A training noncommissioned officer with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, received the Thomas E. Wortham IV Award for outstanding service to the Wisconsin National Guard and the community during a ceremony last month at Volk Field, Wisconsin.
Staff Sgt. William Kocken’s list of achievements to merit consideration for the Wortham Award underscores his service to the community as well as the Wisconsin National Guard. He volunteers with the Boy Scouts of America and also as a coach with the West DePere youth wrestling program. He is a co-founder and vice-president of 4th HOOAH (Helping Out Our American Heroes), a volunteer organization dedicated to helping veterans. He took part in the Best Ranger Competition and Pathfinder course in 2014, completing both events as a Wisconsin Army National Guard representative.
Still, Kocken said receiving the Wortham Award left him speechless.
“1st Lt. Wortham gave so much to improving his community and improving the lives of others,” Kocken said. “He was a man who lived for so much more than himself, and to have received the award created to remember him is beyond what can be put into words.”
The award is named for 1st Lt. Thomas E. Wortham IV, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Troop A, 105th Cavalry as well as a member of the Chicago Police Department who volunteered to make a neighborhood park safer for children. He was murdered outside of his parents’ Chicago home May 19, 2010 when four men attempted to steal his motorcycle. The Bronze Star recipient and veteran of two Iraq deployments, as well as a tour of duty performing airport security as part of Operation Noble Eagle, joined the Chicago Police Department in 2007.
Kocken said working with youth in scouting and wrestling is important to him because of the positive impact those programs made in his life. He has a similar passion for 4th HOOAH, which he founded with friend Nick Gries.
“As a veteran, I understand the struggle that many of us have gone through upon returning home,” said the 13-year Wisconsin National Guard member who earned his Combat Infantryman Badge during the first of two deployments to Iraq. “We wanted to do something unique to help veterans, and that was to target and fight the fact that 22 veterans were taking their lives every day.”
Kocken and Gries chose HOOAH because it is staffed by volunteers, so a greater share of donations go to help veterans.
Kocken has also undertaken smaller, but individually significant, efforts on behalf of local veterans — such as replacing a flag and flagpole for a World War II veteran in the Green Bay area, replacing a broken swingset at the home of a wounded warrior to allow his granddaughter to play safely during visits, and planning and promoting the Memorial Day Crossfit fundraiser and Veterans Day Suicide Awareness march in the Green Bay area.
“Staff Sgt. Kocken consistently brings awareness to the citizens of the Green Bay area about the needs of veterans,” Capt. Adam Puhl, Kocken’s unit commander, wrote in the nomination packet. “Veterans and current service members are at ease when talking and sharing their stories with [him]. He goes out of his way to listen to the veterans and uses his problem solving and resiliency skills to help support veterans in need, traveling throughout Wisconsin to meet them.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, deputy adjutant general for Army, praised this year’s award recipient.
“I am extremely proud of Staff Sgt. Kocken on the community-related activities he participates in, which were central to his recognition as this year’s Wortham Award recipient,” Anderson said. “Much like 1st Lt. Wortham, for whom this award is named, Staff Sgt. Kocken recognizes the value of giving back to the community he serves, which not only reflects positively on himself but the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a whole.”