By Army National Guard Sgt. Darron Salzer
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. (12/2/11) â€“ The Army National Guard bid farewell this week to Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter after his 29-months of service as the acting director of the Army National Guard, and more than 44-years of military service.
A native of Sturgis, S.D., Carpenter's career began in 1967 when he enlisted with the South Dakota Army National Guard. A little known fact about Carpenter is that shortly thereafter he joined the U.S. Navy, where he attended the Defense Language Institute to study Vietnamese for 48-weeks.
When asked what he can still remember of the language, Carpenter says, "That was a long time ago."
After serving a combat tour in Danang, South Vietnam, he returned to South Dakota where he was commissioned in 1974 in the Army National Guard.
"It was a lot different than the homecomings that we have today," he said. "We had a draftee Army back then â€¦ and I have been lucky enough to experience that and to have also experienced the Army National Guard that we have today â€“ the difference is night and day."
Over the next 35-years, Carpenter would move up through the ranks. An Engineer officer for most of his career, he went on to hold various titles, eventually becoming the acting director of the Army National Guard.
"You know, I wanted this job. I applied for the job twice and didn't get the job," he said. Pausing briefly to reflect on his two and a half years of stewardship in an "acting" capacity, he then added: "But I got the job."
Carpenter's greatest strength was how vigilant he was in making the people of the Army Guard his top priority.
"The first is having enough people. When I took over in May 2009, we had around 366,000 Soldiers in the Army National Guard. We then received guidance to cut that to about 362,000, and the real irony was that the previous five years were spent trying to increase our size."
Tweaking recruiting efforts in order to meet the new limit while not dipping below that figure was only one of several challenges Carpenter faced, and he faced his challenges head-on.
But focusing on people meant far more than just focusing on numbers. As the acting director, Carpenter faced increasing behavioral health and suicide numbers, with a 100-percent increase in suicides from 2009 to 2010.
"Another part of my people priority has always been resiliency and finding ways to decrease those numbers and setting goals for ourselves," he said.
"It hasn't been easy, but we're taking steps in the right direction. There is a lot of great work going on in the states with this, from NCOs to officers and leaders who understand that you have to know the Soldiers in the formations and be aware of what may be going on with them."
Challenging at times, Carpenter said his position came with a huge amount of responsibility, "but there is a great team within the Army National Guard and they are the ones who are really responsible for where we are today.
"I underestimated just how big the job might be, but I had a great amount of time to focus myself and dedicate myself to the task at hand."
As he hangs his hat and heads out the door, Carpenter is confident in the future of the Army National Guard and knows that it lies in good hands with the new director.
"I do think that there needs to be a strategy for the long-term, and we've got to know where we're going," he said. "We can't get caught up in the day-to-day budget battles, because our focus needs to be on having a strong Army National Guard in 2020.
"We're going to make decisions on the road to 2020 that could frustrate that goal, but we are a full member of the team and moving in the right direction to meet that goal."
Remarking that Soldiers today now have better training, more experience and better equipment, Carpenter said it would be a shame to see that unused.
"As I walk off the stage, this Army National Guard is in great shape," he said. "It has continued to improve, and I say it will continue to improve with General Ingram's leadership."
For his future plans, Carpenter jokes that he is going to move in with his wife. He also plans to run the Army Ten-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon next year. He hopes to stay engaged with the activities of the Army National Guard.
The Army National Guard hopes so too, Sir.