Maj. Gen. Richard Nash returned earlier this year from a deployment where his National Guard Division commanded a coalition of multinational forces in southern Iraq. Now he will become the head of the Minnesota National Guard.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday named Nash, commander of the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, as the next adjutant general of the state Guard. Pawlenty described Nash as a "very strong, seasoned, conscientious leader" with management skills, battlefield experience and the ability to reach out to lawmakers and the public.
"We want to make sure that the person who leads the Minnesota National Guard has the heart for it," Pawlenty said.
Nash will succeed Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito when he retires on Oct. 31 after seven years that have included national recognition for the Minnesota Guard. Nash said he aims to continue in the same direction, although he expects the Guard to face tighter budgets as the U.S. military attempts to downsize.
"There will be challenges with restrained budgets as we go forward," Nash said. "But certainly my vision is that we will maintain a ready force here in Minnesota to respond to and react to any homeland events, homeland security community events, and then still have a ready force prepared for any national service."
The Minnesota National Guard has more than 14,000 troops.
Nash is expected to serve a six-year term until he turns 66 and is required to retire.
Nash enlisted in the infantry in 1972 and earned an array of medals, including the Bronze Star, during a distinguished military career. He led a Guard deployment to Bosnia in 2003 and 2004 and served with the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.
As the Red Bulls' commander, Nash led more than 1,200 Guard soldiers to Iraq in 2009 and 2010, where they were in charge of about 14,000 U.S. forces in the southern third of the country. Pawlenty said it was one of the few times since World War II when a National Guard unit has commanded forces in combat.
Shellito said Nash's rise through the ranks has followed his own. Shellito described a visit to Nash's division in Iraq in 2009, where he saw a computer room that had been transformed from disarray into order after the Red Bulls arrived.
"General Nash took the division into a mess and made it a state of the art - it is so good the way that they left it, I understand the State Department is going to take it over," Shellito said.
U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said Nash has shown "great leadership and resolve" as the Red Bulls' commander. Kline is a retired Marine who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Pawlenty picked Nash over Brig. Gen. Joseph Kelly, director of the Minnesota National Guard's joint staff.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)