Kingsford, Mich. (WZMQ) – In a concerning development for the Michigan Army National Guard, critical support roles have been left unfilled due to increased recruitment standards, and the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a delay in the process for qualified individuals to become service members, according to one recruiter.
Significantly, the State Tuition Assistance Program just adopted a change, where a soldier’s spouse can use the State Tuition Assistance money toward college. This means that even if someone is not in the Michigan Army National Guard, and is married to a soldier who is serving, that spouse could use up to $14,400 per year toward college tuition, all the way through a master’s degree.
At the Kingsford Armory of the 1432nd Engineering Unit, Sergeant First Class Bizeau, an Army National Guard recruiter, expressed his concern over the low recruitment numbers. To put it into perspective, he highlighted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, they had over 20 recruitments per year. However, now those numbers have dwindled to single digits. This decline in recruitment poses a significant challenge for the unit, which has played a crucial role in responding to major disasters across Michigan.
The Michigan Army National Guard is a dual-mission organization, serving first and foremost the community and State, and then the Federal Government. Sergeant First Class Bizeau emphasized the unit’s past contributions, stating, “We’ve responded to the Father’s Day flooding back in 2016 up in Houghton, we responded to the midland flooding in Sanford when that dam broke.”
These instances highlight the vital role the unit plays in disaster response and recovery efforts. Nearing the end of the summer, the unit will work on several projects aimed at repairing boat launches in the U.P., in cooperation with the Michigan DNR.
The 1432nd Engineering Unit is currently in urgent need of support roles such as construction equipment operators, generator mechanics, administrative personnel, logistics experts, and supply specialists. Notably, the unit already boasts a highly qualified female soldier who is trained as a welder, heavy equipment operator, and mortar transport operator.
Recruitment efforts in the county include talking about college benefits in high schools during the school year, and generally letting people know what the Army National Guard is about. Just last week, the Army National Guard contributed to the successful “Mountain Mud Sling” family event, organized by the YMCA and hosted by the Pine Mountain Ski resort in Iron Mountain.
Bizeau shared that recruitment efforts will continue at events throughout the summer, including the Dickinson County Fair, the Kingsford Centennial Celebration, and the U.P. State Fair, to name a few.
According to Bizeau, college students can receive up to $102,000 in college benefits, and learn a skill or trade in the process. For example, he emphasized that students can go to the Advanced Welding institute in Wisconsin for free with the GI Bill, and still serve right in Kingsford.
Bizeau informed that students can also get a ‘foot in the door’ with other local employers like BOSS, Grady Foundries, Billierud, or Systems Controls, and pointed out that the Army National Guard’s drill schedule makes having another career while in the Guard possible. The Army National Guard commitments are generally one weekend a month drills, and then two weeks in the summer for annual training.
Bizeau urged anyone at least 17 years old to reach out to him to learn more about the benefits of joining the Michigan Army National Guard. Despite the current challenges, he remains optimistic that qualified individuals will step forward to fill the critical support roles necessary for the unit’s success.
High school students need to be at least a junior, and those out of high school must have at least a high school diploma or G.E.D. The cutoff age for joining the Michigan Army National Guard is 41, with certain exceptions. Those are just the minimum requirements, and there are various incentives for those that exceed qualifications, and demonstrate higher test scores.
Bizeau also emphasized that the Army as a whole, and especially the Army National Guard, is lacking officers. He sees fewer people going to college, and fewer people finishing their college degrees. Bizeau encourages anyone with questions about enlisting or becoming an officer to come see what the Michigan Army National Guard is all about, and learn about the benefits of the opportunity for a person to become a part of something bigger than oneself.
“Back in the day, in the early 2000s, you couldn’t throw a stick in this county without hitting two people that either served or knew someone who served in right here in this armory. What happened? I do know that we have a lot of vacancies in this armory, and a lot of leadership that is thirsty to mentor and develop young people into becoming much better,” he shared.
Sergeant First Class Bizeau agreed that especially for those young people that don’t thrive in an unstructured environment, the Army National Guard provides an opportunity to be a part of a rich history that results in a sense of shared pride between members. At the 1432nd Unit, the Army National Guard holds some major achievements.
Highlighting the rich history of the 107th Engineering Battalion in the U.P., Sergeant First Class Bizeau stated, “The 107th Engineering Battalion, here in the U.P. was formed in 1881. They have wartime lineage that dates back to the Spanish-American War, and they helped Patton cross the Rhine in World War II. In fact, they have the unofficial world record for the longest floating combat bridge during World War II when they crossed the Rhine. So there’s a lot of heritage, there’s a lot of history. And when people come into the National Guard, they are no longer going to be John Doe or Jane Doe. They are going to become a part of that lineage, that history,” he added.
This historical context underscores the unit’s legacy, and the importance of maintaining its operational capabilities. The 1432nd Engineering Unit currently holds an unofficial world record for the longest floating combat bridge. This feat showcases the unit’s expertise and commitment to innovation in their field.
Sergeant First Class Bizeau is active across social media platforms, and he welcomes those interested to contact him at 906-280-7664.
The Kingsford Armory also has a website where those interested in becoming a service member can explore the benefits of what the Army National Guard has to offer, and explore different career paths available to them. For more information, visit: