Right, Capt. Dan LaMaack

Dan LaMaack is spending this year in Europe, but it’s no vacation.

Capt. LaMaack is commanding the Yankton-based Bravo Battery of the 1/147th Field Artillery with the South Dakota National Guard (SDNG).

The battalion is participating in Operation Atlantic Resolve. The non-combat training mission supports NATO forces and other members of the multi-national operation.

Bravo Battery was chosen for the operation because of its excellence, its expertise and its outstanding record in past missions, LaMaack said. The unit will bring valuable experience and equipment as a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) battery, he added.

“These men and women are among the best in the U.S. Army, and they’ll be successful in the completion of this important mission,” he said.

Bravo Battery will break new ground in many ways during the mission, LaMaack said.

“This is my first deployment, and this is the first time we’ve been part of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” he said. “This mission is filled with a lot of firsts for us.”

Bravo Battery will deploy for nearly a year, LaMaack said.

“From the time we leave South Dakota until we get back, it’ll be close to 11 months,” he said. “We’ll have a month of training at our mobilization site, then nine months out of country and then another month of demobilization.”

According to a U.S. Army website, Operation Atlantic Resolve builds readiness, increases inter-operability and enhances the bond between ally and partner militaries. The operation uses multi-national training events in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

“We’ll be working basically with every major country in Europe. We’ll also be working with some Canadian artillery units,” LaMaack said. “This is truly a multi-national exercise and will be a big deal for us. It’s also means a lot to the people over in Europe, for them to see that kind of support from us.”

The mission may take on more significance with possible Russian activity in Eastern Europe and other regions.

Since April 2014, U.S. Army Europe has led the Department of Defense’s Atlantic Resolve land efforts by bringing units based in the U.S. to Europe for nine months at a time.

There are three types of Atlantic Resolve rotations – armored, aviation and sustainment task force. These rotations are overseen by the Mission Command Element, a regionally-aligned headquarters based in Poznan, Poland.

Approximately 6,000 soldiers participate in Atlantic Resolve at any given time.

During the mission, LaMaack will command 114 members who include Bravo Battery, Alpha Battery, the Higher Headquarters Battalion (HHB) and Forward Support Company.

Taking Command

LaMaack officially took command of Bravo Battery in October 2017.

“I think it’s been a great transition,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with. Everyone in this unit and battalion has worked like hell to make things happen.”

He has spent the past year building bonds while providing leadership in meeting U.S. Army and SDNG orders. He was familiar with the MLRS coming into his command.

“The fire and batteries are very similar. They’re exactly the same make-up. The biggest difference is the personnel and getting to know the guys,” he said.

“I had known some of the leadership down here in Bravo Battery. We had worked together before, but for the most part the biggest challenge was getting to know the guys and know the place.

“As unit commander, you’re the buffer between what is going on at the battalion level and what gets pushed down to the (soldiers). You’re essentially a mid-level manager.”

LaMaack’s change of command ceremony marked his first formal leadership role over Bravo Battery. However, he brings a wide military background and a connection with the South Dakota National Guard.

LaMaack enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2007 as a military police (MP) and served with Det. 1, 79th MP Co., in Worthington, Minn., until 2011.

From 2008-11, he was enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at South Dakota State University (SDSU) while completing his degree in history.

He took his commission in May 2011. He attended the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill, Okla., in fall 2012.

His duty appointments including firing platoon leader, support platoon leader and Operations Officer with Alpha Battery. His more recent assignment was as the Battalion S1.

LaMaack resides in Rochester, Minn., and is employed with Legacy Power Line as a lineman.

“When I enlisted in 2007, I actually started out in the Reserves,” he said. “When I went back to college at SDSU, the professor of military science, Lt. Col. Kory Knight, mentored me and set me up with an interview with the South Dakota National Guard and field artillery.”

LaMaack has remained in the Rushmore State because of the personnel and organization. He emphasized that he likes what he sees in South Dakota.

“You know, there have been a few different times when I thought about transferring to the Minnesota (National) Guard. The main reason I haven’t is because I like the people I work with over here (in South Dakota) so much,” he said.

“That’s what really ends up making the unit. It’s not me, per se, it’s everyone else. We’re a unit, a group, and so it’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood. That camaraderie between the soldiers — you just don’t find anything else like it.”

Perilous Times

LaMaack’s command, and the work of Bravo Battery, reflects the changing dynamics of tensions around the world. The United States and its allies are facing two different enemies.

The nation went from the Cold War to the new threats of post-9/11. The Global War On Terror (GWOT) remains a threat in all its forms, from a lone wolf to terror cells to rogue states.

However, threats have risen from Russia and other nations around the globe. The United States is dealing not only with counter-insurgency but also the capabilities for NBC — nuclear, biological and chemical threats.

At the time of his October 2017 installation, LaMaack spoke of the possibility that Bravo Battery would be called up for a mission.

“We have no deployment coming up, but we need to be available in a year,” LaMaack said at the time. “By October 2018, if they need an MLRS battalion, we’ll be available. We’re ramping up our training in a changing world.”

The stepped-up training and timeline is part of the overall national defense changes that all units face, LaMaack explained.

“We’ve been fighting the (terrorist) insurgency for 16 years,” he said. “We’re also working with peer-to-peer situations, such as Russia and China, and near-peer nations, such as North Korea.”

LaMaack takes command of a unit that consistently distinguishes itself. On multiple occasions, Bravo Battery has received the Superior Unit Award as one of the top National Guard outfits in the United States. Only an elite group earns the Superior Unit Award in any given year.

Bravo Battery won its third consecutive Superior Unit Award in 2017. Of the 42 SDNG units, 23 won the Superior Unit Award. South Dakota received the award far out of proportion to its 0.9 percent of approximately 343,000 National Guard troops in the U.S.

Of the 2,500 Guard units in the United States, 35 won the Superior Unit award — with 23 of them from South Dakota. The SDNG represents less than 1 percent of the Guard troop numbers but won 66 percent of the Superior Unit Awards.

LaMaack said he firmly believes in his soldiers as they take their training and accomplishments to the next level.

“The troops of Bravo Battery understand the mission, and we have no fear (on whether) we can accomplish it,” he said.

An Important Mission

With its current mission, Bravo Battery is making its first real field artillery mobilization since 2003, LaMaack said. The previous overseas missions involved security, supplies and the training of allied troops and police forces.

“What the battery will be doing is taking part in these large multi-national exercises, to be able to work with our active-duty counterparts,” he said.

“It also provides them something they have been missing in the theater, which is the long range rocket artillery. We’re providing them with that capability, and they provide us the opportunity to train and to become extremely proficient with our equipment.”

Bravo Battery will remain under U.S. command during the mission while playing a key role in an international operation, LaMaack said.

“This will be working with basically every major country in Europe. We’ll also be working with some Canadian artillery units,” he said. “This is truly a multi-national exercise and will be a big deal for us. It’s also means a lot to the people over in Europe, for them to see that kind of support from us.”

Bravo Battery has quickly prepared for its upcoming mission, LaMaack said.

“Really, we only got notified at the end of August that we were definitely going,” he said.

Since receiving its deployment notice in August, Bravo Battery conducted continuous coordination with two parties: the mobilization site in Fort Bliss, Texas, and the European theater for Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The mobilization involved two massive undertakings, LaMaack said. The unit completed documentation, trained personnel and shipped equipment to South Carolina for eventual transport by boat to Germany.

Bravo Battery couldn’t conduct mobilization training with its equipment enroute to Europe, so all of the Alpha Battery, FSC and other equipment was shipped down to Fort Bliss. LaMaack described the entire process as “ash and trash.”

“In 3 ½ months, we had to get a unit out the door,” he said. “At the same time, we ended up with an extended amount of training days in the months leading up to our deployment.”

LaMaack credits his unit with a mixture of veterans with combat experience and newcomers with youthful enthusiasm. They also bring their civilian skills into the mission.

“Those senior NCOs who have been on these other deployments are so valuable for the experience. For some of them, this has been their fourth mobilization. Having that knowledge, and people who have been in the Guard for close to 20 years, to support us during this whole process, I don’t know if we could have done this without them,” he said.

“That’s not to take away from the younger troops. We have kids that have gotten done with their AIT (advanced individual training) and now, a month later, they’re getting ready to go over to Europe. So, being able to provide that kind of commitment to your unit, state, and country is huge.”

Home Support

LaMaack sees the mission as providing important opportunities for both the U.S. troops and their allies.

“Every unit has its own way of doing things, just like every person does,” he said. “We’re getting the opportunity to work with other people and seeing other ways to tackle a problem.”

The mission is conducted not only overseas but also on the home front, LaMaack said. In that respect, he credits the Yankton area as providing total backing for the effort.

“It’s huge. This is by far the most supportive community that I’ve ever seen for a National Guard unit,” he said. “You can’t beat it, and having that community support just gives a peace of mind to those soldiers as well. If something happens, you have a strong community support that’s willing to help out those service members and their families.”

During the December activation ceremony, LaMaack stressed the importance of support back home. Yankton and surrounding communities have already provided tremendous patriotism and participation, he said.

“This community, the employers and families are the true backbone for us being able to accomplish this mission,” he said.

Strong home support can be accomplished even in small gestures and asking if the families are doing well and have any needs, LaMaack said.

In turn, the troops can focus on their mission and enjoy peace of mind knowing their families are taken care of,” he added.

“Thank you to the families for your endless support, thoughts and encouragement of your soldiers,” he said. “You truly are America’s unsung heroes. We couldn’t do it without you.”

LaMaack said he looks forward to Operation Atlantic Resolve. Most commanders lead a unit for two years, so he expects his Bravo Battery command will end shortly after the troops return home.

“There will be a tremendous amount of bonding. We’ll be working hard together for nine months overseas,” he said. “It’s going to be a great experience. It’s an honor to be their commander.”

LaMaack asked that Yankton and the surrounding region continue its backing of the unit during the mission.

“We’re certainly really proud of the community and the way they have supported us and our families,” he said.

“Keep us in your hearts and prayers, and we’ll see you when we get back.”