Lt. Col. Jason Lambert (right) commander of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, hands over the ceremonial Cavalry sabre to Command Sgt. Major Ron Bloker during a change of responsibility ceremony at the La Grande Army National Guard Readiness Center Saturday. PAT CALDWELL photo
LA GRANDE — Transitions are a way of life in a military organization, but that doesn’t mean the process is easy.
Saturday’s Change of Responsibility ceremony at the La Grande Army National Guard Readiness Center is a good case in point. A time-honored ritual, the change of responsibility is a formal procedure that signals the departure of a senior non-commissioned officer and the arrival of a new top NCO.
During Saturday’s event, Eastern Oregon’s Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, officially laid down the welcome mat for Command Sgt. Maj. Ron Bloker while it also said goodbye to longtime CSM Bill Wyllie.
“I’ve got mixed feelings watching a leader (Wyllie) that has meant so much to this organization move on. But I’m excited we are getting a new sergeant major, who I think will do an excellent job,” Lt. Col. Jason Lambert, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, said.
Wyllie of John Day is now the Command Sgt. Major for the Oregon Guard’s 41st Brigade. Wyllie spent the last six years as the Eastern Oregon Guard unit’s top non-commissioned officer and deployed with the unit to Iraq in 2010.
“It was one of the best jobs you can have as a sergeant major,” Wyllie said of his time with the battalion.
Bloker of Hillsboro said he welcomes the challenge as the battalions new command sergeant major.
“This is an amazing battalion and to be part of it is exciting,” Bloker said.
Bloker, 41, is a math teacher for the Jewell School District. He said the 3rd Battalion is in the middle of a remarkable era because it is training on the U.S. Army’s newest tank, the M1-A2 SEP 2.
“We have so much new equipment. Unless you are in the 3-116 you don’t have the M1 SEP 2. So, in a place like Ontario, you have 20 to 25 guys that get the opportunity to train on those tanks, an opportunity no one else has,” he said.
Bloker said he is eager to get going in his new post and mentioned several key goals he would like to achieve early.
“I want to continue to help the battalion develop and grow,” he said. “And help the battalion use the systems already in place.”
While he lives in Hillsboro, Bloker is no stranger to the 3rd Battalion. In fact, the 42-year-old Guardsman said he spent his entire career in the Eastern Oregon unit.
“I enlisted in 1992 with the battalion’s mortars,” he said.
Bloker said when he joined the Guard he wanted to find a job that was unique from anything he could find outside the military.
“I asked, ‘What do you guys do that I can’t do in the civilian world,’” he said.
Bloker worked his way up through the ranks but left the Guard in 2001. A few years later, though, he joined back up, again with the 3rd Battalion.
“By the time I was an E-5 (sergeant) I knew what I wanted but I also knew that meant a lot time studying off duty,” Bloker said.
Bloker conceded his job is not a one-weekend-a-month task anymore. The Guard changed since he signed up in the early 1990s he said.
“It is not once a month anymore. It is two or three weekends a month,” he said.
Bloker said his main focus as sergeant major is simple: taking care of soldiers. It is a job, he said, he loves.
“My worst day with soldiers is better than my best day outside the Guard,” he said.
The 3rd Battalion consists of Guard units in Hood River, The Dalles, Hermiston, Woodburn, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City and Ontario.