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The National Guard makes a big deal about readiness — it’s part of their motto — but the truth is, there is much more gruntwork than glory in making sure Soldiers are physically fit, their records and evaluations are up to date, and their qualifications are maintained.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment has an idea that may bring a little more glory to the gruntwork.

Staff Sgt. Levi Parker, the assistant operations noncommissioned officer with the 128th Infantry, began developing the Old Abe Esprit de Corps program nearly three years ago to recognize units in the battalion setting the standard for readiness.

“I wrote the program initially, and worked with the command sergeant major, battalion commander and the [personnel and administration] section to perfect it,” Parker explained. “I had a lot of help and insight to get it to where it is.”

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The Old Abe Esprit de Corps streamers for the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment. Each streamer represents a specific area of achievement in unit readiness. Wisconsin National Guard photo

The battalion awards a streamer to the unit determined as best in the following categories: The First and Forward streamer is awarded for the leading unit in physical fitness scores; the Eagle Eye streamer is awarded to the unit with the highest overall marksmanship scores; the Old Abe streamer is awarded to units with the highest completion rate of evaluation reports for officers and noncommissioned officers; and the Les Terribles streamer is awarded to the company recognized for overall unit excellence.

The Les Terrible streamer — bearing the nom de guerre bestowed upon the 32nd Division in World War I — evaluates six categories: the company’s average combat fitness score, percentage of positions filled, percentage of Soldiers retained, percentage of unit members qualified in their occupational specialty, and percentage of Soldiers current on their professional military education.

Battalion leadership awarded the temporary streamers at the end of the battalion’s annual training in June. Company D received the First and Forward streamer, as well as the Les Terribles streamer. Company A received the Old Abe streamer, and Company C received the Eagle Eye streamer.

These streamers are technically unofficial, as the Army regulation governing unit flags and guidons do not have a provision for esprit de corps streamers. But the lack of official standing has no bearing on the streamers’ value and meaning.

“We made the decision to create this program to instill excellence through competition,” Parker said.

In effect, the streamers serve the purpose of a traveling trophy — except that, rather than in a trophy case back at the armory, the streamers would be on display at any battalion function requiring unit guidons, or company-level flags. The intent is to encourage each company in the battalion to pursue bragging rights by achieving excellence in various aspects of unit readiness.

Should the battalion or any of its companies be mobilized, the esprit de corps streamers would not be displayed as part of unit colors.

“It’s more of an internal program,” Parker said.

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The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment with its famous unit mascot, the bald eagle Old Abe. A Wisconsin National Guard infantry battalion is incorporating the legacy of Old Abe into its esprit de corps streamer program to encourage unit readiness. U.S. Army photo

The namesake of the program and one of its streamers, Old Abe, was the bald eagle mascot for the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a Civil War unit from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, which carries the lineage of two Civil War regiments, is nicknamed the Eagle Battalion.

“We really wanted to capture the essence of our organization, and thus instill that pride and esprit de corps into our Soldiers who are all competing to possess those streamers,” Parker said.

According to the program memorandum, the battalion reviews company information on the seventh day of the battalion’s annual training.

“Now that it is implemented, I track and pull the necessary information and do the calculations to determine the winners in each category,” Parker said.

“Everyone will know when it will happen and what specifically they need to do to earn those streamers,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Peterson, battalion commander.

“You have to have buy-in from your leadership to do something like this,” Parker acknowledged. “I was fortunate that my command sergeant major and battalion commander were all in on the idea and wanted to put it into action.”

“Everyone says how their unit is the best,” Peterson added. “Now we have a way to prove it.”

Peterson said Parker and Command Sgt. Maj. Eric David were instrumental in bringing the Old Abe program to life.

“I look forward to it being a new annual tradition,” the battalion commander said.

Parker said the concept could be adopted by other battalions.