COLUMN: He earned my salute (with photo gallery)

I’ve been retired from the Army for five years; therefore, I am no longer required to salute an officer.  But when I saw General Brian Tarbet Saturday at his retirement ceremony at Governor’s Day, I snapped to attention and smartly saluted. 

General Tarbet, a native of Cache Valley, became the Adjutant General of the Utah National Guard 12 years ago today.  Our first meeting was during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  My National Guard unit had been activated to help provide security in the wake of 9/11 and I helped coordinate a media interview with General Tarbet. 

My life as a part-time citizen soldier, and the lives of all those in the National Guard, had changed.  No longer were we just “weekend warriors” training for what may happen; we were now training for what would happen.  For me, it was the Olympics and then Iraq, focused on finishing the mission and making it home.

General Tarbet had a much bigger slice of the operation with multiple units and thousands of men and women under his command.  We weren’t just numbers to him.  Saturday, in his retiring remarks, he called us “patriots, the finest of your generation.” 

I had the privilege of getting to know General Tarbet at the Olympics then more so with our deployment to Iraq.  Though our contact has been brief and sporadic since, I’ve always been impressed how well he knows me.  More so, I’ve been impressed with how many names he knows of the thousands he commands.  And not just last names, which are stenciled on our uniforms; but also first names, names of spouses, and specific situations and concerns.  This is a difficult feat for a commander of a company or battery with 100 or so members.  It’s a remarkable feat for a general who has over 7,000 under his command.

General Tarbet received a standing ovation and thousands of formal salutes as he reviewed the troops one last time.  He was honored and surprised when a monument was unveiled naming the parade field at Camp Williams as Tarbet Field.  Most poignant, however, were the emotion and tears he unsuccessfully fought to control as he spoke of those who didn’t make it home.

General Tarbet has shepherded the Utah National Guard through its most tumultuous period in history.  He’s a soldier’s soldier.  He has earned my salute.

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