Community service drives student, winner of Wis. National Guard award

Sgt. Kjellberg, criminal justice major, recently returned from Middle East deployment with 829th Engineer Co.
​Jerry Poling | September 30, 2020

By Vaughn R. Larson, National Guard, and UW-Stout Marketing Communications

The newest 1st Lt. Thomas E. Wortham IV Achievement Award recipient was surprised to learn he had been nominated, let alone selected for the Wisconsin National Guard award, which recognizes exceptional selfless service both in and out of uniform.

Sgt. Grant Kjellberg, a utilities equipment repairer with the maintenance platoon of the 829th Engineer Company, had completed his first deployment and just stepped off a commercial airliner at Volk Field Sept. 24, a few minutes before learning of the impending recognition.

“I think it’s a great honor,” he said after the ceremony. “I hope I can live up to what (Wortham) accomplished.”

The 829th, based in Ashland and Spooner, mobilized in October 2019. About 150 members served across the Middle East and in Afghanistan. They supported an engineer battalion from the Indiana National Guard.

Grant Kjellberg, UW-Stout criminal justice and rehabilitation major, receives the Wisconsin National Guard Wortham Award recently at Volk Field from Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for the Army.
Grant Kjellberg receives the Wisconsin National Guard Wortham Award recently at Volk Field from Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews. / Wis. National Guard

The award is named for the late 1st Lt. Thomas Wortham IV, who served in both Troop A, 105th Cavalry and the Chicago Police Department. The Chicago native was also the president of the Cole Park Advisory Council in Chatham and worked to make the neighborhood safe for children to play in area parks.

He was murdered May 19, 2010, outside his parents’ Chicago home when four men attempted to steal his motorcycle.

Kjellberg, a senior who will return to full-time studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in October to complete a criminal justice and rehabilitation major, plans to work in local law enforcement. Prior to his deployment, he worked part time with the UW-Stout Police Department while taking classes.


Kjellberg is a volunteer firefighter with the town of Wheaton in Chippewa County.
Kjellberg is a volunteer firefighter with the town of Wheaton in Chippewa County.

In addition to those commitments, Kjellberg — who lives in the Eau Claire area — has been a volunteer firefighter with the Wheaton Fire Department in Chippewa County for four years.

“The department knows my obligations to school,” Kjellberg explained. “I am able to respond when needed, in-between school hours and classes. I also plan to get EMS certified, which will help me with both fire and police work.”

His main firefighter duties are responding to motor vehicle crashes and responding to automotive, house and wildland fires. Three weeks before he deployed, he was part of the disaster response effort to the September 2019 tornado in Wheaton.

Firefighters, police officers and military personnel all serve others, Kjellberg said. “I gravitate toward them because of the brotherhood and sisterhood they have,” he noted. “You can trust them because they have been there, and they will be there.”

The Elk Mound native found time in his busy schedule for one more community activity — he has been a youth baseball coach for three years.


Kjellberg, an Elk Mound High School graduate, has helped coach a youth baseball team for three years.
Kjellberg, an Elk Mound High School graduate, has helped coach a youth baseball team for three years.

“Before that, I was playing and umpiring,” Kjellberg said. “I knew I couldn’t play forever, so I decided to help out the next generation of players. I’ve been with the same amazing group of kids since they were 10 and 11 years old.”

Joined the Guard at 17

Kjellberg joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard when he was 17 and still a student at Elk Mound five years ago, saying he was always drawn to the military.

“Both my grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them had served,” Kjellberg said. “I grew up playing many sports. I loved being on a team and the camaraderie that went with it. I joined because I wanted to help people and keep that team environment that I craved. I wanted new challenges and experiences with people that would remain lifelong friends.”

During his deployment with the 829th Engineer Company, Kjellberg ensured that engineers had the vehicles and equipment needed for their mission, sometimes performing repairs at job sites.

“It was amazing to see how our unit adapted to the problems and restrictions (COVID-19) caused,” he said. “The unit showed great resolve and that the Wisconsin Army National Guard is up to any mission, no matter the difficulty.”

Kjellberg hopes that by helping out in his community and demonstrating what it means to be a citizen soldier, he continues to honor 1st Lt. Wortham IV and his family.

“I feel many people in the National Guard are worthy of this award, as they go about their lives selflessly and honorably every day of the year,” he said.

UW-Stout Police Chief Jason Spetz said Kjellberg’s service as an officer, soldier and firefighter show his passion and dedication to public service.

“Grant is very detail-oriented and dependable,” Spetz said. “He is level-headed. His decision-making skills are good. He really meets all the traits we want to see in a police officer. Overall, he is someone we can trust to do the job and do it with the integrity we would expect from a police officer.”


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