JOHNSTON, Iowa – A historic moment for the Iowa National Guard’s “Red Bull” brigade is in the books after Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Strasser transferred the unit colors to his younger brother, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Strasser, during a change of responsibility ceremony on Sept. 10, 2021. The Iowa Adjutant General, senior leaders, family and friends traveled from near and far to witness the unique occasion.
When Matthew, of Rose Hill, assumed responsibility of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, in 2017 as the senior enlisted leader, he never imagined he would pass that heavy charge on to his brother Jeremy four years later. Matthew’s son, Spc. Tyler Strasser with 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, also participated in the ceremony.
While their military careers have separated and brought them together over the years – even serving on two deployments together – the Strassers’ steady dedication to the organization and impeccable timing led to an evening buzzing with pride and emotion as they reflected on their service and looked forward to the future.
“I’ve been in this brigade for 20 years, and this will be the first time that I take a Red Bull off my sleeve,” Matthew said, “so, it’s going to be an emotional time for me. The gravity of the position is incredible, and my brother will have to wrap his head around what just took place.”
As the colors were passed from brother to brother, big smiles on each of their faces, there was perhaps one person watching in the audience who understood the significance more than anyone else. Ret. Sgt. Maj. Gary Strasser served 38 years in the Iowa National Guard, and his eyes were glued to his sons as they carried on a legacy of military service.
“When we knew this was going to happen, the first thought that went through my head was, ‘Dad’s going to really love this ceremony,’” Jeremy said. “It’s family business, and this brigade means a lot to our family.”
Matthew and Jeremy spent the past year serving on a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. With Matthew at the head of the brigade and Jeremy serving as the senior enlisted leader of the 1-113th Cavalry, the 2/34th IBCT added one more successful deployment to its long list of accomplishments.
While the family aspect of their service is important to them, Jeremy said he and Matthew are proud of contributing to the lineage of a division which is widely seen as a standard for excellence both in the National Guard and abroad.
“It’s just understanding that we’re standing on the shoulders of the guys who came before us,” Jeremy said. “Whether it’s a Strasser coming in or a Strasser going out, this brigade will continue to do great stuff. I believe that people who wear this patch have an immediate respect from all three components that maybe other patches don’t receive.”
For Jeremy, who lives with his wife and two kids in Carroll, the ceremony was an opportunity for the unit to be introduced to its new leader, but more importantly, for the outgoing command sergeant major to be recognized for his contributions. While he admits he may have a “small bias”, Jeremy holds his older brother in high regard.
Jeremy watched Matthew expand his knowledge of Army systems and doctrine over the years and admires his technical skills. For most Soldiers, the National Guard is a one weekend a month job. But for someone like Matthew, who was accountable for over 4,100 Soldiers across the states of Iowa and Minnesota, the Army required more. Matthew recalled spending a few hours most evenings reading emails and manuals, planning training exercises and advising the commander.
“You have to remember that each one of those 4,100 Soldiers are a person, not just a number,” Jeremy said, “that’s a person who has people that rely on them and love them.”
Those late nights spent trying to better understand the organization and prepare it for challenging missions represent the kind of leader Matthew came to be: one who cares about Soldiers and enforces the standards.
Jeremy described Matthew’s presence as intense, recalling times when Soldiers came up to him and said he’s not as “scary” as his brother. But even though Jeremy favors his father’s calm demeanor over his brother’s square-jawed intimidation, their leadership styles blend together in their willingness to drop formalities and simply be part of a team. Before their deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, a photo was taken of Matthew and Jeremy loading sandbags on a pallet at Fort Irwin, California.
“We got to be brothers up there, but we also got to be fellow leaders showing Soldiers ‘Hey, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, I’m not afraid to be out here sweating and doing the things you’re doing,’” Jeremy said. “So, when you look at his and my leadership styles being different, that’s where we come into the same.”
The unique ability to lean on each other for support and professional advice over the years hasn’t been taken for granted with the knowledge that most Soldiers don’t deploy with family. For Matthew, flying down to Jeremy’s forward operating base in Afghanistan on business and catching a quick meal with his brother was a small but meaningful respite from the constant labor of war.
On the home front, family dinners that often centered on work and long periods of absences were commonplace. Their parents and families learned how important it is to surround themselves with supportive friends and neighbors.
“My wife and mom both had to deal with multiple family members gone at the same time,” Matthew said. “My dad and I deployed to Kosovo together in 2003-2004, while Jeremy deployed to Iraq. My mom had a three-star flag she always had displayed. It does add stress, but we’re a tight-knit family.”
As Matthew passed the reigns on to take the next step in his military career, leaving big boots for Jeremy to fill, both ended their remarks with the Red Bull slogan as a reminder to stay focused during the times ahead: "On the Objective."