A year after the Wisconsin Army National Guard announced a major reorganization of its units and armories, one of the units most affected by the changes has transformed into a brand new engineer battalion.
The 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Wausau, Wisconsin, replaced the former 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, which no longer exists in name. Like the 32nd BSTB before it, the 173rd BEB is an element of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin.
The unit officially transitioned during an April re-flagging ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and absorbed many of the BSTB’s former units while adding another from one of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s other major commands. The changes have not come without challenges, but the transition from BSTB to BEB has been relatively smooth.
“Like with anything, change is difficult,” said Lt. Col. John Reiter, who has overseen the transition as the commander of both units. “We’ve relocated a company, gained an engineer company, which came from another battalion, lost an MP (military police) platoon and security section, as well as all of our organic logistical support, and those are just the big changes.”
Losing that internal logistical support has been difficult, Reiter said, but the 173rd is now supported by a separate forward support company instead.
“We are very fortunate to have a very experienced forward support company team that has helped make that transition easy,” he said. “We are now seeing a lot of the same faces from before, but they are now part of the forward support company.”
One of the most visible changes was the transition of the former 951st Engineer Company, formerly of the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, to the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The 951st, was redesignated as Company A, 173rd BEB, and it remained headquartered in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, with a detachment in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
The former brigade special troops battalion was known for its diversity. The unit had military police, logistics capabilities, a military intelligence company and a signal company. The 173rd, remains extremely diverse, despite a name that suggests a focus on engineers. The unit retains its signal and military intelligence companies as well as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear reconnaissance platoon.
The unit recently completed its first annual training as the 173rd and focused heavily on integrating the engineer company into the unit and building the new team. With a more robust focus on engineer tasks, and specifically on route clearance capabilities, battalion leadership had new training requirements for which to account. In addition, the battalion’s staff grew considerably, so the unit conducted a staff exercise to help teach its leaders how to operate as a brigade engineer battalion.
Asked how the new Soldiers the unit absorbed have added to the unit, Reiter said, “They have brought their own unique experiences to the table, and with that comes new ideas on how we can deal with different issues.”
And while Reiter said the unit will miss the Soldiers that transitioned out of the battalion as a result of the reorganization, the future is bright for one of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s newest units.