Serving Wisconsin for 179 years

March 5, 2016

By Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general

Soldiers from the 32nd Division in the jungles of the South Pacific during World War II.

Soldiers from the 32nd Division in the jungles of the South Pacific during World War II.

Last year, we unveiled a new Wisconsin National Guard flag that honors the history and heritage of our storied organization.

Our new Colors pay homage to the regimental colors of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the famed Iron Brigade, which also counted the 6th and 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiments among its ranks – all of which were early predecessors to what we know today as the Wisconsin National Guard. The Iron Brigade remains one of the most storied units in American military history – noted for its tenacity in battle and for suffering the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the Civil War.

The flag was requested by our soldiers to reflect their Wisconsin connection as our units wished to fly Wisconsin colors in addition to ‘Old Glory.”

Countless battle streamers have been earned by units of the Wisconsin National Guard, including familiar names like Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Antietam and Chancellorsville which invoke the proud history of our earliest call to preserve the Union.

Today, we celebrate the 179th birthday of the Wisconsin National Guard. Some 11 years before Wisconsin attained its statehood in 1848, Citizen Soldiers began forming what would become the Wisconsin National Guard. On March 5, 1837, Henry Dodge, governor of the Territory of Wisconsin, commissioned Morgan L. Martin, of Green Bay, as a captain and the commander of the Green Bay Rangers volunteer company of mounted riflemen.

The Wisconsin National Guard evolved over time, and it wasn’t until 1879 that Wisconsin’s adjutant general first referred to the state’s militia as the “National Guard,” but since 1837, the Wisconsin National Guard has been ready to respond to threats and emergencies here on our own soil and in combat against our nation’s enemies.

Our legacy is reflected in our history, which includes not only state response, but also combat operations. These operations are reflected in the battle streamers. In addition to the heroic legacy of the Iron Brigade’s “Black Hat Boys,” who served at places like Fredricksburg and Bull Run, other campaign streamers mark service in the Spanish American War and the storied lineage of the 32nd Infantry Division in World War I and II.

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A Soldier from the 32nd Division peers over the top of a trench during World War I.

Streamers from Meuse-Argonne, Aisne-Marne and others mark the division’s service in World War I, where the French dubbed the men of the 32nd “Les Terribles” because of their ferocious fighting ability. Their success on the battle field in World War I earned the division the iconic “Red Arrow” patch, which illustrates that the division pierced every enemy line it encountered in the war. The Red Arrow is still worn by the men and women of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team today.

The 32nd was again called to combat in World War II, where it earned campaign streamers for its service in the Philippines and New Guinea.

By the 1950s, Airmen from the newly formed Wisconsin Air National Guard were flying in the skies above the Korean Peninsula.

Still more streamers were added from Southwest Asia, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in the wars that followed the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A Soldier from the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team mans an M-240B machine gun while serving in Iraq in 2009.

A Soldier from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team mans an M-240B machine gun while serving in Iraq in 2009.

This is the lineage of today’s Wisconsin National Guard, and it demonstrates the noble service of our organization as the primary combat reserve of the United States Army and Air Force. Yet what those campaign streamers do not capture is the other half of our unique dual-mission as the first military responder here in the homeland.

Since 1837, the Wisconsin National Guard has served the people of Wisconsin in times of crisis and emergency. Time and time again, the same men and women who have fought valiantly in combat for our nation, have simultaneously answered the community’s call when disaster strikes.

You can find the Soldiers and Airmen of this proud organization assisting in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes, battling floods and wildfires and responding in the face of snow emergencies. You can count on their adaptability to fight unique threats like the Avian Flu, the spread of Ebola or to serve in times of civil unrest.

We are a proud part of the national treasure that is the Guard.

We have been Always Ready, Always There for 179 years, and we will continue to be ready to answer the call in the years ahead.