MILWAUKEE – Two Wisconsin National Guard members were honored with the Maj. Richard I. Bong Award during the Milwaukee Armed Forces Week dinner banquet Monday evening at the Wisconsin Club City Club.
First Lt. Brianna Neumeyer, a Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin resident and an ordinance officer with Company F, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, received the award for the Army, and Master Sgt. Peter Gauerke, a New Berlin, Wisconsin resident and a boom operator with the 128th Air Refueling Wing, received the award for the Air Force.
Bong was a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps and a Medal of Honor recipient born in Superior, Wisconsin. The award in his honor is given annually by the Milwaukee Armed Services Committee to Wisconsin service members who have displayed outstanding traits of leadership and professionalism through their contributions to their Guard or Reserve military unit and to the community.
Neumeyer was recognized for her compassionate military leadership, helping secure grants for two of her Soldiers during times of financial need, and for her initiatives to combat mental health issues through the use of animal-assisted therapy.
“Seeing that what I’m doing is actually making a difference and can make a big difference in the future was awesome in the fact that getting this award was able to push that information out there,” Neumeyer said. “I felt like I was on cloud nine at the end of the night after I saw everyone came up to me asking me about it. I’m like, ‘sweet, people actually think this is a good idea.’”
Neumeyer just completed her first year towards her doctorate in physical therapy at Concordia University. As a part of that program, she is a handler for one of the university’s comfort dogs. On drill weekends, she has brought a comfort dog to her unit and other Wisconsin National Guard units to help assist service members who may be tackling mental health issues.
“It breaks down the barriers between two people so that when they’re talking about something there’s no judgement,” Neumeyer said. “The dog kind of just buffers the situation and conversation to get people to open up about stuff that they may be having problems with, and that’s where I think using the dogs in the military can help combat that Soldier suicide.”
Neumeyer hopes that in the future Guard units can have comfort dogs that would be assigned to them and potentially even deploy overseas with them as a resource to help service members who may be having a tough time.
“It’s my job to make sure that my Soldiers are taken care of in any way possible and that’s just a small part of being a leader in the first place,” Neumeyer said. “I love dogs personally so it’s very easy for me to stay motivated to want to get dogs into the Guard and units more often so that Soldiers have access to them.”
For the Air National Guard, Gauerke was recognized for his unit role administering the essential electronic flight bag program which provides current digital copies of flight manuals and in-flight publications. He also is an ambassador with the Mitchell Gallery of Flight Museum, mentors boom operators, and is the head enlisted member of his squadron’s booster club.
“It’s humbling to receive an award in the name of Richard Bong,” Gauerke said, “Such an accomplished aviator and Airmen in such a short life.”
Gauerke enlisted while he was a senior in high school in 1990 and has been with the 128th Air Refueling Wing ever since. He followed in the footsteps of his father who was also a boom operator in the unit and retired before his son joined after serving for 36 years. Gauerke said his belief in taking care of people keeps him motivated.
“I think if you look around at all the sections on the base and assess which ones are performing at an exceptionally high level, if you take a look at their leadership, somewhere in it you’ll find someone that is focusing on their needs,” Gauerke said. “Be it pay status, challenging with new duties, proper recognition for work well done or just checking in with them because they know their people well enough to know that they are under stress. You make it that much easier for them.”
For the 126th Air Refueling Squadron’s booster club, Gauerke plays a large role in the creation and procurement of squadron type apparel and patches.
“It’s a lot of fun working with some of the talented artists we have on base creating designs that help spread our brand and image as the Brew City Tankers,” Gauerke said. “So many members of the base are proud of their hometown and want to show it off.”
He also enjoys talking with others about aviation history in general. He recommended that people interested should go to the Mitchell Gallery of Flight Museum’s secondary sight at the old 440th Air Wing Base which is only available by appointment and during the annual Doors Open Milwaukee event each year.
Some of Gauerke’s earliest memories stem from being on base during family events while his father served. He plans to continue on serving his fellow Airmen, his unit, his state, and the nation.
“I can’t think of any better job than boom operator and anyone who’s talked with me knows it,” Gauerke said. “It’s truly an honor to be an enlisted flyer in the 126th Air Refueling Squadron and I’m looking forward to the challenges of being the senior evaluator and hopefully someday the ARS program manager.”