CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. — More than 101 years after its formation, the Soldiers of the famous “Red Arrow” gathered in a mass formation at Camp Grayling to celebrate the conclusion of another milestone in the organization’s proud history.
The 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team concluded its Exportable Combat Training Center (XCTC) exercise last week and marked the occasion with a full pass in review ceremony July 24 on the parade field at Camp Grayling.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, conducted the pass in review. Upon observing the entirety of the Red Arrow standing in formation, Dunbar proclaimed the brigade’s readiness to take on both its federal mission as the Army’s primary combat reserve and its state mission as Wisconsin’s first military responder in times of emergency.
“This IBCT is ready, and it is lethal.” he told the assembled troops. “Exactly what the United States is looking for.”
“Today our commander-in-chief and our secretary of defense want our military to be ready and lethal — not because we look for a fight, but because we know we must defend the things that we hold dear,” he said. “And if we’re ready and we’re lethal, maybe we won’t have to fight. But if we have to fight, we’re going to fight, and we’re going to win.”
Dunbar said Citizen Soldiers have proved themselves repeatedly throughout history, and the National Guard continues to fill a foundational role in the nation’s overall defense strategy today as a key component of the Army’s total force.
“The value of men and women like you to our families, our communities, our states and to our nation is truly invaluable,” he said. “It is a national treasure. You are exceptional at what you do. You are the foundation of our nation’s defense, and I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of you and your command team. I am proud to wear the uniform and serve with you.”
The XCTC exercise marked the first time since the end of World War II that Michigan and Wisconsin Soldiers trained collectively together wearing the Red Arrow patch.
Col. John Oakley, the commander of the 32nd IBCT, praised the Red Arrow for its hard work during XCTC at Camp Grayling, while noting the significance of reuniting the Red Arrow with its brethren in Michigan.
“Today, we are here to recognize this reunification,” Oakley said. “Mostly, though, we are also here to recognize the outstanding training exercise that you all just completed. A training exercise that was designed to test each and every one of you. To push you to your limits. To let you break through those bounds, those barriers, of doubt, uncertainty, and maybe even your fears. You’ve passed that test with flying colors.”
XCTC simulated an immersive battlefield scenario pitting U.S. forces against a near-peer threat with external evaluators. The grueling, three-week long exercise intended to replicate a rotation through the National Training Center, a proving ground of sorts that demonstrates a unit’s readiness for combat.
“I’m very proud to be your commander today,” Oakley said. “I’m very proud to lead you into the future. And I’m extremely proud of the effort, and the devotion, the commitment and the professionalism that you have brought forth over these last three weeks.”
The XCTC exercise provided invaluable training opportunities for leaders at all levels.
Sgt. 1st Class William Kocken, a platoon sergeant with the Waupun, Wisconsin-based Company A, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry said XCTC provided his unit with an invaluable training opportunity that tested its limits.
“One of the more difficult tasks was keeping Soldiers’ motivation level up as the training was presented with more unknown variables than a typical training exercise,” he said. “We’d be given intel of enemy in a certain area and by the time we’d make movement there the enemy situation would have developed and they might have moved their position requiring us to move further than originally planned.”
Those additional movements strained supply lines and tested the unit’s ability to adapt and overcome.
“As we progressed through the training exercise our planning and preparation continued to improve allowing for the missions to become smoother and more efficient,” Kocken added. “Overall I thought it was great training and simulated a lot of what we could be up against in a near-peer conflict.”
Other Soldiers described XCTC as an exercise in overcoming adversity as well.
“The largest lesson I learned during the exercise, is actually a lesson relearned,” said Sgt. Richard Bessel, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with Company F, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion in Mosinee, Wisconsin. “When times of adversity come, when a group of Soldiers is put to the test, their strengths and weaknesses shine like polished steel. It is in those times that everyone picks up each other’s slack, wherever that slack may come in.”
Bessel said that adversity is what helps build camaraderie and, ultimately, lessons learned.
“During those times of adversity teams are bonded together, weaknesses become strengths, and everyone’s six gets covered,” he said.
Just as valuable was the opportunity the exercise provided for Soldiers to perfect their skills in their individual specialties. Sgt. Stephanie Warden, a medic with Company C, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion in Racine, Wisconsin, said her company was able to test its ability to coordinate medical care across all echelons ultimately resulting in new standard operating procedures.
“It was beneficial to the unit as we used our first area of operations setup as a building block for what we needed to change for our next area of operations,” she said.
More than 2,000 Soldiers from both the Wisconsin and Michigan Army National Guard participated in XCTC, representing a historic reunion with the Red Arrow’s roots of a century ago.
The 32nd Infantry formed as a division of more than 15,000 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and 8,000 Michigan Soldiers in July 1917 as the U.S. prepared to enter World War I. The 32nd Division went on to earn great fame on the battlefields of Europe in World War I and again in the Pacific Theater of World War II before becoming an all-Wisconsin division in 1947. In 1967, the Red Arrow Division reorganized as a brigade, and in 2017, Michigan’s 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry rejoined the Red Arrow for the first time in 70 years.