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The Red Arrow changed hands from Col. Michael George to Col. John Oakley during a formal ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin Saturday (June 3).

“It’s been a special privilege to serve in the 32nd ‘Red Arrow’ Brigade,” George said. “So looking back at this last year, this 100th year of our Red Arrow tradition, I’m extremely proud of how together we have added to the legacy of teamwork and excellence.”

In July 1917, as the United States prepared to enter World War I, the 32nd Division — comprised of Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard Soldiers — organized at Camp Waco, Texas. The division would earn its “Red Arrow” nickname on the battlefield, and kept the name and heritage as the division reorganized as a brigade in 1967.

sm170603-O-QS269-296.jpgMaj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, spoke to the legacy of the 32nd Brigade during the change of command ceremony.

“Things will continue to change,” Dunbar said. “But the things that matter endure, and the National Guard endures because our country relies on the National Guard to defend these things we hold dear. That takes formations like the 32nd IBCT, and that takes leadership.

“And it’s in that context that I want to talk about Col. Oakley,” Dunbar continued. “He will receive this flag shortly. All of the responsibility that rests on his shoulders going forward will be to make sure that this formation of 3,300 souls privileged to wear the uniform of the United States Army will be ready when called for the governor or the president of the United States, for any mission that they deem appropriate to give us. And I have absolute confidence that Col. Oakley is up to this challenge and will be ready to take on that responsibility, and will make this exceptional organization even better, just as Col. George did for the commander before him. That is the nature of our business.”

sm170603-O-QS269-100.jpgOakley recalled the perspective of an 18-year-old leaving for basic training, never expecting to one day command an infantry brigade.

“It’s an amazing, an awesome opportunity to be able to command the 32nd Brigade here in Wisconsin,” Oakley said. “This is an awesome responsibility we have, taking command, and I take that very seriously. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the one person that we are also recognizing today, and that is Col. Mike George.

“You certainly have made this a difficult challenge in one respect,” Oakley remarked to George. “There’s always the perception when you take command that you have to turn it over better than when you found it. That, Mike, will be an extremely difficult challenge to achieve.”

For his part, George credited his battalion commanders and brigade staff.

sm170603-O-QS269-372.jpg“I am convinced I could not have had better command teams and staffs,” George said. “You made my command extremely efficient and easy. I have enjoyed our camaraderie, I have a lot of respect for you, and I’m going to miss all of you. It’s been wonderful.

“So in the end, I’ve been proud of being part of this continuing legacy of excellence and teamwork,” George continued. “And it’s been one of the greatest honors of my life to have served 28 years as a Red Arrow Soldier.”

Oakley also acknowledged the honor.

“I look forward to commanding the best infantry brigade in the U.S. Army,” he said, before invoking the brigade motto. “Forward!”

George began his military career with a four-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, taking a break for college before enlisting in the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1986. He deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom — first as the executive officer for the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment during the unit’s 2005-06 security force mission to Kuwait, and then as commander of the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment for a security and operational support mission in Iraq from 2009-10. Between deployments he led the 128th Infantry’s transformation to the 105th Cavalry.

Oakley began his military career as an active Army combat medic in 1983. He joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1998, and deployed twice with the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.