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July 08, 2011

Training

Reunion at Fort McCoy an annual event for 32nd ‘Old Timers’

Story & photo by Alex Hughes, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office

In the early morning at Fort McCoy, as the last of the mist fades away, there is a flurry of activity at the firing ranges. Gravel crunches noisily under worn combat boots, and the sharp smell of cleaner, lubricant, protectant oil, or CLP, hangs in the air. The violent crack of weapons-fire echoes as round after round is fired downrange. Above all the din the short, direct orders barked from Soldier to Soldier can be heard.
PHOTO: The 32nd Red Arrow Old Timers are briefed by Soldiers of the 105th. Photo by Alex Hughes
The 32nd Red Arrow Old Timers are briefed by Soldiers of the 105th during a visit to the 105th MK-19 day at the range during Annual Training June 13 at Fort McCoy.

Suddenly, an outburst of laughter and chatter, rough and deep, cuts across the weapons-fire, the marching, and the yelling, as more than 40 men, some of their faces weathered with age, enthusiastically watch the Soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team hard at work.

These men are members of the 32nd Red Arrow “Old Timers” Club. The veterans of the 32nd gather every June for their annual reunion, and have for the past 64 years. Retired Brig. Gen. Charles Sharine, who once was commander of the entire 32nd Brigade, is now commander of the Old Timers.

“The Old Timers used to be just for officers, with cards and drink,” said Sharine. “I started these trips and tours, like on a Mississippi boat, the Soldiers’ training, everything.” Since his retirement from the Wisconsin National Guard in 1986, Sharine said, he has coordinated a number of events for the “Old Timers,” especially visiting Soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team during their annual training. This year it included trips to a .50-caliber range, an MK-19 range, a prime rib dinner with some of the Soldiers, a visit to the Tactical Operation Center, and more.

“It’s all about fun,” said John F. Johllr, a Berlin Crisis veteran with 15 years of military experience. “We always have fun. I do, and I’m all about fun. I love it.”

While the reunion of the Old Timers is a good time for many of the men, it is also about sharing, reliving, revisiting, and learning more about the ever-changing 32nd Brigade.

“The equipment is so different from when we were in the Army,” said Joel L. Kessenich, who retired as a major after 16 years of service.

Rollie L. Maum, a retired first sergeant with 31 years of duty in the National Guard, was astounded at all the changes to the 32nd Brigade and the Army as a whole. “All the gear,” said Maum, “all the vehicles … it’s all new. We had the old ‘junkers.’ The training days are much better now too. It’s much improved,” he said. “I’m impressed with how well all these young people are trained,’’ Maum said. “The 32nd Brigade should be proud.”

“The facilities are up to speed,” said Robert C. Ehrke, who has dedicated 26 years as a Guardsman, as well as 26 years with the Old Timers. “The number one improvement is the mess halls,” he said. “They’re fantastic.” But Ehrke was not the only one to have an opinion about the Old Timers visiting during Annual Training.

Spc. Jennifer A. Zay, a supply clerk for Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team said that she really enjoyed listening to all of the Old Timers’ stories. Zay was amazed that even though there are many differences between then and now, the bond of camaraderie was still tangible. “The Army has evolved so much over the years, but the basic Soldier tasks and friendship is still the same,” Zay said. “It was very interesting hearing about their service time.”

Like Zay, Kessenich’s experience visiting the Soldiers of the 32nd Brigade was a good one. “I am still very proud of this organization,” Kessenich said.

In the early morning at Fort McCoy, as the last of the mist fades away, there is a flurry of activity at the firing ranges. The Soldiers of the 32nd Brigade work ceaselessly to perfect their technique. Watching from the bleachers, a mass of veterans sit, laugh, and snap photos.

These men are veterans of the 32nd Brigade and members of the Old Timers Club. Their unified voice is grateful for the continued opportunity to sit-in on training, full of curiosity at an ever-changing Army, and brimming with pride in themselves for their 32nd Brigade and in the Soldiers who now form it.

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