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Members of Wisconsin state government and representatives of the state’s congressional delegation visited Wisconsin National Guard facilities at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Aug. 15.

State Rep. Warren Petryk, who represents Wisconsin’s 93rd State Assembly District and chairs the assembly’s Committee on Veterans, joined representatives from the offices of Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and the office of Gov. Scott Walker, as well as those of congressmen Ron Kind, Mark Pocan and Reid Ribble. Others from the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau also took part.

After a morning briefing about the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy, the Wisconsin Military Academy, and the 426th Regional Training Institute “ all housed at Fort McCoy “ the 12-member delegation toured the military academy’s facilities where they got hands-on experience with several simulators. In one simulator, they fired weapons like the M-16, M-4, M-9, M-240B, and others. The group also used an artillery simulator to call for fire on simulated targets. Each representative also climbed into a Humvee simulator and manned gunner, driver and assistant driver responsibilities.

Many were in for a shock when they donned a Soldier’s equipment and felt the weight of body armor, rucksack and a helmet for the first time.

In the afternoon, the group left the simulators and went to the field to fire live field artillery. The M777 155-mm howitzer and the M119 105-mm howitzer were the weapons of choice as each member of the delegation had the opportunity to pull the lanyard on both guns.

Petryk said he was blown away by the professionalism of the Wisconsin National Guard and its commitment to serving the state of Wisconsin and the nation.

“My first impression is that I am so glad that all of these gentlemen are on our side,” he said with a laugh. “I have such an incredible respect for anyone who steps up and serves.”

Mark Nielsen, who works in the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, described the Wisconsin National Guard as “top-notch.”

“I really have to tip my hat to them,” he said. “They run a first-class operation, and everyone in Wisconsin should be proud of the men and women that serve.”

The commander of the 426th RTI, Col. Gregory Hirsch, said one of his goals for the day was to show that the military academy and its facilities were an asset for not only the Wisconsin National Guard and other state’s National Guard units that come to train there from around the country, but also for other agencies and organizations within the state of Wisconsin. Hirsch said the facilities at the academy have provided opportunities for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin State Patrol and others.

“All in all, it was a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase what we can do,” Hirsch said. “We offer more than just what we can do for the National Guard in Wisconsin.”