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The Wisconsin Army National Guard continues to set the standard in the annual Army Communities of Excellence (ACOE) awards program.

Wisconsin was crowned the Army National Guard’s overall winner in ceremonies at the Pentagon and the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, last month.

This year’s honor was the latest in a long string of success since the Wisconsin Army National Guard began participating in the ACOE awards program in the late 1990s. In 18 years of participation, Wisconsin has 16 top 10-finishes and 11 top-five finishes. It emerged as the overall Army National Guard winner three times and as the runner-up three times.

sm160524-Z-EJ222-077.jpgThe ACOE program is an Army-wide initiative that incorporates the Malcolm-Baldridge Excellence Framework to improve efficiencies and effectiveness across the force. The same criteria is widely used in the business community, schools and other organizations as a means of improving processes and customer service.

A full contingent of Wisconsin Guard Soldiers travelled to Washington D.C. to accept the award and participate in an ACOE symposium and workshop May 23-24.

Speaking to other honorees at a May 23 ACOE workshop, Brig. Gen. Ken Koon, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s land component commander, said Wisconsin’s success is largely attributable to its focus on analyzing and acting on metrics as well as continuous process improvement.

sm160523-Z-EJ222-028.jpgThe Wisconsin Army National Guard developed a team that specifically focuses on managing strategic goals and objectives, asking questions, improving processes and managing systems that improve the overall readiness of the organization.

“[Army Chief of Staff] Gen. Milley says that readiness is number one,” Koon told the audience. “There is no other number one, and that’s true. We are Guardsmen. We need to be ready for the governor every day, and for our federal mission.”

After accepting the award as the Guard’s overall winner, Koon outlined Wisconsin’s focus on implementing its ALL-STAR concept. In other words, the Wisconsin Army National Guard is scalable, tailored, adaptable and ready to fulfill its domestic mission as the first military responder in Wisconsin and its federal mission as the Army’s primary combat reserve.

sm160523-Z-EJ222-037.jpgThe organization is scalable in that it can flex to any mission from the individual Soldier level, to the whole of the organization, Koon said. It is tailored via pre-designed units for specific mission sets or ad-hoc combinations of skills and equipment for unique missions. It is adaptable in its versatility to meet unknown and unanticipated needs, and it is ready – trained and qualified – to carry out its mission here at home and abroad.

“We’ve enjoyed continued success over the years of participation,” he said during the awards ceremony. “The real reward, however, is not where we placed but rather in what we have learned as an overall organization.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, the special assistant to the director of the Army National Guard, echoed that sentiment during his remarks, noting that the ACOE program makes organizations better just for participating.

“The journey is the destination,” Gallant said. “That is the best part of what the Army Communities of Excellence Program is. Everyone that goes through the process of filling out the application, of implementing some of the changes that the program directs, learns from the program.”

The institutional improvements and changes directed by the ACOE and its criteria directly impact the overall readiness of the organization, he said, and equally as important, it builds a culture of excellence and efficiency.

In a ceremony at the Pentagon, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, stressed the impact that the ACOE program has on the overall readiness of the force. Quality installations, organizations and communities allow Soldiers to focus on the important missions they face every day.

“They were evaluated in terms of leadership, strategic planning, customer service, process management, and a whole host of other categories, but most importantly, the awardees that you’re going to see come before you are really evaluated most importantly in terms of results,” Milley said in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“They are setting the standard for quality of life that we expect for all of our Soldiers,” he said of the awardees from across all three components of the Army. “They are setting the standard for the Army as a whole.”

Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, had a similar message, noting how quality employers and stable families are critical to readiness.

“At the end of the day again, it’s all about readiness,” he said. “That’s the only focus of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Our goal is simple — to be the premiere Army National Guard across the 54 [states and territories].”