CAMP DOUGLAS, Wis. – "Always Ready, Always There," isn’t just a catchphrase for the National Guard. It is the result of maintaining the readiness of an organization that can be called upon at a moment’s notice to respond to an emergency here in Wisconsin or deploy to far-flung locales around the world.
In the Wisconsin Army National Guard, they take that duty seriously, and as a result, the state’s Army Guard consistently ranks in the top 10 nationwide for the overall readiness of its troops.
That lofty ranking is thanks in large part to the streamlined Soldier Readiness Processing [SRP] program run by the Wisconsin Army National Guard Medical Detachment. More than 3,000 soldiers are processing through the SRP here during a two-week process in January. An average of 320 soldiers pass through each day, and over the course of the year, all of the state’s more than 7,000 Army Guardsmen will pass through.
The SRP, which annually validates a soldier’s dental, medical, and personnel readiness, provides the opportunity to update records, religious preferences, family information, beneficiaries, wills, powers of attorney, and other personnel issues. Soldiers also have the opportunity to review life insurance options and education benefits.
As a result, soldiers leave the SRP able to focus on their training and mission without having to worry whether their affairs are in order.
“It is peace of mind just to know that your family is taken care of and that we know how to reach them,” said Col. Leah Moore, the commander of the Wisconsin Medical Detachment. “It takes out the distractions of, ‘is my family going to be OK?’”
The goal of the local SRP is to identify and remedy any issues early before units move to mobilization stations to deploy. When Wisconsin units arrive at their mobilization stations, historically they have had very few soldiers sent home for medical, dental or personnel reasons, because they go through the process annually here at home.
“If they have medical or dental issues, they have to get those deficiencies taken care of, and it takes them away from what they’re really there for and the important training,” explained Col. Tim Coen, the state’s dental officer.
He said soldiers gearing up for deployment want to spend their time training – not dealing with readiness issues.
Coen and a team of two other Army National Guard dentists saw a steady stream of patients during the SRP at Camp Williams. In younger soldiers, he said, the primary issue is wisdom teeth, but as soldiers get older, routine maintenance becomes the primary concern. Coen said historically, dental readiness has had a major impact on American wars.
“Even going back all the way to World War II, there were significant issues,” he said. “Vietnam brought out the dental readiness issue a lot because the dental readiness or dental emergencies were one of the leading causes of troops having to come out of the field.”
Losing a soldier from a squad because of a sever toothache or dental emergency destroyed unit cohesion and the overall readiness of squad, who come to rely on and trust each other. Losing even one person can have a detrimental effect.
With improvements in screening and prioritizing overall soldier readiness, losing soldiers to medical or dental issues is increasingly rare.
Wisconsin began implementing its SRP 10 years ago, as the Global War on Terror reached a fever pitch. Back then, the Guard would validate soldiers’ readiness by taking a unit that had a very short notice for a deployment and putting them through a daunting 12-15 hour process.
Today’s process is decidedly more streamlined, efficient and organized. Now, the support staff only works eight-hour days, and individual soldiers usually get through the entire process in three hours – even though the number of stations has increased since the program’s inception. Units pass through primarily in colder months like January so the warmer months are available for units to focus on outdoor training.
Thanks to the improvements and efficiencies, Wisconsin soldiers and units have earned a reputation for high readiness.
“We do now, and we typically rate in the top 10 of the nation comfortably, and often times in the top five of the nation when you combined our readiness with how often we see soldiers,” Col. Moore said.
Consequently, Wisconsin’s soldiers remain "Always Ready, Always There" to respond to any mission to meet the needs of the state and nation.