by Vaughn R. Larson
APPLETON, Wis. — Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, joined Lt. Col. Bill Benson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, and other Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 28 to celebrate the grand opening of a renovated armory for the battalion headquarters element.
The ceremony follows an 18-month, $15 million construction project that nearly doubled the available floor space and addressed critical needs such as administrative offices, increased storage, training resources and parking.
Benson had a personal stake in the grand opening ceremony.
“On the weekends I’m Lt. Col. Benson, commander of the 2-127th infantry,” he explained. “Monday through Friday, I’m just Bill — I work in the design project management branch of the Construction Facilities Management Office at the Department of Military Affairs.”
That means Benson has observed this project not just for the past 18 months, but the past 11 years as it progressed from concept to completion.
Due to its scope and cost, the National Guard Bureau categorized this as a military construction, or MILCON, project with funding explicitly authorized by Congress. Recent MILCON efforts in Wisconsin include the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team headquarters at Camp Williams in 2008, the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Madison in 2012, and the Forward Maintenance Shop in Wausau in 2015.
The project began in March 2022, and was built on more than 150 steel piles driven into bedrock. Additionally, extensive soft soil undercutting was completed for the parking areas. The facility includes new roofing, furniture, kitchen appliances and exercise equipment, high-efficiency heating and cooling, and internal fiber optic cable.
The renovated facility also is a testament to the battalion’s heritage. A glass floor near the entrance displays masonry from the unit’s 1904 armory on College Avenue, and display cases show artifacts dating back to the Civil War, and the famed Black Hats of the Iron Brigade.
“The main architectural goal of the project was to focus on the heritage and history of the 127th,” Benson said. “The main corridor walls show pictures of our unit’s history.”
Maj. Brian Faltinson, a former command historian for the Wisconsin National Guard — and the driving force behind the “Dawn of the Red Arrow” documentary and historical campaign about the 32nd Division in 2018 — provided the historical research for the project.
“I worked with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, several local historical societies, and the National Archives to obtain imagery for the display,” Faltinson said, “as well as writing the narratives that outline the history of the Wisconsin National Guard in Appleton and how the community has supported the organization.”
Faltinson said he did not realize the scale of the historic displays until the day of the grand opening.
“The graphic design team did a fantastic job and they turned out really well,” he said.
Knapp praised the completed armory.
“This is an amazing building,” the adjutant general said. “What a great place for our Soldiers to gather and train.
“You know, we’re Citizen Soldiers and Airmen in the National Guard, and it is really awesome when you have both your civilian and your military careers coinciding,” Knapp continued, looking at Benson.
Knapp recognized Jen Becker and Kurt Duggan of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, Steve Korpal of Boar Architects, Inc., Dan Durig, a civil engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs and project manager for the Appleton armory, and LeeAnn Abrams, facilities management specialist with the Department of Military Affairs.