Wisconsin National Guard
The Wisconsin Army National Guard is training with its northern neighbors - Soldiers of the Canadian Land Force Command - as part of a joint Warfighter Exercise being held at Fort McCoy May 7-18.
Soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team are fully engaged in the Warfighter Exercise - which tests the Brigade's ability to use available units and equipment to respond to battle situations and meet different threats.
Warrant Officer Dan Merlin, a platoon sergeant with the 38th Canadian Brigade Group Artillery Tactical Group, has seen and done many things in his 35-year military career. He has served two tours in Germany, one tour in England, three tours in Bosnia as part of the 10-year NATO Stabilization Force effort, one U.N. peacekeeping tour in Cyprus, and two tours in Afghanistan. His time in service is almost evenly split between the active duty and reserve components of the Canadian Army, referred to as the Land Force Command. He has served in a joint environment in Afghanistan.
Still, he described the past week serving with the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team during its Warfighter exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., as "a real learning experience."
"This is the first time I've ever worked with the National Guard in a warfighting environment," Merlin said. "That's brand new to me."
Merlin is one of seven Canadian soldiers who volunteered for the opportunity to train with the 32nd IBCT. The group consists of four officers and three enlisted, with skills ranging from artillery, infantry, logistics and armor. They originally had intended to serve individually in units with matching skill sets, but an issue with security clearances prevented the Canadians from using proprietary U.S. military equipment. Instead, they are serving as a "Canadian cell" tasked with planning the brigade's defense during the exercise.
"It's been a good experience," Merlin said. "There's definitely some points to improve on, but it's only going to get better. We understand that there are some issues to iron out for the next group to come down here."
Lt. Col. Dave Fraser, who works with the 38th Brigade Headquarters in Canada, said that most of the Canadian cell has never worked in a joint environment.
"Just going through the acronyms has been an experience," he said. "All in all, it's very value-added."
Canadian Brig. Gen. Paul Bury, deputy commander of Land Force Western Area, visited his troops at Fort McCoy on Wednesday (May 9), accompanied by Area Reserve Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Crossley, the equivalent to a sergeant major. Bury acknowledged the mission change for the Canadian soldiers.
"At least we found these things out right away," Fraser added.
Bury asked Col. Martin Seifer, 32nd Brigade commander, about future joint training opportunities.
"They're outstanding soldiers and individuals," Seifer said of the Canadians. "They bring a lot to the fight. It's good to have them on the team.
"I'm not averse to inviting them to the National Training Center with us next summer," he continued. "I think that would be a great opportunity for both."
Seifer noted that the Wisconsin Army National Guard may also have an opportunity to join in an upcoming Canadian exercise in the western provinces.
Planning for Canadian participation in the 32nd Brigade's Warfighter exercise began in January with the Wisconsin National Guard's Joint Staff. That discussion with the Canadian Army reserve led to a five-man squad from the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry taking part in a one-day military skills competition March 17 in Winnepeg, Manitoba, as well as the Warfighter exercise.
"We should have been doing this many, many years ago," Merlin said. "But this is the start of building a greater relationship with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. I couldn't have met a better group of people."