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News | Nov. 27, 2023

Wisconsin Guard’s ‘Iron Brigade’ installs new leader

By Sgt. 1st Class Katie Theusch 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

A new commander took charge of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade during a formal Nov. 4 ceremony.

Col. Paul Gapinski assumed command of the 157th — known as the “Iron Brigade” — from outgoing commander Col. Eric Leckel in a change of command ceremony at Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee.

The change of command ceremony took place on the heels of a successful deployment for the brigade’s headquarters company where members performed a headquarters staff mission for the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, ensuring strategic partnerships with Djibouti and other partner nations, responding to crises, and enhancing stability and peace in the region by acting as a headquarters support unit to coordinate and facilitate mission accomplishment.

Brig. Gen. Matthew Strub, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, commended Leckel’s leadership and dedication to the Iron Brigade, especially in preparing and executing the headquarters company’s deployment.

“He worked diligently for all the train up, to build a team of teams, to get after that mission set, and how successful you were is a result of your leadership, Eric,” Strub said. “I can’t thank you enough. You set the stage and gave your Soldiers the resources they needed to be successful — the sign of a great leader. Well done.”

The deployment was just one of the brigade’s several accomplishments Leckel reflected on during the ceremony.

“During the assumption of command ceremony I quoted Herb Brooks, the coach from the greatest hockey game of all times when the United States beat the Soviet Union 1980 Olympics,” Leckel said. “He said, ‘Great moments are born out of great opportunities,’ and by your hard work and dedication, we seized those great opportunities and made them into great moments during the last two years.”

In addition to the brigade headquarters and the 357th Signal Company’s deployment, the 121st Field Artillery deployed to Morocco to participate in African Lion, U.S. Africa Command’s largest exercise. The 724th Engineer Battalion conducted horizontal and vertical engineer projects to improve the infrastructure and facilities at Camp Kamassa, Mississippi. The 229th Engineer Company conducted a one-year southwest border mission. The 32nd Military Police Company sent Soldiers to Papua New Guinea, strengthening the Wisconsin National Guard’s relations with the PNG Defense Force as part of the State Partnership Program.

“These events show the excellence of the 157th MEB Soldiers,” Leckel said. “It is because of you that democracy is still alive, and I’m proud to have been able to be along for the ride.”

Prior to the Iron Brigade’s change of command ceremony, Gapinski served as the commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 426th Regiment, a regional training institute.

“You know it’s unusual, pretty rare, for an officer to serve as commander of two [major subordinate commands], and Col. Gapinski’s going to have that honor because of his skillset,” Strub said. “It’s going to take quite the officer to come in behind Col. Leckel and raise the bar, but I’m confident that you have the skillset and you’re ready to do that.”

Gapinski thanked his family for their support as he embarks on this new mission and briefly reflected on how he has followed through his father’s footsteps, retired Col. Dave Gapinski, who previously served as commander of the 57th Field Artillery Brigade — which the MEB was previously known as. Gapinski congratulated Leckel on a successful command and vowed to lead the Iron Brigade with the welfare of its Soldiers and their families as his top priority.

“It goes without saying that I’m fortunate to take command of a unit that has such a rich history as well as a tremendous amount of professional experience,” Gapinski said. “I know that our area of responsibility that I will inherit is complex, it’s uncertain, and it will be challenging at times. But I’m confident that together as a team, with the support from the men and the women who make up this fine organization, that we will build on the great legacy of the Iron Brigade.”

Headquartered in Milwaukee, the 157th is a diverse brigade with units statewide, spanning artillery, engineer and support units — all of which can be employed in support of the National Guard’s state mission as the first military responder during emergencies and its federal mission as a component of the Army’s primary combat reserve.