arrow’s mettle was tested again just 20 years later in World War II, when the unit fought its way through brutal campaigns and suffered thousands of casualties in New Guinea, the Philippines, and ultimately as an occupation force in Japan. At war’s end, the 32nd Division had amassed 654 days in combat – more than any other division in the war.
Throughout the Cold War, the Wisconsin National Guard became part of the strategic reserve, and even mobilized for a year as tensions rose during the height of the Berlin Crisis. In the 1990s, the Wisconsin Guard mobilized again for service in the Gulf War, and since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, tens of thousands of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been mobilized in support of combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe.
With this strong foundation, and legacy of noble service to state and nation, the Wisconsin National Guard’s legacy is its path forward, and as it has for 183 years, it will remain Always Ready, Always There, and forever forward.