Milton native discusses new roles for Guard
Last month, Cullen, 43, a 1987 graduate of Milton High School, was named Command Chief Master Sgt. of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
The advancement makes Cullen the top enlisted officer in the Wisconsin Air National Guard and a top senior adviser to the adjutant general, the top officer in the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guards.
Among other duties, Cullen is now in charge of oversight of quality-of-life issues for 2,200 enlisted members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. He monitors the 115th Fighter Wing and Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee and Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center.
Chief Master Sgt. James Chisholm, who is retiring as Command Chief, transferred responsibility to Cullen.
A former Air Force air traffic controller and a onetime airfield manager at Volk Field, Cullen has served 15 years in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
In an interview with The Gazette, the Tomah resident talked about how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the roles of the National Guard, and how the National Guard is responding to the changes.
Q: The United States' military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed the way that the U.S. military operates. One of the major changes is how National Guard and Air National Guard units operate, and what their roles have become. Can you talk about that shift?
A: "The guard, we're an operational force. Years ago, the guard was two days a month, two weeks a year, and that's all you did, then you stayed home in your communities the rest of the time. Now you have more people who are deploying regularly. They're working more days in uniform. So you see a seamless transition now between active duty and guardsmen. They're interchangeable."
Q:What have been some of the Wisconsin Air National Guard's key duties in the last several months?
A:Cullen could not give specific details about any operations, but he said the Wisconsin Air National Guard is actively involved with the U.S. Air Force with units deploying regularly to Iraq, Afghanistan and Spain. He said Air National Guard units from Wisconsin provide support for Marines on the ground, and carry out duties as varied as security, air support and vehicle maintenance. Along with international duties, Wisconsin units provide domestic air security throughout the Midwest.
Q: As the U.S. military has shifted toward more shared roles in recent Middle East conflicts, have your units seen increased leadership roles?
A: "Yes. In theatre, we've got master sergeants taking care of 20 or 30 airmen. Years ago, an active duty mindset was, ;Oh, a guard person couldn't possibly be a supervisor.' I think now there's a better understanding of a joint force. It's where we're headed. It's where we are."
Q:Is the role of enlisted members of the National Guard in Wisconsin changing at all?
A:"We're getting a more educated, more advanced technological group of people. They've been exposed to computers, iPhones—all kinds of other technology at an early age. They're coming in with associate degrees and bachelor degrees. Some enlisted have master's degrees. That's a change in the culture."
Q: Is there's a segment where you're seeing some demographic growth?
A: Wisconsin National Guard recruiters are working to attract more urban enlists. But some units, like the Air National Guard's 128th air refueling wing, are seeing more and more women. "It's great to see. They deploy side-by-side with male airmen, and they're every bit as important and of value to Wisconsin Air National Guard as anyone else is," said Cullen.
Q: With some of your units dealing with a shift toward more fulltime duty, has the Wisconsin Air National Guard and the National Guard overall had to approach quality of life issues differently than it has in years past?
A: More emphasis is now placed on family readiness programs for people deploying. Some units have been deployed multiple times.
"That's a strain on any family, as you can imagine," said Cullen. "Yes, their deployed loved one may be in harm's way, but they still have obligations. They still have mortgages and rent and myriad issues."