Face of Defense: Vietnam Vet Guardsman Savors View From Top
By Army Sgt. Darron Salzer
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., Jun. 9, 2011 As one of the last remaining active-duty National Guard members with service experience in Vietnam, Army Master Sgt. Leland Lesher said the most rewarding thing about his career is the view from the top while at the Army Guard headquarters.
Army Master Sgt. Leland Lesher, Army National Guard force protection branch noncommissioned officer in charge and an Illinois National Guard member, swears the oath of extension and enlistment at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., June 7, 2011. Lesher is one of the last active-duty Guard members who has service time in Vietnam. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Darron Salzer
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In a small ceremony June 7 at the Army National Guard Readiness Center, Lesher swore the oath of enlistment and extension for the last time in his military career, which began more than 40 years ago.
Lesher’s first enlistment came in December 1970 with the Marine Corps. After training, he spent a year in Vietnam.
“After Vietnam, I left the Marine Corps and went to college,” he said, where he learned about the Guard and made the switch. “I was a traditional Guard member, and after I graduated from college, I spent 22 years as a police officer.”
He originally enlisted with the Illinois National Guard, and also served as a North Dakota Guard member and as a member of the Colorado National Guard for a few years, but since has returned to the Illinois Guard. Over those years, Lesher has done a lot at home and abroad with the Guard, spending time in Vietnam and South Korea and providing blizzard, flood and ice storm assistance in North Dakota.
Since his first enlistment into the Guard, Lesher said, he has seen it go through major changes.
“When I got back from Vietnam,” he said, “the Guard was full of those who wanted to continue their military careers, those who wanted to avoid Vietnam and then those who, like myself, had decided they were done with regular military and wanted something else.
“Then 9/11 happened,” he continued, “and it changed the demographics of the Guard from those who had no or very little combat experience to a force that has 85 percent [of its forces] with combat experience. I’ve seen the Guard become very professional over the years.”
Lesher said he was part of some great units early on, and the camaraderie has kept him in the Guard.
“The North Dakota Guard and Illinois Guard really were some great units to belong to,” he said, “and they put off any reservations I had had initially about the Guard when I first joined.”
His final stop in his long Guard career is Stuttgart, Germany, where he will have an active role in the State Partnership Program at the U.S. European Command level.
“Part of my position in Germany will be coordinating with and assisting states that have State Partnership Programs with the European Union nations that fall under the European Command,” Lesher said. “It’s still at the level of assisting states, but it’s helping them to expand beyond their state borders.”
After a long military career that has seen the Guard mature over the years and become an operational reserve, Lesher said, he looks forward to his final tour in Germany and having the opportunity to work within the State Partnership Program.
“As my final three-year tour, it is just phenomenal,” he said.