Killed Utah's mayor in Afghanistan and wanted to serve "as I can"

Killed Utah's mayor in Afghanistan and wanted to serve "as I can"

NORD OGDEN, Utah – The call came again. Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden and a major in the Utah National Guard, would go to Afghanistan for his fourth mission.

He told his constituents on Facebook this January and leaned into the camera to explain that he was called "when and how I can" to his country and that he would be part of a helping team for one year an Afghan Army Command Battalion. "Service is really what leadership is about," he told them.

He said goodbye to his wife Jennie and their seven children and handed over his city duties to his friend Brent Chugg. "You have to play it safe," said Mr. Chugg. "I will," replied Major Taylor.

He did not make it home. Major Taylor, 39, was killed on Saturday in an insider attack, apparently by one of the people he helped.

The Pentagon did not immediately tell who had been killed. But the news that it was Brent Taylor was soon heard throughout Utah when remorse was expressed by politicians and mayors.

In a nation already terrified of a heated midterm election, a synagogue mass shooting, and high-profile bombing, Major Taylor's death and the wounding of another servant unleashed a new wave of grief in the same attack. It was a brutal reminder of a 17-year war that has hit gaping holes in communities across the country and is barely in sight.

His death hit hardest in Utah, where a widespread Mormon faith binds many of its three million inhabitants in a way that is rare in modern times. On Saturday, when Mr. Chugg arrived at Jennie Taylor, they hugged and she began to sob.

"We are overwhelmed with grief, but we do not regret it," said Ms. Taylor's sister Kristy Pack on Sunday in front of the modest brick house. Although Major Taylor died in a suspected insider attack, Ms. Pack said, "In our view, there is not much room for anger."

Ms. Taylor is now faced with the task of raising the couple's children: Megan, 13; Lincoln, 11; Alex, 9; Jacob 7; Ellie, 5; Jonathan, 2; and Caroline 11 months.

At a press conference at the Utah National Guard headquarters in Salt Lake City, Governor Gary R. Herbert said he knew Major Taylor personally and called him "the personification of love for God, the family, and the land."

Governor Herbert said he knew some friends had tried to stop Major Taylor from returning to Afghanistan. He argued that he had done enough for his country. But Major Taylor wanted to leave, the governor said, and had the support of his wife for the decision because he loved the people of Afghanistan and believed he could do something good there.

A law of Utah allows selected officials belonging to the reserves or the National Guard, such as Major Taylor, to retain their civilian offices while seconded to a deputy by temporary assignment of authority.

North Ogden is a middle-class suburb of approximately 19,000 residents north of Salt Lake City at the foot of the Wasatch Range. On Sunday, the residents got up at dawn to carry American flags on towering poles through the misty streets and drive them along the road to City Hall into the cold ground.

Then they dispersed to the many churches in the city, where they bowed their heads as their leaders called on "brothers and sisters" to pray for Brother Taylor and his family. It was a fasting Sunday when Mormons skipped meals and gave to the hungry. At a service, dark boys in bright white shirts circled the benches with the sacrament.

"I do not know a better man," said Clark Skeen, a resident of North Ogden.

Major Taylor, who grew up in Arizona, joined the military after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. His five brothers did as well. Before his last tour, he had served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan.

He joined the city council in 2009, was elected mayor in 2013, and was re-elected in 2017. He gained a reputation as a practical leader and attentive listener, someone who would be seen on the street before dawn to direct snow plows stormy days.

Mr. Chugg said that Major Taylor, as mayor, was interested in improving the city, building an amphitheater, public building, and new roads. Other city officials were satisfied with the status quo: "Not Mayor Taylor."

On Sunday in front of the town hall, a small memorial was formed, under a muddy American flag, which was lowered to half a staff. One woman, Deborah Eddy, 63, dropped a bright yellow lily in a flower pot. Another, Judy Viskoe, 36, was standing next to a black umbrella.

"I cried all day yesterday," said Mrs. Viskoe. "I do not agree with him politically. He is a Republican. However, on his tour of this city, I noticed that he treated everyone with respect, and he listened, and he did not bring his politics into the mix. He's just unlike any other mayor I've ever encountered. "

The number of US troops in Afghanistan fell to less than 14,000 in 2018, from around 100,000 in 2011, when US troops there were still officially involved in a combat mission. All but a few large bases have all been decommissioned, and the remainder of the American troops are primarily tasked with advising and training the Afghan forces rather than fighting the Taliban itself.

The change in mission has also changed the mix of troops engaged in The Americans who train Afghan troops are often older, senior and more experienced than before.

And these are the troops exposed to the greatest risk of insider attacks, surrounded by armed Afghans, a continuing threat to the country. Almost half of the American death toll in Afghanistan this year is allegedly insider attacks.

Together, these trends have led to a steady increase in the average age and number of American victims.

Since the end of the draft in 1973, it has become increasingly common for siblings such as Major Taylor and his brothers to serve in the military. Researchers say that a parent or sibling in uniform increases the likelihood of someone joining and so does from a big family. This spring, all quads from Michigan came forward, each in a different branch of the armed forces.

Major Taylor's body is due to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday at 21:45. It is expected that members of his family and representatives of the Utah National Guard will be present.

"Utah is crying for them today," wrote Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox on Facebook after receiving the news of the Major's death. "This war has cost us again the best blood of a generation."

When Major Taylor left North Ogden in January, hundreds of residents lined the street to say goodbye, and the local police gave him an escort.

"Right now, it takes my experience and skills to serve in our country's tedious war in Afghanistan," he wrote at the time, adding that his work would meet President Trump's order to enhance the capabilities of the Afghan forces expand.

Instead of disappearing into a war zone, Major Taylor carried a steady stream of Facebook posts during his mission, linking his community to a conflict that many Americans are unable to access.

On October 28, he enlisted in a final public office as ambassador for the recent elections in Afghanistan.

"It was nice to see that over 4 million Afghan men and women made bold threats and deadly attacks to vote in the first parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in eight years," he wrote. "Many American, NATO allies and Afghan troops have died to allow such moments."

Then he turned to his own land.

"If the US prepares to vote in our election next week, I hope everyone at home will exercise their valuable suffrage," he wrote. "And that the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we are far more than Americans who unite us, as we separate."

He concluded, "God bless America. 🇺🇲️👊🏻 "

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