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Ready for Saturdays - Guard's Adj. Gen. Michael Haugen retires this week

BISMARCK - After a 39-year career serving the North Dakota National Guard, Adj. Gen. Michael Haugen is taking some time to decompress. The former Air National Guard pilot is making a final landing in his military career when he retires this Satur...

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BISMARCK - After a 39-year career serving the North Dakota National Guard, Adj. Gen. Michael Haugen is taking some time to decompress.

The former Air National Guard pilot is making a final landing in his military career when he retires this Saturday, Aug. 26. Gov. John Hoeven announced Haugen's retirement in July.

Haugen assumed the duties of the adjutant general of the North Dakota Guard on Dec. 19, 2000. He commands more than 4,000 North Dakota Air and Army National Guard men and women.

In addition, Haugen also is responsible for federal and state missions and serves as director of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services consisting of the Division of Homeland Security and the Division of State Radio Communications.

A love of flight

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A graduate of Minot State College, Haugen enlisted in the North Dakota Air National Guard in 1967 after encouragement from his friends from Valley City who were members of the Civil Air Patrol. Haugen's love for flying, however, began as a youth.

"I always wanted to fly," Haugen said. "I found something I liked to do. I really wanted to fly and so I saw the Guard as a way of both financing and enhancing my career if I could fly."

Haugen cites his father and Scout masters as influences in his life, and said his Guard supervisors were very supportive of his wanting to fly. He served in aircraft maintenance for almost three years and received his commission in 1970, completing undergraduate pilot training in 1972. Haugen has a command pilot rating with more than 11,000 flight hours.

Haugen then served as a full-time pilot with the National Air Guard during the heat of the Cold War. His command post locations have crisscrossed the nation, from Washington, D.C., to Arizona.

Haugen left the Guard as a full-time employee in 1978 to work for Frontier Airlines as a commercial pilot. He said at the time, it was a cream-of-the-crop job with good salary and benefits.

That job perspective changed over the years, however, and in the end, the uncertainty and the stress weren't worth it. Haugen sought a more secure career option after airline difficulties and buyouts. He returned to the Guard in 1987 and views this as a turning point that made him focus on his military career.

"I could tell that it was the right thing," Haugen said of not being a commercial pilot. "I couldn't see a bright future there."

Haugen started to move through the Guard ranks, serving as a lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier colonel and major general.

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An intense job

A typical day for the major general begins at 6:30 a.m. by arriving at the office After putting in a full day, he leaves at 7 p.m. to have dinner with his wife Jan, only to return to the office a while later to send and answer e-mails until about 9:30 p.m.

"Every day is a Monday and we have Guard drills, we have fires, we have tornados, we have war; we have something going on every day," Haugen said. "There is never a day off. It's an intense job and you need to have a lot of intensity to put toward it."

Only months after Haugen took the office of adjutant general, the role of the North Dakota's National Guard changed dramatically with the fateful events of Sept. 11, 2001. As of today, more than 3,000 North Dakota Guard members have been mobilized in the war against terrorism, with some volunteering for a second rotation overseas.

This, however, is historically how the Guard has been utilized, Haugen said. The first major call-up of Guard members was in the late 1800s, with the second largest mobilization during World War I. Therefore, the level of involvement by the Guard is not a surprise to Haugen.

"I expected it if I had known how big this war was going to be," Haugen said of the Guard's participation overseas.

"All they are is Hitler in different clothing and until we wake up and see that, they're going to come after us and we are vulnerable," Haugen said of global terrorists. "We're vulnerable in our infrastructure; we're vulnerable in a lot of ways because we are such an open society.

"We've got our work cut out for us. The United States does not have the will to see something long and tough through. Our parents did with World War II, but I'm not sure we do. We have a lot of power, but we're afraid to use it or are unwilling to use it."

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Everyone's memory is only as long as the last war when the United States had a huge standing Army and Navy, Haugen said.

"We can't afford a big standing Army. It's too expensive," he added. "We should mobilize a force when we need it and then shrink it."

Up to 6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product was spent on a standing military at one point during the Cold War, Haugen said.

"We need to get that down to the 3 percent level and the way you do that, but still maintain readiness, is you do it through the Guard reserve, through the cheapest force, not the most expensive force," he added. "That doesn't mean you scrimp on the reserve."

For the soldiers

How the Guard trains and what they train on needs to be updated, since it now serves as an operational reserve rather than strategic, Haugen said.

The National Guard receives support from Congress and through the active Army on modernizing the Guard and replacing equipment, he said. The older body armor and canvas-topped Humvees the North Dakota National Guard had "were never designed for that type of war," he added of the current terrorist battle. The Guard would have been better off buying one set of new equipment, shipping it overseas and leaving it, Haugen said.

"We had to make a lot of adjustments fast and they were expensive," Haugen said. "As a current reserve, you've got to have the latest equipment. You have to if you're going to fight side by side (with an active-duty unit)."

The North Dakota soldiers and pilots have made the state proud and have saved numerous lives, Haugen said. By in large, most of the soldiers deployed overseas feel what they're doing is important and is the right thing to do, he said. Some, however, voice their disappointment in having deployments lengthened.

"I don't blame them for being upset if they get extended," Haugen added. "That's a crummy part of the world."

As with many other states, North Dakota has had its share of loss since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Haugen personally knew some of the soldiers killed overseas, including Dickinson's Jon Fettig. Haugen met Fettig at a training site in Canada.

"He was so enthusiastic and gave me a little insight on what he was doing and you could just tell he just loved doing this," Haugen said of Fettig, the state's first Guard casualty in the war on terrorism. "He was doing what he wanted to do."

Loss is a painful process for all involved and Haugen knows this first hand.

"It's unfortunate and it's all the adjectives that you want to describe it, but when it comes right down to it, it's just plain painful," Haugen said. "It hurts the family, it hurts the Guard family, it hurts the community."

While the job of easing the pain of those families is never really bearable, Haugen is integral is getting the word out and being there in their time of need.

"Protecting your family, protecting your community and protecting your country sometimes results in some people making those extreme sacrifices and our job is to make it as bearable as possible," Haugen said. "We need to remember and we need to focus on what they did."

While the Guard always has been prepared to discuss and release information on soldiers killed overseas, the Army has not and still is not, Haugen said. The Guard is therefore trying to speed the process up, he added.

"I have brought it up to the highest levels in the Army - you have got to get your notification process out of the Cold War and into the electronic age because this stuff is hitting the wires and we need to be able to react," Haugen said. "I don't need to be the third person showing up at the door that morning. I need to be the first one showing up at the door. I have to do these things because the family deserves it."

"He will be missed"

North Dakota Army National Guard State Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Cripe of Dickinson works with Haugen concerning enlisted soldiers. Cripe also sits in on conferences and committees to help develop strategic planning.

"He's just such a well-rounded person," Cripe said of Haugen. "His philosophy and leadership style is what sets the North Dakota National Guard on a pedestal. He has brought the National Guard of North Dakota years ahead of the nation."

The ability to think about possibilities 10 years down the road and be an analytical, straightforward thinker are just some of Haugen's strengths, Cripe said.

"He has an awesome vision of the future," he added. "He can zero in on where things are going."

Haugen's compassionate nature shines through as he makes every effort to contact families of injured soldiers or those killed in the line of duty, Cripe said.

"He just has this knack about him," Cripe added. "He's very caring and he doesn't just ignore people. Every situation is a situation that somebody is going to look into. It's not just set aside. There should be nobody that can't come back and say they weren't treated fairly."

Haugen was instrumental is bringing the family support network to the state and is involved in maintaining the retiree support network, Cripe said. He also built a joint force network with the Army, National Guard and Air National Guard in executing natural disaster relief efforts, he added.

"He's a very staunch leader," Cripe said of Haugen. "Everybody has faults, but it's very hard to find faults in his leadership style. It's not overpowering, but direct."

Cripe trusts the organization will not remain idle or step back because of Haugen's philosophy and leadership, combined with the implementation of Gen. David Sprynczynatyk's philosophy and leadership. Sprynczynatyk, who currently serves as North Dakota's director of transportation and director of logistics for the National Guard Bureau, now succeeds Haugen.

Sprynczynatyk said he and Haugen have a good working relationship and communicate regularly.

"Observing him and working with him and for him, the most important thing (I've learned) is to take care of our people, to treat them fairly and equally," he said.

The two share similar philosophies and both are very concerned about the well-being of soldiers, Sprynczynatyk said.

"The strength of our National Guard is in its members," he added. "The last few years have been challenging, but (Haugen's) been up to the challenge and has done a great job. We're certainly going to miss him."

Haugen and his wife, Jan, have worked tirelessly at a time when the Guard is busier than it has ever been, Hoeven said. Haugen's allegiance to the Guard and its members is evident, Hoeven added.

"He's very committed to the Guard and their mission. He's very dedicated to making sure that he's taking care of his people, but also making sure they're doing a good job and that shows through," Hoeven said. "That, together with his leadership, is a good way to describe how he approached his job."

With all the recent demands made on the Guard, Haugen is always there completing the job, Hoeven said.

"He truly lived his work," the governor added. "He was somebody who really lived the job and something that he approached as a way of life. He's really done an outstanding job and I'm deeply appreciative, not only for his leadership, but really for a lifetime of commitment. Our Guard's doing an incredible job and Mike and Jan have provided outstanding leadership. We thank them for it and give them our best wishes."

A well-deserved retirement

After six years as adjutant general, Haugen decided the time was right for retirement.

The great associations and friendships developed over the years with North Dakota Guard men and women, reservists and active-duty military is what Haugen will miss the most.

"They are all such great people and they were a privilege to serve with," he said. "These people really made the difference to the security, well-being and provided great service to the United States and the citizens of North Dakota."

Haugen and his wife plan to retire to a home in Fargo. The couple has two sons - Greg, who works as an emergency room doctor, and Darrin, who is a mechanical engineer. Fly fishing, hunting and skiing are just some of the activities Haugen has planned for his free time.

"I'm looking forward to every day being a Saturday," Haugen said. "I'm going to slow down."

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