MADISON, Wis. — Approximately 25 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers are headed to the Middle East to build relationships with allied nations, and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders were on hand to formally send them off.
The Soldiers of the 157th Military Engagement Team, from the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, will work with allied nations to build stronger partnerships through joint military exercises, military-to-military non-training engagements and assessment of partner nation military capabilities. The team will be split between Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, traveling extensively throughout their deployment.
“We are trying to form bonds so that when we work together in coalitions, we can work together better and the overall security of the region and the world is better,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kurka, commander of the 157th MET.
The team currently has engagements planned throughout their deployment in about a dozen countries.
There will be many challenges, such as language and cultural barriers, Kurka said. By working through those challenges in a peacetime situation, the team will be able to pass on lessons learned in order for the United States to work more effectively with coalition countries during conflicts.
Kurka also said that the enlisted members of his team are expected to engage with their allied nation peers to promote enlisted leadership concepts.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, explained how the team’s mission to build partnerships and relationships around the world is an integral part of the National Defense Strategy.
“You carry our flag not as a conqueror, but as a friend, and in that part of the world it means a lot,” Dunbar said. “As you engage with the military of these countries, you are building partnerships that will be the foundation of how we approach future challenges as a nation.”
The National Guard is solely great at doing this mission because of the skill sets Soldiers bring with them from their civilian careers, Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the senior enlisted advisor for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said.
“This is a vital mission for [the Wisconsin Army National Guard],” Conde added.
Maj. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, also touched on the uniqueness of this mission.
“For a lot of you, you may not have had experience in an advisory mission,” Anderson said to the Soldiers. “You will be traveling to a lot of countries, interacting with leaders both military and civilian who you have never met, and you are going to have to draw upon the experiences that you have as a Soldier, and also what you will gain as you go through this deployment, to be successful.”
Anderson also took time to thank the families present for their support for their Soldier.
“The love and support that you provide to them really enables them to focus all of their energy, all of their efforts, as a group, as a team in order to accomplish the overall mission of the organization,” Anderson said.
Kleefisch said she was very humbled in the presence of the deploying Soldiers and their families at the sendoff ceremony.
“You do the hard work so that my family can sleep peacefully at home each night,” Kleefisch said. “Thank you.”
The Wisconsin National Guard remains heavily engaged fulfilling its mission as a key component of the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. A team of public affairs Soldiers from the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment is slated to deploy to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo in Cuba this spring. Three Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 5, 641st Aviation deployed to Afghanistan earlier this month, and Soldiers from the 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East in September. Approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January, and approximately 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison from a deployment to Korea, and more than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field returned from Southwest Asia. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin National Guard has been busy fulfilling its other mission as the state’s first military responder in times of emergency. Last fall, the Wisconsin National Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding last summer in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.