From guardsman to Commander and Chief
Former Governor Michael O. Leavitt served as governor from 1993 until 2003. This also meant that he was Commander and Chief of the Utah National Guard. Having served in the Guard as a guardsman in his youth, Governor Leavitt knew there were some things he could contribute as Commander and Chief to make the Guard more productive.
Governor Leavitt’s service as a guardsman was a major influence in terms of the way he viewed the Guard and the job of Commander and Chief. When he was a guardsman he always used to be troubled by the fact that at every armory in the state the best parking spot was reserved for the Governor. He used to think, “What a waste!” What he can’t say is that he was the one that required it to be changed, but in an interview he stated, “I am pleased to know that it was changed. It was on my mind at the time. I thought if it hasn’t been changed I’m going to.”
In his first Governor’s Day as Commander and Chief he reminisced the days as a guardsman when he stood in formation many times and waited for governors to give long speeches. He had stood there like most of the guardsmen for an hour to get the parade ready and endured the long speech. So, he was certain one change that he would make was that there would be no long speeches at Governor’s Day. He won’t soon forget the line that they used to have with the officers after the speech. When he had given a two minute speech and people just kept coming through saying, “Thank you Governor. Thank you, it was so nice of you to give a short speech.” Everyone was pleased about the shortness of my speech.
September 11, 2001
Governor Leavitt also had a pretty good feel for the sacrifice that people provide and their families and their employers and communities for the sake of the Guard. He had a good understanding of the tradition that the Guard provided to communities. His home unit was the 222nd and he knew the history well. He knew the stories of their going to Korea, and he knew how the community had emptied out and what an empty feeling it was for those that were left behind and the worry that was there
So, 9-11 brought a realization that the Guard was no longer going to be a peace time guard. They were going to be a war-time guard and it wouldn’t just be an impact on the units but it would impact communities and families.
Governor Leavitt was at home at about 8:00 a.m. when he got a call from his Washington office. “Are you aware of what’s happening?”
“No, what’s happening?” he asked. It was Joanne Newman who ran the office.
She said, “We’re under attack. Go to the T.V.” So, he got to the television and saw, of course, the instant replay of the first tower and then, as he watched, he saw the second tower and the news reports and then the Pentagon. It was as surreal for him, as it was for everyone else. He immediately called and ordered the Comprehensive Emergency Management Room opened and activated. Then he headed for Capitol Hill to be there, knowing that this was going to be something quite unusual and that they didn’t know where it was going. And, of course, the events of the day became memories that none of us will forget. He remembers driving up 7th East and hearing a commentator report or hearing a commentator with call-ins of people who just wanted to talk. A woman said, “My little girl said, ‘mommy is their still an America?’” That was a sobering moment for Governor Leavitt. He said, “You had school children all over the country who suddenly realized that their country was under attack. This is not an experience that any generation has had in our country, ever. We have been at war, but we’ve never been attacked other than Pearl Harbor which I guess you’d say was an attack. However, in terms of the mainland, that’s it.”
The rest of the day was a matter of trying to get information. Governor Leavitt instantly, of course, called my security team together which would have included the heads of the National Guard and the head of Public Safety. They met at the Comprehensive Emergency Management Room and began to assess what they knew and what they didn’t know. What should be done and what shouldn’t be done. It was late morning before they started getting any kind of information through official channels. Their best channel at that moment was the television.
They then entered a period that was odd in that no one knew what was going to happen next. They didn’t know if there would be another set of attacks, if this was some coordinated attack beyond just air. All the airplanes had been grounded. Governor Leavitt had a man who was staying at the Governor’s Mansion from the Gate’s Foundation who had had a meeting with him the night before. He lent him a bedroom and the man took it and ended up spending an entire week there. Finally, the man ended up renting a car and driving home like many people (thousands of people) all over the country who got stranded because there was no air flight allowed at the time until they could resolve what was happening.
Within a few days it became clear that people could begin to fly, but they activated major parts of the Guard to have a presence there at the airports. So, for months, really, the people walk into an airport and see National Guard members acting under title 32. That was a little startling for a country that had never experienced it before to see people who were armed. There was a sense of relief about it on one hand and at the same time a sense of alarm. Now we live in a different country than what we did. It was a great sobering moment for our country.
The longer it went on people began to say, “do we really need this, it makes me feel uncomfortable,” etc. The sight of automatic weapons is something Governor Leavitt had seen in many other countries around the world but he had never seen it in America. It was a symbol of how much the world had changed in an instant or at least in a moment. Of course, they then began to sort through what this meant. Including, the upcoming Olympic Games.
One of the things it meant for Governor Leavitt and his staff was that they had the Olympic Games coming in just a few months. There was the question, posed publicly, “will we still have the games?” The answer, “Of course we’ll have the games. It is more important that we have the Games now than ever at any point in time. The world needs to know that we can meet, we can gather, we can celebrate the virtues of that. That we can’t allow terrorists to dictate the way we’ll live in a free society.”
There was a period where they had to encourage people to go back to a normal state of their travel and their shopping. People were afraid. They began instantly to begin assessing what were the vulnerabilities of the state. There were times in the first two or three months when they had Sheriffs patrol and law-enforcement and others who were patrolling dam sites. Who were patrolling infrastructure because of the fear that this was part of a larger attack on our country. Over time, that began to subside. It changed lives in a big way. Our lives are still different than they were before then.
Law Enforcement and the Utah National Guard
Once they began to move from response into recovery everyone began to rethink how security would be handled at a state level. There was a tension in many states between Law Enforcement and the National Guard as to who would play what role. In the state of Utah it was clear and General Tarbet was very instrumental in the development of the overall strategy for homeland security.
Homeland Security became a part of everyone’s job, everyone, including the National Guard. Of course the big change then after the Olympics. They had the Olympics, and the National Guard played a huge role. They brought people in from all over the country, not just Utah. Governor Leavitt doesn’t know what the percentage of the National Guard that was deployed in Utah during the Olympics, but it had to be very high. There were people everywhere that were guardsmen and they were trained as part of their plan.
Among the first to be deployed
Shortly thereafter, of course, they began to move into a period where they retaliated as a country and the armed forces moved into Afghanistan. Some of the first troops in there were Utah National Guard (Eighteen members who were very early on into Afghanistan). One of the most memorable State of the State Addresses that Governor Leavitt spoke was in honoring Bronze Star winners. Utah Guardsman, people who had been both gallant and heroic in the way they had served. They were chilling, gripping stories, and they were people who were neighbors of men and woman in Utah, people that they knew. The experience of seeing guardsman off to war was now a new experience for any governor.
It was a sobering moment in time. They had so many that were going; in months they were in the thousands. Governor Leavitt’s wife Jackie and he concluded to do something for the families to say thank you. So, they organized a family event where Governor Leavitt and his wife would go to places all over the state and invite family members of guardsman to come so they could shake their hand and look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for the sacrifice that you are making” on behalf of the people of Utah. That was a glorious experience. It was impossible to count how many families he met during a week’s period. There were hundreds and hundreds who would come and express common fears that any family has when they have a soldier who is in harm’s way, but at the same time the sense of patriotism that it represented inspired Governor Leavitt. He said, “I think that there was comfort that they had in being together and being able to embrace one another.” Many of them knew each other, but the size and the number of people had to be hardening to them. Governor Leavitt recalls, “It was certainly revealing to me to see all of the children who went to bed at night without a father or a mother and to hear the stories about how they were coping and how extended families were reaching out and taking care of grandchildren or nephews or nieces or wives. It was an important thing for me to see firsthand.”
Governor Leavitt had the opportunity to address guardsmen as they were leaving on a number of occasions. The message was heartfelt and always the same, “We are proud of you and we are grateful for what you do. We know this is a sacrifice. There is nothing in a democracy that is easy, and you are bearing a heavier weight than most people. You go, knowing that when you return we will be here waiting, but we will also be here while you’re gone and caring for those people that you love.” Governor Leavitt says he feels good about the fact that the Guard did step up and he saw Guard families who were at home taking care of Guard families who had loved ones away. That was rewarding. He also has fond memories of seeing them return home and the anticipation on both the soldiers and the families.
Former Governor Leavitt Visits Iraq as Cabinet Member
“It made me proud,” said Governor Leavitt. “They were good people, working hard, knew what they were doing. [They] had a sense of hope about it.” There was a soldier; who he can’t remember his name, from his hometown in Cedar City. He wasn’t a guardsman, interestingly enough. He was just a regular army soldier that had volunteered and was part of the security detail that cared for Governor Leavitt. But Governor Leavitt did get a chance to see a number of Utah Guardsmen. They talked of home and of the experiences that they were having and the pride that they had in being there and the sense of mission.
Positive Influences from National Guard
Governor Leavitt went through OCS Program out at Camp Williams, and he is sure some of the things that he learned about leadership were part of what he took away from that. He saw good leaders. He saw leaders that he thought you could learn from in many different ways.
One rewarding experience for him was his service with the adjutant generals. The first adjutant general he served with was General Miller who had actually been a high school civics teacher of his and actually had recruited him into the National Guard. They talked a little bit about the Guard and General Miller called him up after class and he said, “If you’ll go down to the armory today there is a slot open and you can take it if you want it.” Young Michael Leavitt had been on a waiting list and General Miller had been watching the list and Governor Leavitt’s name had come up and so his teacher told him. He hadn’t made the decision in full in that moment, but he recalls, “I knew I had to make a decision.” This was at the time when the recruitments were oversubscribed and so the windows came up and they went away and you had to decide. “I remember going home,” he says, “and leaving school and went home and sat and pondered and thought about what I should do. I am confident I wouldn’t have made the decision to do it if I hadn’t had people like Jim Miller and others who I admired and appreciated as examples of what the National Guard is.” So, when he was elected and it came time to choose an adjutant general, Jim Miller was a logical choice for many reasons.
After General Miller had served for a time, it came time for a change in command and Governor Leavitt looked around the National Guard to see who among many who were able could in fact serve adequately and with distinction there. He had observed General Tarbet, then a colonel, in many different settings. In the Attorney General’s Office as a lawyer, Governor Leavitt knew he was a good soldier, as well. He made a decision to reach well into the ranks of the National Guard and to bring a colonel up and promote him to general and to make him adjutant general. It was a little bit of an unusual move, but he had an instinct that this was a very good commanding officer and he thinks that’s proven out. Their working relationship over the course of almost three years that they worked together bore that out to him.
There are so many times when the Guard had a role to play. Starting with the inauguration, that’s when a new governor gets first and officially. John Matthews was the first adjutant general that Governor Leavitt had worked with. John Matthews was a wonderful officer and later when he had retired from the Guard he came back and worked in the Governor’s Office. So, Governor Leavitt had relationships with each of the adjutant generals that pre-dated his service and in some cases endured after. “I am grateful for that,” he recalls, “They are good people.”
He talked with General Tarbet several times after he went to Washington to serve in the Cabinet interested about how are the troops doing, what they are doing, where are they, what kind of missions are they now involved in. Governor Leavitt had a good idea about what the missions of the Guard are because for the most part he had been briefed on them on a routine basis as governor and in some cases had to approve particularly some of the more sensitive issues of the missions, rather.
Mixing Hard Power with Soft Power
Governor Leavitt’s role with the military as Secretary of Health was more indirect. The modern doctrine of being able to mix hard power with soft power is an important part of American Foreign Policy. He said, “There is nothing, in my view, more powerful as a tool (soft power) than health.” One of the things that surprised him most about being Secretary of Health was how much time he had to spend outside the United States in order to take care of the health of people inside the United States.
It surprises people to know that he traveled to more than forty countries as Secretary of Health and that he spent a very high percentage of his time involved in diplomacy surrounding health. For example, when he went to Iraq he was there at the request of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, because they knew in order to re-build that country they had to rebuild their health infrastructure. They needed our help in not just health but in many different ways.
Governor Leavitt explains why health care infrastructure is so important;
Interestingly enough, a page right out of the insurrectionist’s hand book is that you attack the health sector, because if you can deprive a country of the basic assets that they need to conduct a happy life then it breeds discontent and insurrectionists and terrorists have a better way of being able to infiltrate the people. So, building the health mechanism back was highly important. I spent a fair amount of time with the Minister of Health from Afghanistan. We spent time trying to bring doctors from Iraq to the United States to build relationships and to rekindle the confidence that they had in their own training. That was primarily my experience.
Governor Leavitt was a great influence on the rebuilding of broken nations in this world today.
The Knowledge and Benefits Gained from Military Experience
Having an understanding of how the military works is a valuable tool when you’re in the cabinet. Governor Leavitt doesn’t claim any particular expertise and he can’t tell you that there was any moment when the Secretary of Defense called him and asked for his advice. He states, “I don’t suspect a lieutenant would have commanded much respect. Gratefully, cabinet membership did.” It is an important part of background that a person needs to be involved in at a senior level in the National Government. Governor Leavitt said, “My time in the military played a very important role in my understanding how civilian led military works.”
Governor Leavitt doesn’t know what percentage of the cabinets he served in had military background. If you look back on former presidents, it is a relatively new phenomenon for us to have commander and chiefs that didn’t have some kind of military orientation. Some of that, of course, is just a function of the time in which they grew up.
There is no question that a society that understands the role of the military is more likely to remain strong as a country. Having an understanding of the role that the military plays for civilians is a very important part of how you maintain a civilian controlled military. There have been times in history in other countries where the military clearly dominated the society because the civilian population didn’t a) understand it, or b) have control of it and that is a recipe for democracy to be eroded.
Governor Leavitt has always thought that the language capability of the state and Utah guardsmen is something that the broader population of the military ought to utilize more. It is a good asset. It’s being used extensively and there is a new facility being built in the state that will take advantage of some of those.
Looking back, Governor Leavitt says he had very good Commanding Generals who kept him fully briefed. The Commander and Chief Job is one of the things that the Governor has to do and so the Governor has to depend on an able command structure. “We had one,” he reported. Good commanders and good staff officers all the way through. Each year he would have a chance to shake their hand at least once and many times more. He got to know them in many different settings. It was one of the more satisfying parts of his experience. Jokingly, Governor Leavitt says “Other things that I would have done a differently, I would have probably spent a little more time out at Camp Williams in that nice guest house.”
Fulfilling Our Purpose
Any segment of the military has the same objective and that is that when the country needed to be defended, they were there. They did it in a selfless way and to the fullest extent of their capability. During what will undoubtedly be marked in history as one of the turning points of our lives, 9-11, and equal in many respects to what happened at Pearl Harbor in terms of the way our life changed. The war hasn’t been as big or as encompassing but it has clearly changed the world because of the global nature. That the National Guard was there, that they served well, that they served in an honorable way, that they served in a selfless way and that they accomplished their mission. That is all any military organization has as its objective and Governor Leavitt believes they met it and that the Utah Guard continues to distinguish itself.
As a Utah Guardsman, Governor Leavitt was there before the National Guard had the broad respect as it has as a military component. It used to be that the National Guard was viewed as not as good as the regular army. He was serving as Commander and Chief during a time when that changed and the integration of the training and the assets when it became a full part of the military deployable force. The 222nd passed a very rigorous readiness examination that many regular army artillery units failed out of Fort Lewis and the sobering moment that was for a bunch of regular army commanders who had snobbishly looked down their noses at the National Guard. Governor Leavitt became aware through his time in the cabinet that the National Guard is seen in many cases now as the elite, as the best trained, as the most reliable, and it’s the reason they get deployed over and over again, because they have a unique role in the defense component of the United States Military. The U.S. Military is changing. It is changing from its traditional sort of siloed command structure into more of a network, the purple force, the capacity to integrate assets from the National Guard and Reserves and from Army, Air force, Navy, and Marines. That is making the National Guard a very important part. Governor Leavitt is proud to have served during that time, because he thinks it has changed for the better. The capacity of this country to remain safe in a world that now is fighting a network enemy as opposed to one that we could easily identify.
A Life Changing Training
As a tribute to the wonderful experience that he has had with the Utah National Guard, former Governor Leavitt tells this experience;
I left home like hundreds of thousands of others at eighteen years old, for the first time away from home, and went to basic training. I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I went through the homesickness and the drill sergeants and the new experiences that so many have. It became part of my value system. It defined in large measure who I am. Now, there were other experiences, but having an experience in the military was a very important component of shaping me at very impressionable and important time. I think the fact that so few, now, are having a military experience is part of the challenge of a new generation, because it is in the military that people learn to understand the value of country. They learn to understand the importance of the orderly way in which command structures operate. It is an important part of how you maintain a free society. So, I am grateful I had it. I worry that my children and many others like them have not. I know they love our country, but it is something I wish more had.
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LEAVITT HAS REASSURING WORDS
BE PREPARED, BE ALERT, LEAVITT TELLS UTAHNS