On Guard: How employers can boost the 115th Fighter Wing

Col. Jeffrey Wiegand is always on the scout for a few good men and women, but he could also use a few good employers. In a recent interview with In Business, Wiegand, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, outlined various ways that local employers can support the Fighter Wing, and all it takes is a little can-do attitude.

It starts with the employers who have Fighter Wing members in their workforces, and the operative word is “flexibility.” While the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on military service, military units like the 115th, which has a $58.3 million payroll, still count on employers to be flexible when the members are called up for active duty, or when the Wing has a change in work schedule.

“We’re really trying to humanize the military piece of it a little bit more and explain that these are all folks who live in the community and work in the community.” — Chris Arenz, executive director of the Badger Air Community Council

The requirements of National Guard airmen, who have both domestic and overseas missions, are to work one weekend per month on drills, with two additional weeks of mandatory training per year. One of those training weeks took place in August, as all 1,100 members of the 115th were on duty for seven consecutive days — Monday through Sunday — requiring them to miss a week of work.

As the employer of all Wing members, Wiegand tries to make the work schedule predictable, for the airmen and for their employers, as early as one year out; if they work at companies that do not provide military leave, they are expected to use their own professional leave to fulfill their military commitments. Since 35% of the Wing members attend college, the 115th tries to schedule around holiday weekends and the beginning of college semesters.

“Even with that, sometimes our schedule changes,” Wiegand says. “When we have those workweeks, it is a military order and our Wing members are ordered to duty, so it’s most important for our civilian employers to have flexibility to provide lead time for the employee to miss their civilian work so they can attend the formation military duty.”

Even companies that don’t employ Wing members can support the 115th through the Badger Air Community Council (BACC) or the Airman and Family Readiness program. The BACC, an official organization with a board of directors that includes area business leaders, offers fundraising support for community events, such as the Fighter Wing’s 65th anniversary celebration, scheduled for Sept. 7. (Editor’s note: The 115th will host IB’s annual Extreme Networking event on Sept. 10.)

Watching their BACC

As a military organization, the 115th cannot accept donations, so the BACC makes community outreach possible. “They develop an annual fiscal plan and we look at these different events,” Wiegand says. “I’m requesting a certain amount for the year, and they go to their businesses and try to make ends meet and provide us what we need for those different events.”

Chris Arenz, executive director of the BACC, said the council’s mission is to support the 115th by raising awareness among the general public, the business community, and state and federal legislative leaders. From a fundraising perspective, local businesses have sponsorship opportunities, and during events like Rhythm & Booms, the council invites members of the community to come to the base, located at Dane County Regional Airport’s Truax Field, and watch the fireworks. It also encourages employers to help Wing members by offering discounts at their businesses, particularly if they are in the retail trade.

Community organizations that would like to learn more about the Fighter Wing via presentations can contact Arenz at 608-287-6208 or email chrisarenz@yahoo.com. “We’re really trying to humanize the military piece of it a little bit more and explain that these are all folks who live in the community and work in the community,” he says.

Airman and Family Readiness, another nonprofit organization that accepts donations from the business community, helps out airmen and their families during difficult times. Wiegand cited the hypothetical example of an airman deployed overseas, with a spouse at home who encounters some difficulty — a car breaks down or the family doesn’t have enough money to enjoy the holidays.

Kim Sandleback, coordinator of Airman and Family Readiness, says her job involves preparing both the Wing members and their families for deployment and family separation. Such preparation is ongoing and can be as simple as giving the members’ spouses and children tours of the base so they develop a comfort level with its operation, especially during monthly drills. She also ensures that Wing members are aware of the resources available to them, including counseling services.

“We want them to feel comfortable with the base, so the base and the military and what goes on here isn’t a mystery to them,” Sandleback says. “It helps them to cope when they have to deal with family separation. For the military, there is a lot of family separation, just due to training, and some people go off to nine-months schools.”



Outside the base, there is the CARES (Caring Assistance and Relief Effort Services) Program, where Airman and Family Readiness engages in fundraising to lend a helping hand to families, or pay for sendoff ceremonies, with the help of a small grant program. Usually, the nongovernmental grants range from $250 to $500, and the families don’t have to pay the money back. “A typical scenario would be someone has a family member at a hospital, so they have incurred extra expenses traveling back and forth from the hospital,” Sandleback noted. “So it’s primarily for people with an unforeseen need.”

Madison businesses have been very generous, especially with in-kind donations, and can contact Sandleback at 115FW.FRO@ang.af.mil.

Dual mission

The 115th has a local economic impact of $86.3 million. For those who think that with the war in Iraq over and U.S. involvement in Afghanistan winding down there is a lot less for the Wing to do, it’s important to remember the unit has both domestic and overseas responsibilities. In supporting the 115th, businesses support that dual-role mission.

Wiegand has two chains of command, one leading up to the president of the United States and another leading to the governor of Wisconsin. Federal missions are undertaken when the Wing is deployed overseas and when it’s fulfilling its homeland security mission. Most of the time, the Wing is deployed stateside to handle domestic emergencies.

Missions are carried out with F-16 or RC-26 aircraft. The RC-26 aircraft are specially equipped to respond to local emergencies. If there is a tornado or a flood that damages roads and bridges, the planes provide the eyes in the sky necessary to transmit real-time video for the purpose of damage assessment and prioritizing response resources.

Such an episode occurred in 2008, when the Fighter Wing surveyed massive flood damage to Lake Delton in the Wisconsin Dells area. A couple of years ago, straight-line winds knocked down so many trees that the Wing was called in to survey the damage and report on roads that were put out of commission.

The 115th also has a medical emergency response capability in which a medical unit of 50 people responds to disasters such as chemical spills or train accidents. With specially trained and equipped personnel, the first step is to decontaminate injured people so they can be treated.

“The equipment they have is basically a mobile emergency room,” Wiegand says. “The decontamination works first, and then what we do is provide triage to stabilize the patient, and then they can be transported to local hospitals.”

The 115th also has explosive ordnance disposal capabilities, and it works with local bomb squads.

Most of the skill sets required to perform the Wing’s mission are on hand, but people retire every year and about 10% of its personnel will experience some sort of transition that requires them to move out of the state. Wiegand said the unit is fortunate to tap into a diverse array of skills in Greater Madison, especially with college students and health professionals.

To join the National Guard as enlisted personnel, new recruits undergo basic military training for four to six weeks before receiving an assignment; would-be officers go to officer training school. Basic pilot training requires a one-year commitment, and then F-16 training consumes another six months.

“With our doctors and nurses, we don’t send them to medical school, but if they do have the right degree, we can hire them,” Wiegand says. “With every different job we have, they go to Air Force training. It’s not specific to the National Guard, but they go to the United States Air Force, which is spread throughout the country.”

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