FORT McCOY, Wis. –
When Ward Zischke assumed duties as the 88th Readiness Division historian in 2009, the unit's headquarters was moving from Fort Snelling, Minnesota, to Building 60 at Fort McCoy. This relocation meant Zischke had to move items from the Blue Devil Museum at Fort Snelling to a smaller area in Buildings 60 and 1101 on Fort McCoy. In 2018, the headquarters moved back to Fort Snelling.
Zischke, who retired in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel after serving 30 years in the National Guard, active duty and Reserve, is still moving many artifacts back to the headquarters on Fort Snelling. He said the original move took many trips and used his cousin's five-foot wide by 12-foot-long trailer.
Zischke came to the command after working as a Soldier on mobilization orders and as a civilian for the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Atlanta. He said he chose to become the 88th's historian for two reasons. First, he did not want to move with USARC to Fort Bragg, N.C., and he seized the opportunity to live closer to his parents, who still live in his hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"I wanted to do my own thing instead of working in the Office of Army Reserve History," he said.
"Doing his own thing" upon arrival at the 88th meant consolidating its duties and procedures to support the units in a 19-state area of the inactivating 70th, 88th, 89th and 96th Regional Readiness Commands. When Zischke assists a unit with discovering its history, he determines which of the former RRCs (2003-2009), RSCs (1996-2003), and Army Reserve Commands (1967-1996) had command and control of the unit. Higher commands are a good source of history about units they had C2 over, said Zischke. His other duties include conducting exit interviews of Soldiers and civilians when they leave the 88th RD about their time at the command and career in the Army Reserve. He also interviews current and former Army Reserve Soldiers about their careers in the Army Reserve, primarily if they served with the 88th or one of its subordinate units.
Zischke said the interviews allowed him to capture and preserve the history of the Army Reserve and its units. Conducting interviews like this also are Zischke's favorite task as a historian. "I learn about the history of the Army Reserve and its units from Soldiers' experience," said Zischke, who was an engineer officer.
Zischke is nearing the end of one of his most significant undertakings in interviewing. So far, he has interviewed hundreds of Soldiers and civilians who supported Operation Allies Welcome, the Afghan mission, at Fort McCoy from August 2021 until February 2022.
Another of Zischke's favorite activities is providing historical support for the 88th RDs Yellow Ribbon events since November 2013. During the Yellow Ribbon events, Zischke dons a historic uniform from 1908-2004 and has a display of artifacts and books from different eras in Army Reserve history. In this guise, he informs Yellow Ribbon participants about Army Reserve history and the historical assistance he can provide to them and their units.
Zischke started wearing historic uniforms in 1979 for the Cedar Falls, Iowa, Sturgis Falls Parade. The uniform was from World War I. Zischke continued wearing historical uniforms as a Civil War reenactor and during staff rides at USARC. He chooses what uniform to wear at Yellow Ribbon events by what month it is. For example, during the next Yellow Ribbon event in August, Zischke will feature the Berlin Crisis of 1961-1962 due to the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 and the alerts that started to go out to what would become 68,000 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers mobilized for the crisis.
When Zischke attends a Yellow Ribbon or other events, he looks up Army Reserve units on his route of travel to the event on the 88th RD Directorate of Public Works SharePoint site. He then visits the units during the trip. At the unit's location, Zischke photographs all plaques and displays that often have relevant historical information about the unit's participation in major exercises and deployments. In addition, he will visit the unit's Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Here, Soldiers put not needed items and documents. Zischke reviews these items for historically significant materials and photographs or scans them. At times, he must return and bring along a video cassette recorder, a cassette tape recorder, 3.5 floppy disk reader, slide projector, and even a microfiche machine to read these materials. Zischke provides a copy of the material he scans and photographs on a CD or sends it to the unit on electrons. He also inserts the scans and photographs in a unit file on his SharePoint.
Zischke is also involved with the local community through history, such as giving historical presentations at the Sparta History Room in Sparta, Wis., and the Tomah Museum in Tomah, Wisconsin. Zischke and the late retired Army Maj. John Perry of Sparta worked together on several projects. For example, Perry served in the 88th ARCOM from 1967 into the early 1970s. Zischke said Perry reviewed the documents in the 88th RSC collection and was able to provide valuable information about the 88th ARCOM history. Perry also was present and helped assist the assimilation of women into the 88th ARCOM in 1974-1975. Zischke and he constructed a presentation and went on tour about this assimilation. Zischke also brought Perry to many old 88th ARCOM headquarters sites, such as 1006 West Lake Street (Buzza building) in Minneapolis built in 1907, which was the 88th ARCOM headquarters from 1967-1969, and Building 67, the former Fort Snelling headquarters (1969-1983), which was built between 1879 and 1881 and had a working clock tower. Zischke said Perry would tell him about past events at each location.
As Zischke said, "Everyone who served in the Army Reserve should help capture and preserve the history of that organization by agreeing to be interviewed or providing documents from the past."