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When it comes to doing business as the state’s first military responder or America’s primary combat reserve, the Wisconsin National Guard is always striving to improve. Being recognized for those improvements through the Army Community of Excellence Awards Program is a bonus.

“The Wisconsin Army National Guard is a top-notch organization, filled with quality leaders and talented personnel,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general. “This recognition is well-earned and appreciated — however, the process is the value and reflected in our increased readiness.”

The Army announced its 2016 Army Communities of Excellence (ACOE) winners March 16, and Wisconsin was named the overall winner in the Army National Guard category. This is the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s third such honor, and the first since 2012.

The ACOE Awards Program takes the best practices from successful businesses — the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Program criteria — and applies them to the Army, with the goal of creating a quality environment based on excellent services and excellent facilities.

Each Army organization competing in the ACOE Awards Program submits a detailed packet outlining what the organization does well and where it can improve. The focus is on the various processes in place to accomplish the organization’s overall mission, and includes important — if not prominent — considerations such as having reliable and secure software as well as workforce hiring and engagement.

According to 1st Sgt. Jamie Preder, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s plans noncommissioned officer in charge, the top four Army National Guard and top two Army Reserve participants are selected for a second inspection, where a team of examiners visits the top contenders to ask for additional information about methods and processes that help the organization succeed. Their findings lead to the final recommendations for ACOE Awards Program finishers.

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to learn of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s overall finish.

“It is a reflection of the tremendous commitment and passion many leaders and Soldiers have in the Wisconsin Army National Guard toward continuous improvement,” Anderson said. “That is important, because at the end of the day we have no-fail missions when it comes to serving our state and our country. Our efforts through this program to be a premier organization aids in fulfilling those missions.

“Soldier and organizational readiness is our number one focus,” Anderson continued. “And so our team’s efforts to continuously gain efficiency in our processes through participation in ACOE ultimately helps to determine where, when and how to effectively spend our dollars that helps us achieve that readiness.”

Dating back to at least 1998, the Wisconsin Army National Guard has each year assessed itself as an organization using the Baldridge Excellence Framework — which, unlike other regular Army inspections, is broader in scope and focuses on leadership, strategy, customers, data systems and knowledge management, and processes. This year’s award spans a 12-month period beginning July 2014.

“While monetary awards are offered to those who participate, the immeasurable gains accomplished through the self-assessment are what is most beneficial to the organization,” Preder said.

Other top finishers in the Army National Guard category this year include South Dakota in first place (second overall), North Carolina in second place (third overall), Louisiana in third place (fourth overall) and Illinois as Most Improved.

In addition to three overall winner finishes (2001, 2012 and this year), since 1998 the Wisconsin Army National Guard has garnered three Gold Division first place awards, one Gold Division second place award, two Gold Division third place awards, three Silver Division second place awards, two Silver Division third place awards, one Bronze Division third place award, and one Bronze Division honorable mention.