The newest 1st Lt. Thomas E. Wortham IV Achievement Award recipient was surprised to learn he had been nominated, let alone selected for the Wisconsin National Guard award which recognizes exceptional selfless service both in and out of uniform.
Sgt. Grant Kjellberg, a utilities equipment repairer with the maintenance platoon of the 829th Engineer Company, had completed his first deployment and just stepped off a commercial airliner at Volk Field, Wisconsin Sept. 24, a few minutes before learning of the impending recognition.
“I think it’s a great honor,” he said after the ceremony. “I hope I can live up to what [Wortham] accomplished.”
The Wisconsin National Guard award is named for the late 1st Lt. Thomas Wortham IV, who served in both Troop A, 105th Cavalry and the Chicago Police Department. The Chicago native was also the president of the Cole Park Advisory Council in Chatham, and worked to make the neighborhood safe for children to play in area parks. He was murdered May 19, 2010 outside his parents’ Chicago home when four men attempted to steal his motorcycle.
Kjellberg, who will return to full-time studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in October to complete a criminal justice major, plans to work in local law enforcement. Prior to his deployment, he worked part-time with the UW-Stout Police Department while taking classes.
In addition to those commitments, Kjellberg — who currently lives in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin area — has been a volunteer firefighter with the Wheaton Fire Department in Chippewa County, Wisconsin for four years.
“The department knows my obligations to school,” Kjellberg explained. “I am able to respond when needed, in between school hours and classes. I also plan to get EMS certified, which will help me with both fire and police work.”
His main firefighter duties are responding to motor vehicle crashes, and responding to automotive, house and wildland fires. Three weeks before he deployed, he was part of the disaster response effort to the September 2019 tornado in Wheaton.
The Elk Mound, Wisconsin native found time in his busy schedule for one more community activity — he has been a youth baseball coach for three years.
“Before that, I was playing and umpiring,” Kjellberg said. “I knew I couldn’t play forever, so I decided to help out the next generation of players. I’ve been with the same amazing group of kids since they were 10 and 11 years old.”
Kjellberg joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in high school five years ago, saying he was always drawn to the military.
“Both my grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them had served,” Kjellberg said. “I grew up playing many sports. I loved being on a team and the camaraderie that went with it. I joined because I wanted to help people and keep that team environment that I craved. I wanted new challenges and experiences with people that would remain lifelong friends.”
During his deployment with the 829th Engineer Company, Kjellberg ensured that engineers had the vehicles and equipment needed for their mission, sometimes performing repairs out at job sites.
“It was amazing to see how our unit adapted to the problems and restrictions [COVID-19] caused,” he said. “The unit showed great resolve and that the Wisconsin Army National Guard is up to any mission, no matter the difficulty.”
Capt. Joseph Tadisch, 829th Engineer Company commander, said Kjellberg represented the company in the 113th Engineer Battalion’s Best Warrior Competition, and also represented the battalion in the 194th Engineer Brigade’s Best Warrior Competition during the deployment.
“Sgt. Kjellberg consistently put the needs of the unit before his own,” Tadisch said. “As a maintenance leader, he went above and beyond during deployment to ensure our equipment was always mission capable. As a selfless Soldier, future law enforcement officer, and coach for his community's youth sports programs, his selection as a Wortham Achievement Award recipient is meaningful way to honor his service.”
1st Lt. Daniel Bruins, the 829th Engineer Company executive officer, described Kjellberg as a valued member of the unit during its deployment.
“Despite limited prior experience, he became an essential part of a field maintenance team technically responsible for inspecting all [required] equipment prior to mobilization,” Bruins said. “After mobilizing, Sgt. Kjellberg quickly asserted himself as a leader among other junior enlisted Soldiers.”
Kjellberg hopes that by helping out in his community and demonstrating what it means to be a Citizen Soldier, he continues to honor 1st Lt. Wortham IV and his family.
“I feel many people in the National Guard are worthy of this award, as they go about their lives selflessly and honorably every day of the year,” he said.