One of my heroes is Major General Major General (MG) Raymond “Fred” Rees.
There are few American generals with as long or as distinguished service as MG Rees. Only three come to mind.
The first would be General John Galvin. Galvin started his career as an enlisted man in the Massachusetts National Guard, graduated from West Point in 1954 and served for 45 years in a variety of key assignments including division and corps command.
John Vessy Jr.
The second would be General John William Vessey, Jr. Vessey started his career in the Minnesota National Guard when he was 16 years old. He received a battlefield commission during the battle of Anzio in World War II and went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
As a Colonel, he attended the Army helicopter school at the age of 48. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Three years later when he retired at the age of 63 he was the last four star combat veteran of World War II on active service. He retired with over 46 years of military service.
The last would be General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. He graduated from West point in 1903 at the top of his class. He served in World War I as the Chief of Staff and acting Division Commander of the National Guard’s famed 42nd Rainbow Division on the Western Front. He was a Brigadier General at 38 years old.
In World War II, he commanded the Allied Forces in the Pacific. He oversaw the occupation of the Japan after World War II from 1945 to 1951. During the Korean War, he was commander of the United Nations Forces until President Truman fired him. When he retired from the military, he had served for over 52 years and had joined the army before the turn of the century.
Major General Rees
MG Rees was born in Pendleton raised in the small town of Helix in the northeast corner of Oregon. In the 2010 census Helix had a population of 184. Four of MG Rees’ uncles served in World War II. The son of eastern Oregon wheat ranchers he graduated second from a class of seven from Helix High School in 1962 (Collins 2005).
MG Rees graduated from West Point in 1966. Of the 579 young men who received their commissions as second lieutenants at graduation four years later 30 of them would be dead (the highest number of casualties suffered by any class in Vietnam) and another one-third were civilians- the highest resignation rate in the history of the Academy (Atkinson 1989).
MG Rees’ classmates killed in Vietnam-7 percent- was almost identical with that of the academy’s classes that had served in World War II who had died fighting Japan and Germany. Yet they were hardly regarded in the same esteem (Atkinson 1989).
MG Rees commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Armor and completed Airborne and Ranger Training before being assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in West Germany. In 1968 he served in Vietnam as the Assistant Training and Operations Officer of the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and later as commander of D Troop.
1968 was the most violent year for the war in Vietnam. At the end of January, the Vietcong launched the Tet Offensive. U.S. troop numbers peaked at almost 600,000 and with it the numbers of American casualties rising to almost 16,600 killed. Troop D attached to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade served as a Recon Element. Its job was to search out and engage the Viet Cong.
After returning from Vietnam, he served briefly on staff at Fort Lewis, WA. He completed training as an Army Aviator in 1971. From March 1972 to August 1973 he served as an executive officer of an air cavalry troop and in a variety of staff assignments at Fort Bragg, NC.
In 1973 MG Rees entered law school at the University of Oregon and joined the Oregon National Guard. He practiced law in Pendleton from 1976 to 1978. After 18 months in practice his father died and he took over his family’s 2,200 acre wheat farm (Collins 2005).
In the next several years MG Rees held several command and staff positions in the Guard such as commander of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 162 Infantry Regiment and 3rd Squadron, 116th Armored Cavalry Regiment. In 1986 as the commander of 116th Armored Cavalry Regiment, he made Colonel.
In May 1987, MG Rees was appointed the Adjutant General (TAG) of the Oregon National Guard. This was the first of several times he would serve in this position. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1988, he was the first of the class of 1966 to reach that rank (Press 1991), and Major General in 1990. After four years at the helm of the Oregon Guard, MG Rees became director of the Army National Guard at the National Guard Bureau (NGB) in 1991, then vice chief and acting chief of the bureau in 1994.
In 1994, he returned to Oregon for five years as TAG of the Oregon Guard, then again served alternately as vice chief and acting chief of the NGB, and from May 2003 until June 2005, MG Rees was chief of staff of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado (Collins 2005). In July 2005, he became TAG for the third time.
National Guard Readiness in the 1990s
MG Rees’ contributions to both the Oregon Army National Guard and his nation are many. By serving at the state and national level, he was able to affect National Guard policy decisions five to 10 years out. As the acting director of the NGB in the 90’s he helped to lay the groundwork for several key projects that revolutionized and modernized the Guard for the 21st century.
One development was the Lavern E. The Weber Professional Education Center (PEC), on Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, is the national training center for the Army National Guard. It has a 75 acre campus consisting of 25 buildings and a total staff of approximately 420 military, civilian contractor personnel. PEC annually provides instruction to over 20,000 members of the military force.
Another project was the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, GA which trains over 6,500 Soldiers in six courses each year (Little 2009). The program started in the late 1990’s with the Army National Guard Pre-Ranger Program and by 2003 became the Warrior Training Center. The program has grown each year, especially after the Guard become more involved in the GWOT. The program’s six courses, which range from five to 17 days in duration, are Pre-Ranger (958 students in 2009), Combatives levels 1 and 2 (238), Air Assault (4,913), Pathfinder (209), Pre-Bradley Master Gunner (71) and Bradley Crew Evaluator (90) (Little 2009).
Under the leadership of MG Rees the program has been steadily been staffed with Soldiers and Officers from the Oregon Army National Guard as instructors and students. This has helped to fill gaps in Warfighter development by providing NCOs and officers with skill sets outside the Army’s traditional training venues for National Guard Soldiers.
During the 1990’s era, by participating in key missions the Oregon National Guard gained national recognition for achieving excellence in training and its ability to support civil authorities as needed.
In June 1998, the 41st Separate Infantry Brigade spent two weeks at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In 1999 alone, Oregon Soldiers deployed to over six foreign countries and 15 states.
State Partnership Program
MG Rees was the director of the NGB in 1991, when the fall of the Soviet Union and its old empire fell apart almost overnight. U.S. government officials looked for ways to reach out to the new democratic nations in the former Soviet Bloc without seeming like they were threatening Russia.
Latvia’s government made a request to develop a military based on the American National Guard. General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army General John Shalikashvili, the Commander of the NATO European Command embraced the concept of building a partnership with the small country and reached out to the NGB for help. Under MG Rees’ direction the National Guard played the lead role in the military liaison teams. By 2001 the National Guard had almost a decade of liaisoning with foreign countries and their militaries.
All over the nation Guard Soldiers helped construct roads, trails and buildings in many of the State’s National Forests and Parks and provided assistance during times of natural disaster and state emergency. These state missions and international partnership missions changed and modernized the Guard. When the nation went to war, the National Guard was ready.
Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)
Traditionally, the Guard’s role has been both as a state-level security force and a ready reserve component of the U.S. combat power for overseas commitments (Christ 2009). With the Global War on Terrorism that role changed.
During the 9/11 terrorist attacks, MG Rees was serving again as TAG of Oregon. He was also second in command of the National Guard Bureau, which was responsible for putting 700 Guard members in 440 airports within seven days after the terrorist attacks (Collins 2005). The NGB helped with supplementing border security at a time before the Department of Homeland Security existed.
During, the GWOT Oregon Soldiers have deployed all over the world and responded to natural disasters. In September, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, most of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) deployed as part of Task Force Oregon in relief and security efforts near the French Quarter in New Orleans.
By the end of the month, when Hurricane Rita wreaked havoc again on the Gulf Coast, the 41st took the lead of the newly designated Joint Task Force Rita to help in all disaster-related needs in Texas and Louisiana.
“This led to initial call-ups in the war on terror,” MG Rees says. “It was evident that the Oregon Guard could respond.” As another example, he points to the rapid response after Hurricane Katrina, “We were able, from a cold start here, to get 2,000 people ready to go in 72 hours” (Collins 2005).
In the spring of 2006, 41st IBCT went to Afghanistan, marking the first major deployment of the brigade to a combat zone since World War II. In 2009, the 41st IBCT deployed to Iraq.
By 2009 almost half of the Oregon Army National Guard 6,500 Soldiers would serve in the Global War on Terrorism, including Rees’ own son Christian as the commander of the 2nd battalion, 641st Aviation Regiment (Quesada 2009).
Major General Rees’ service as a transformational leader has truly been extraordinary. His most important legacy will be that during the GWOT demonstrated to the Regular Army that the National Guard was prepared when America needed its “ready reserve.”
The National Guard being involved in international projects and large army exercises increased federal funding for training and equipment allowed states to spend a greater part of its military budget on facilities and training areas. All this accomplished in a time of fiscal constraint.
The period of the 1990’s saw an extraordinary transformation in the National Guard. Improvements in facilities, training and evaluation produced a well-trained, well-equipped military force, which could be could be confidently called on to support the Regular Army in any future crisis.
At the state level MG Rees commanded the Oregon Army National Guard as it fought in two of America’s longest wars. At the national level MG Rees’ long-term strategy for modernizing the Guard made certain that the National Guard was ready when America called after 9/11. MG Rees’ vision inspired trust, loyalty and international recognition for the National Guard by creating partnerships with key allies throughout the world.
At both the state and national level MG Rees carried a strategy he had planned while he was at the NGB. He had fine-tuned it as Oregon’s military commander. MG Rees created a plan that both colonels and privates could grasp. It is a rare thing for a general to relay the character of the blueprint of the strategy for waging a military campaign for modernization on such clear terms and during times of crisis and budget constraints. It was a case of applied, intellectual leadership, of getting big ideas on paper and communicated throughout a large organization.
When Major General Rees retires tomorrow he will have served his nation for 47 years. His service spans three of our nation’s longest wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq), a multitude of peacekeeping operations around the world during the most historical modernization of the National Guard in its 400 year history. He has been at the center of it all for nearly half of a century. His selfless leadership and extraordinary devotion to duty shows MG Rees has led by example living up to the ethos and values of the institution to which he graduated from: Duty, Honor and Country. His legacy will be felt for generations to come.
Atkinson, Rick. The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966 . New York : Henry Holt and Company, 1989.
Christ, James F. The Bone Yard: Book One of the ETT Series. Ogden, UT: Mountainland Publishing , 2009.
Collins, Cliff. “Maj Gen Raymond (Fred) Rees: General Rees.” Profiles in the Law- Oregon State Bar Bulletin, 2005.
Little, Vincent. “Warrior Training Center’s ranks growing.” The Bayonet , 2009.
Press, Associated. “Oregon general gets Guard post .” Eugene Register-Guard, 1991.
Quesada, K. “Nearly Half of the Oregon Guard off to war in 2009.” The Oregonian, 2009.