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NEWS | June 8, 2011

End of en era: Lesher one of last Vietnam vets serving on Guard active-duty

By Army Sgt. Darron Salzer National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. - As one of the last remaining active-duty 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.

In a small ceremony at the Army National Guard Readiness Center on Tuesday, Lesher swore the oath of enlistment and extension for the last time in his military career – which began over 40 years ago.

He said his first enlistment came way back in December of 1970 with the Marine Corps and was followed by boot camp, advanced infantry school and military occupation specialty school and then a year spent in Vietnam.

“After Vietnam, I left the Marine Corps and went to college,” he said. This is where Lesher 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 said.

Though he originally enlisted with the Illinois National Guard, Lesher said that he also served as a North Dakota Guard member and as a member of the Colorado National Guard for a few years, but has since returned to the Illinois Guard.

Over those years, Lesher has done a lot both here at home nd abroad with the Guard, as he recounted time spent overseas in Vietnam and Korea, and domestic missions doing blizzard, flood and ice storm assistance in North Dakota.

Since his first enlistment into the Guard, Lesher said he has seen it go through some very 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, 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 had the pleasure of being a part of some really great units early on, and that it’s the close-knit family that the Guard provides and the camaraderie that has kept him in the Guard for so long.

“The North Dakota Guard and Illinois Guard really were some great units to belong to, and they put off any reservations I had had initially about the Guard when I first joined,” Lesher said.

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 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,” he said.

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.”