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Service with humility

Guard’s leader sets refreshing example

Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington National Guard. Photo credit: SFC Jason Kriess, Army National Guard

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After an unfortunate turn of events, a respected Washington National Guard soldier had been jailed. While the soldier awaited his court appearance, the state's Adjutant General took the time to visit and talk to him. He told the soldier that he was accountable for his actions, but more importantly he pointed out that the soldier could turn his life around and continue to serve others.

"I silently thought how rare such a leader is, with no cameras or an entourage to record this quiet act of leadership," wrote one anonymous individual who witnessed Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty's act.

The chain of events that led to that act began when Daugherty was born in Tacoma General Hospital and grew up in then unincorporated Federal Way.

"As a kid I was really into hiking and camping and fishing ... there was a group of boys I hung out with in our neighborhood, and we just played all day long. We were out playing Army making forts in the woods," he recalled.

"It was a much more innocent time."

Daugherty went on to say that he had two uncles who had fought in World War II and another uncle who fought in Korea. His father also served during the Korean War at then McChord Air Force Base as a Saber jet mechanic.

"Those guys were absolute heroes to me; they all went through some pretty tough times; I knew they had seen a lot of action," he related.

"I just respected them so much, and it instilled in me a sense of patriotism, and I felt that I had a duty to serve. Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I was going to serve in the Army."

Growing up, Daugherty faced a number of challenges and related that he had faced some trying times.  

"But what I can say is that I have always challenged myself ... and that is an uncomfortable thing to do," he continued, "but I have built a life around doing that."

His habit of pushing of himself led to his becoming the first person in his family to go to college, where he earned a degree in psychology.

While attending Seattle University, he also competed to earn a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship.

"If I hadn't won that scholarship, I would have run out of money the next year, left college and enlisted in the Army," he explained.

Once in ROTC, however, Daugherty continued to challenge himself and earned a regular Army commission.

"After that, I had to compete for an Airborne School slot, to go to flight school, and to get a Cobra transition ... those were all just really big challenges," he explained.

His almost 41 years of service to date began in 1980 as an active duty Cobra pilot. In February of 1990, he transferred to the Washington National Guard.

He then earned a teaching certificate and proceeded to teach history and coach football and track at Meridian Middle School in Kent from 1994 to 2004.

"If I hadn't been called up all the time after 9/11, I'd probably still be there," he said.

By challenging himself and helping those around him over the next couple of decades, Daugherty's work ethic and knowledge led to more challenging positions.

"The Army in both the Guard and on active duty is always placing you - placing me anyway - in challenging leadership positions that I haven't even been trained for," he added with a chuckle.

"Every other job that I've had - outside of being an aviator - it just seems to me, it's been kind of a pick-up game, to get in there and figure it out and do the best job you can." 

Doing his best led former Governor Christine Gregoire to call Daugherty on July 28, 2012 to inform him that he would be the next Adjutant General, Director of the Washington Military Department.

"I will never, ever, forget receiving that phone call .... It was incredibly humbling to hear that the Governor had chosen me to take command of the 8,000 men and women of our Washington Guard," he continued.

Once he got over the surprise of being selected, Daugherty undertook the challenge of rebuilding intra-service cooperation and communication to bring the Guard back to its domestic mission set.

"We needed to dust off everything that we used to know about doing domestic ops," he continued, "because we had been so busy with the war fight our skills had atrophied."

In focusing on the domestic mission, Daugherty proved prescient in positioning the Washington National Guard to confront the challenges it faces today.

"We're in the middle of it right now," he responded. "We've had a tough go of it ... but in a good way. We've been able to handle every mission that has come our way."

The last several years have seen Washington's citizen-soldiers serving both overseas and at home.

Approximately 1,500 are currently deployed overseas, and close to a 1,000 are domestically deployed on various COVID missions.

"And then we've had all that civil unrest in Seattle, Spokane, Olympia. We sent units to our nation's capital where I still have 150 back there," Daugherty added.

He also noted that last summer and fall the Guard was involved in fighting forest fires, as well as working with state officials to secure the integrity of the last election.

"We're stretched about as thinly as we can get right now," Daugherty said.

"Virtually every member of my force is committed to a mission .... These are the kind of challenges that we face."

But he is also keenly aware of the civil challenges the nation currently faces, and he sees similarities between the strife that characterized America in the late 1960s and early 1970s and today's troubled times.

"I believe we are all created equal and that we have all these amazing God-given rights, but we also have commensurate responsibilities that come with those rights."

To meet the challenge of one's responsibilities, Daugherty pointed out that Americans have to be willing to compromise, that just digging one's heels in misses the point of how democracy changes and grows.

"We need people to meet each other in the middle to compromise, and in a compromise each side does not get exactly what they want, but they get something, and over time that has a way of working out to being something really good," he concluded.

"I'm confident that we're going to see our way through this. I know it's painful, but one of the things I really admire about our country is that we struggle, and we grow, and we evolve, and we continually expand what it is we define as democracy. I am optimistic about this," he explained.

To paraphrase the concluding comment made by the anonymous individual who witnessed Daugherty's words of encouragement to an incarcerated soldier, the citizens of the State of Washington are fortunate to have Maj. General Bret Daugherty in command of the Washington National Guard.  

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