STEAD — Against the backdrop of Chinook helicopters and a huge formation consisting of soldiers representing every Army Guard unit in Nevada, one of the military’s oldest traditions ushered in on Saturday morning a new Commander of Army Guard for the Silver State.
Brig. Gen. Michael Hanifan, a Fallon native who now resides in Indian Hills south of Carson City, became the state’s highest ranking Army guardsman from Maj. Gen. Francis “Frank” P. Gonzales after the Nevada Army National Guard conducted a change of command ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility. Gonzales was then promoted to his new rank and also received the Distinguished Service Medal near the end of the ceremony.
The passing of the guidon from Gonzales to Hanifan that signaled a change of leadership also ended a 36-year military career for the Las Vegas resident and executive for NV Energy. In addition to the change of command between Hanifan and Gonzales, State Command Sgt. Major Daryl Keithley, who is retiring form the Guard with Gonzales, relinquished his responsibilities to incoming Command Sgt. Major Jared Kopacki.
“Hooah,” bellowed Gonzales when he stepped up to the podium to deliver his final remarks to the troops.
“This is the DNA of Nevada,” Gonzales said. “I will never leave the Guard. My son is in the Air Guard, and my daughter is in the Army Guard.”
Gonzales’ daughter is currently deployed to Afghanistan with a medical helicopter company based at the AASF.
“At the end of the day, we are all Nevadans serving Nevadans, and as soldiers we also support the United States of America.”
Gonzales, who has known Hanifan for 15 years, said the Army Guard will be left in good hands. He said Hanifan is a proven leader with a good track record.
Known as a “hands-on officer” by the men and women he served, Gonzales rose up through the ranks of the Nevada Army National Guard, served two tours in Iraq and became Commander Army Guard in 2006. Coincidentally, Gonzales, who was deputy commander of the Nevada Guard, replaced another Fallon graduate, Brig. Gen. Randal Sayre.
During the past seven years under Gonzales’ leadership, Nevada ranked near or at the top in the United States on many metrics the National Guard Bureau uses to decide which states receive new force structure.
Gonzales first enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard and attended the state’s Officer Candidate School. He commanded the 150th Maintenance Company in Carson City, the 121st Chemical Battalion in Elko and the Battle Born Brigade in Las Vegas.
Brig. Gen. William Burks, the adjutant general, said Saturday was a bittersweet day for him.
“You never want to lose two soldiers, especially two outstanding soldiers,” he said of Gonzales and Keithley,
Burks said over the years, Gonzales has been an “outstanding” soldier who has mentored soldiers serving the Nevada Army National Guard. The adjutant general called Gonzales the consummate warrior and Keithley a “soldier’s soldier” who showed care and concern for Nevada’s not only for soldiers but also for airmen.
In welcoming and Kopacki to their new positions, Burks was upbeat.
“We lose nothing when we bring in these two but we gain a new perspective,” he added.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, the commander in chief of the Nevada National Guard, said farewells and welcomes were common in the military, and Saturday was no different.
“Brig. Gen. Frank Gonzales, I would like to thank you for your extraordinary leadership as assistant adjutant general for the last seven years,” Sandoval said. “You have made remarkable contributions to our soldiers, state and nation over 33 years.”
The governor called Gonzales a dedicated leader who has contributed greatly to Nevada soldiers and said Keithley rose from entry positions in both his civilian and military careers to the top of each organization.
Hanifan, an engineer with GE Bently Nevada, said Nevada has the best units in the U.S. Army, but he said tough times await the Guard because of organizational changes and budget constraints. Hanifan also said the Nevada Guard will continue to support the nation and state during all domestic emergencies and overseas deployments.
“We will continue to serve the State of Nevada with our maximum effort,” Hanifan vowed.
Like Gonzales, Hanifan thanked his family and friends for their support, but he also acknowledged his father, the late John Hanifan, who encouraged him to apply to the U.S. Military Academy. John Hanifan also served in the Nevada Army National Guard and was a former commander in Fallon in the 1950s.
Hanifan attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1986 with a degree in Engineering Physics. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and attended the Military Intelligence Officers Basic Course. The Fallon native spent 10 years in the active army before returning to Nevada, where he spent two years in the Individual Ready Reserved. He joined the Army National Guard in 1998, and since that time Hanifan has been director of Training and Mobilization; deputy commander, 17th Sustainment Brigade; battalion commander for the 421st Regional Training Institute; and commander, headquarters, State Area Command. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Hanifan was activated on four separate occasions to serve in various positions.