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Happy birthday Citizen Soldier

December 13, 2014

Dec. 13, 2014 is the 378th birthday of the National Guard.

Dec. 13, 2014 is the 378th birthday of the National Guard.

The oldest military force in the Department of Defense – the National Guard – turns 378 today.


On December 13, 1636, a colonial militia of Minutemen organized in the fledgling Massachusetts Bay Colony to protect the settlement. This group of ordinary Citizen Soldiers became the first state-organized military force in what would become the United States.


Other militias formed in their respective colonies in the coming years, and it was these Minutemen that ultimately laid down their plows and picked up their muskets to secure American independence from the British crown.


It was these Citizen Soldiers that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, here once the embattled farmer’s stood, and fired the shot heard round the world.”


Today we honor the storied heritage of the National Guard and its Citizen Soldiers and Airmen that still, to this day, remain America’s minutemen – trusted at home, and proven abroad.


Since those early days of colonial militias, Lexington and Concord and the struggle for American independence, the National Guard has been Always Ready, Always There.


The National Guard has been uniquely positioned and trained for its unique dual mission unlike any other force in America’s military arsenal. Our nation’s Citizen Soldiers and Airmen stand ready to assist when rising floodwaters or forest fires threaten homes, businesses and infrastructure. They are on the scene when tornados tear through communities or hurricanes swamp cities. They patrol in blizzard conditions rendering aid to stranded motorists. They respond in cases of domestic terrorism or hazardous materials.


But they are simultaneously prepared to go into combat with their active duty and reserve brethren. More than 11,500 of Wisconsin’s Guardsmen have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Just this week, more than 150 Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 829th Engineer Company returned from Afghanistan, as nearly 100 more from the 950th Engineer Company prepared for a deployment of their own.


Just last winter, the same 950th Engineer Company, which is now training to clear Afghan roads of improvised explosive devices, was assisting stranded motorists caught in an intense snowstorm.


Their service represents the dual-mission the National Guard has filled for nearly four centuries – trusted at home, proven abroad.

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Embracing the challenge

November 24, 2014
By Cadet Jeremy Harris

Editor’s Note: Cadet Jeremy Harris is part of Class 33 of the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Harris and the rest of Class 33 will graduate from the Challenge Academy on Dec. 20.

My name is Jeremy Harris. I am a cadet at the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy.

Each cadet is here for a different reason. Some are here to break their negative habits and others are here for their education. The reason I am here is to earn my High School Equivalency Diploma and change my habits of always taking the easier way out of things instead of working hard for what I want. So far I am making the change that I want to see. I made it onto the Academic Honor Roll and was even awarded an academic excellence pin. My next and most current goal is to earn the rank of senior cadet.

The Challenge Academy is a two-phase program that takes place over a period of 17 months. The first phase is the residential phase, which is 5 1/2 months in a disciplined and structured quasi-military environment that focuses on eight core components. These eight core components are academic excellence, physical fitness, leadership/followership, health and hygiene, life-coping skills, responsible citizenship, job skills and service to community.

Day one began with roughly 160 candidates arriving at Fort McCoy with their nervous faces. They had turned in their personal belongings and were leaving their parents for 5 1/2 months, unable to speak with them for two weeks. Those two weeks were the hardest two weeks of my life as they were for many others as well. At the end of those two weeks, we had what was called A-Day (Acceptance Day). A-Day was where the whole candidate corps gathered into a building, and took the oath to become a cadet.

After A-Day, we were finally able to start school. Cadets were so relieved. Many told the team leaders that they had never been so excited and ready for school to begin. The academy is geared toward success, which is why the instructors start school at the lowest level. They do that so the cadets that struggled in school are brought up to speed on anything they have not learned. If the instructors think that you are ready, they will start scheduling GED tests.

You change so much at the challenge academy. Every cadet goes to a character development class. This class is instructed by each platoon’s counselor and resembles a high-school health class. In this class, we discuss and study a variety of topics –relationships, drugs, common-courtesies, sexual education, careers, schooling, our futures, etc. We also learn how to work as a team when we go to our weekly platoon development class.

The academy is the best place for every one of these kids to be, but you need to put in the effort to succeed. Like I said earlier, more than 160 candidates showed up, and only 110 are still here. The cadets who truly wanted to improve their lives made the choice to embrace the academy’s standards. When you embrace the challenge academy’s standards, others will notice, and you will too.