- If an army marches on its stomach, Captain Steve Layden and his group of soldiers should be able to do its job while very well-fed... eventually.
"Nope, commanders always eat last," Layden said with a smile Thursday afternoon.
Layden and members of his Army National Guard 173rd Engineer Battalion from Rhinelander were treated to a cookout, helping them fuel up for another week's worth of hard work.
"Living in tents, un-airconditioned, occasional showers, so it's not complete austere environment," Layden said.
The 173rd is part of about 100 Wisconsin Army National Guard members camping out since July 14 to help shape the land for a 32-acre athletic complex in Mosinee.
"Definitely a growing, learning experience, but we love doing this, and we couldn't be working with a better community," Layden said.
Mosinee has been working on the athletic complex--at least in concept--since 2010. So far, a synthetic-turf softball field is complete, but there are a dozen other fields to come.
A few years ago the district asked the National Guard for help. This is the third year National Guard troops worked the land on Rangeline Road.
"These men and women work," said Mosinee School Board member Cory Tomczyk. "They get up in the morning, they're starting to move dirt and make dust and make noise, and it's a beautiful thing."
The work is part of a five-year deal between the Mosinee School District and the National Guard: free help in exchange for 15 days of training these troops could eventually use around the country and overseas.
"Work is the same, you know. Dirt work is dirt work," said Commander Benjamin Krall. "However, we're less concerned about the tactical environment here."
"A small association, we're not going to be able to fund and make this happen. It's just beyond our financial abilities," Tomczyk said. "A simple lunch cookout is minor in what we're gaining from their efforts here."
Lunch was a nice break from the summer heat for the soldiers and Mosinee Schools Buildings and Grounds Director Steve Kaiser.
"Eating a lot of dust, yes. There's a lot of sand in our teeth at the end of the day, but that's fine," Kaiser said.
Kaiser works closely with the troops to stick to the plan for baseball, softball, football, and soccer fields. The district pays for fuel, but Kaiser says the ratio of fuel costs to work hours is 15-to-1.
"That's a hard number to argue," Kaiser said. "If you look at the amount of work that gets done, it's so very, very evident."
It's work that's far from glamorous and far from finished. Mosinee doesn't have a target completion date in mind, but the complex is years from being done. But thanks to a simple thank-you with lunch on Thursday, it's a project soldiers will always take pride in.
"When a soldier drives by with his friends or his family, he can see that he has something he can identify that he was part of," Krall said.
"Not every state has the opportunity to do this, so we really appreciate that Mosinee is giving us this," Layden said.
The National Guard soldiers will work for another eight days. They're slated to return each of the next two summers.