MADISON, WI Contributed by 1st Lt. Joseph Trovato, Wisconsin National Guard - The Wisconsin Army National Guard welcomed its next state command sergeant major in a Feb. 9 change of responsibility ceremony in Madison, Wis. It also bid farewell to the man who had held the position since 2007.
When retiring Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper formally handed over the noncommissioned officer saber to Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Wisconsin Army National Guard's long history. Shields became Wisconsin's seventh state command sergeant major, assuming responsibility from Stopper, who led the Wisconsin Army National Guard's enlisted Soldiers for the past six years.
Stopper was the state's top enlisted Soldier during a tumultuous time that saw the National Guard maintain its highest operations tempo since World War II.
The retiring command sergeant major from Baraboo, Wis., began his distinguished career in 1979 as a cavalry scout in the 105th Cavalry Squadron before ascending to the role of the state's senior enlisted advisor.
"Your energy, dedication, strategic vision, commitment, and leadership during the highest operations tempo period that the Wisconsin Army National Guard has seen since World War II has been nothing short of phenomenal," Wisconsin's assistant adjutant general for Army, Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, said at the ceremony. "And as we transition from your leadership to that of Command Sgt. Maj. Shields, it's important that our Soldiers know just how significant of an impact you have had on the Wisconsin Army National Guard."
Representatives from each of Wisconsin's major subordinate commands, the Wisconsin Air National Guard, friends and family attended the formal change of responsibility ceremony.
"You leave your post with the Wisconsin Army National Guard having achieved unprecedented levels of personnel, training, and equipment readiness and recognition as a state that will always answer the call with some of the best-led, best-equipped, best-trained, and modern and ready Soldiers the Army has to offer," Anderson continued. "In no small part, that is due to your commitment to our Soldiers, to our families, and an unwavering commitment to the standards. Your legacy will live on in the 7,500 Soldiers that will lead this great organization after we are all long retired."
Anderson, the top-ranking officer in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, called Stopper and his successor, "two of the finest, professional, noncommissioned officers I have had the honor of serving with in my 30 years in uniform."
In his 34 years of service in the National Guard, Stopper served in a variety of roles and units. He spent time in an engineer battalion, an infantry battalion, and as the command sergeant major for the Madison-based 64th Troop Command. He also served in Iraq in 2005-06.
Shields, of Menomonee Falls, Wis., has 40 years of military service to his credit. A graduate of Stevens Point Area Senior High School in Stevens Point, Wis., Shields enlisted in 1972. He entered active duty before transferring to the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1979. During his long career, he has deployed to Korea, Iraq, and most recently to Kosovo, where he served as the command sergeant major for the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
Addressing Shields during the ceremony, Anderson said, "What a great opportunity to place your indelible mark on the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Like all of us, you are a product of some fantastic mentors, and I am absolutely confident in your capabilities to lead in sustaining our Army National Guard as a unit of excellence, and more to the point, our enlisted Soldiers, as members of the profession of arms. Your years of experience, training and assignments as a traditional Soldier and while deployed overseas will serve you well and this organization."
In his own remarks, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the state's adjutant general, said both Shields and Stopper have been invaluable assets to the National Guard.
"Not many command sergeants major have faced what George Stopper has faced in his tenure in terms of change," said Dunbar. "I assure you Brad Shields is going to face just as much change but probably different than what George faced. The constant that gets us through that is the quality of our enlisted men and women wearing the uniform. You're looking at two giants in the business of being a command sergeant major."
Speaking for the last time as the state command sergeant major, Stopper was quick to thank his family and praise their sacrifices over the years. He also thanked his team and those that mentored him along the way. Specifically, he pointed out the Army National Guard's senior noncommissioned officers.
"They are truly the heart and soul of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and I could not have done one-tenth of what I do on a daily basis without their full commitment and support," Stopper said.
In his parting words to Wisconsin's enlisted Soldiers, he said, "For the Soldiers here today, I strongly encourage and challenge you to always set your goals high. Always aim for first place. Do what you can on a daily basis to make yourself a better leader."
After the two command sergeants major formally and symbolically exchanged the noncommissioned officer saber, Shields addressed the group from his new position of authority. He thanked Stopper for his years of service and credited him with guiding the National Guard through a difficult period.
Stressing the importance of maintaining continuity but also inviting change, Shields highlighted the significance of mentorship and leadership development within the force. He also discussed the challenges Guardsmen face in balancing civilian employment, family, and the military.
"The traditional citizen Soldier makes a tremendous commitment as a leader in our organization, balancing family, civilian employment, the National Guard, and friends," he said. "Our operational tempo over the past 11 years added to that challenge. As a traditional Guardsman since 1979, I understand those challenges, because I have lived them as well."