By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato
Wisconsin National Guard
MILWAUKEE - The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade bid farewell to one commander and welcomed a new one in a May 19 change of command ceremony at the historic Richards Street Armory.
Col. Jeffrey J. Liethen, who commanded the 157th’s headquarters during its recent deployment to Kosovo, formally relinquished command to newly appointed commander Col. John W. Schroeder. State Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley J. Shields also passed responsibility to Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph R. Rosemore Jr., who will now take over as the brigade’s top enlisted soldier.
Liethen, who is simultaneously retiring from the military after 35 years of service, held a variety of command and staff positions over the course of a military career that began in 1978, which culminated in him taking command of the 157th in 2010. When his unit deployed forces to Kosovo in 2011, Liethen became commander of a multinational battle group that consisted of aviation, cavalry, infantry, and support units from the U.S. and nine other countries.
Addressing the 157th for the final time as commander, Liethen thanked the soldiers with whom he had served throughout his career, as well as his wife.
“Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to thank my lovely bride, Julia, for holding down the fort while I was off gallivanting on high adventure for a couple of recent years,” he said.
“The last couple of months there have been a lot of people coming up to me and asking me, ‘How do you feel after 35 years of wearing the uniform and finally having to hang up the boots?’ Well, feelings vary from day to day, but right now at this very instant, I feel like I want to do an end zone dance and a flying chest bump.”
Senior leaders of the Wisconsin National Guard heaped praises on the retiring soldier.
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the assistant adjutant general for Army, said the National Guard knew Liethen was the right man to lead the maneuver enhancement brigade in Kosovo.
“Like any good officer and any good leader, you want to make sure that you send the right leader, at the right time, with the right soldiers,” Anderson said. “And Col. Liethen was absolutely the right leader. With his experience, what he has done over the past 35 years, we knew with absolute confidence that the maneuver enhancement brigade headquarters going to the Balkans was going to be absolutely the most successful that it could be.”
Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, the state’s adjutant general, presented Liethen with the Legion of Merit in recognition of his long and distinguished military career.
Meanwhile, Schroeder assumed command of the 1,900-soldier brigade, which traces its lineage and history back to the famed Black Hats of the Iron Brigade in the Civil War.
“Col. Liethen, as you pass this flag, you’ve done a wonderful job preparing this unit, and when, in fact, called to go into a combat zone, did a magnificent job with this headquarters,” said Dunbar. “And to Col. Schroeder, I not only expect you to maintain the legacy that is so extraordinary in this unit, but I expect you to put your own stamp on it. To bring your industry, your thrift, your professionalism, and put the mark of Col. Schroeder on this organization and continue to expand the greatness that is the 157th.”
Invoking the unit’s storied history in past conflicts, the incoming commander looked ahead to the future and pointed out that the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade continues to answer the call as two of its subordinate units, the 229th Engineer Company, and Battery B of the 121st Field Artillery, are currently serving in Afghanistan.
The brigade is also prepping to mobilize two additional units for service in Afghanistan in the next year.
“My vision for this brigade is to be the absolute best organization we can be while taking care of soldiers, families, and their employers,” Schroeder said in his first remarks as commander. “We’ll make everything we do a team effort, and we’ll draw on the experience and skills of every soldier in the Iron Brigade.”
The brigade’s top enlisted leadership also changed during the ceremony as Shields transferred responsibility to Rosemore. Shields, who took over as the top enlisted noncommissioned officer in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, was the brigade’s first and only command sergeant major until Rosemore took the post.
Shields helped guide the brigade, which formed out of the 57th Field Artillery Brigade five years ago, as it worked to build a maneuver enhancement brigade with very little guidance or doctrine on which to base its construction.
Maneuver enhancement brigades were a new concept to the Army at the time.
Calling it a “distinct honor” to serve with the brigade, Shields recalled memories of his service with the brigade.
Shields recalled many memories of his service in the brigade at the Richards Street, Oak Creek, Racine, and Kenosha armories.
“Many friends have been made, and we went through so much together,” he said.
With that, a new chapter in the long history of Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade began.