A Fallon native who earned an engineering degree from the U.S. Military Academy in the 1980s has been named Nevada’s next Commander Army Guard and will assume his new position in a change of command on Sept. 7 in Reno.
Col. Michael Hanifan succeeds Brig. Gen. Frank Gonzales, who has spent almost 37 years in the Nevada Army National Guard. Hanifan said he recently learned of U.S. Senate approval for promotion to brigadier general, but he said no date has been set.
“I never expected to become commander of the Army Guard,” said Hanifan. “General Gonzales wanted me to be his successor. I am so humbled because there are so many good officers out there.”
As Commander Army Guard, Hanifan will be responsible for the training and readiness of 3,200 Nevada soldiers. During the past three years, Hanifan has been the deputy director of the Nevada Army National Guard. Hanifan served the majority of his positions in Carson City at the Office of the Adjutant General.
Gonzales, who became Commander Army Guard seven years ago, said he is looking forward to Hanifan’s leadership.
“He will be transitioning the Nevada Army National Guard out of war to training readiness,” Gonzales added.
Hanifan served 10 years active duty before returning to Nevada in 1986 where he accepted a position at GE Bently Nevada in Minden as a marketing specialist. The Commander Army Guard is an M-Day position, meaning Hanifan will serve at least one drill weekend a month.
“This position will be very busy,” Hanifan said. “This part-time role will definitely be a challenge, but my family here (in Douglas County) and in Fallon are very supportive.”
Hanifan becomes the second Fallon graduate to serve in this position. Retired Brig. Gen. Randall Sayre was Commander Army Guard from 2003-2006.
Brig. Gen. Williams Burks, the Adjutant General, said Hanifan was in the right place at the right time for this appointment.
“His business background at Bently and other qualities, such as attending the U.S. Military Academy, will bring a different leadership style for a different era,” Burks added. “He’s been under Frank’s (Gen. Gonzales’ tutelage) for the last two years and with my concurrence (for the appointment).”
Hanifan graduated from Churchill County High School in 1982 and received a congressional appointment to West Point. He graduated in 1986 with a degree in Engineering Physics and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
One he completed the Military Intelligence Officers Basic Course, Hanifan was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord), Wash., where he held multiple positions. According to Hanifan, he first became acquainted with the National Guard when his unit deployed to the Republic of Korea in 1989 to support the Washington Army National Guard’s 81st Infantry Brigade during Team Spirit, a joint military training exercise.
Hanifan also met and married his wife, Denise, in 1991, while stationed at Fort Lewis. They have two sons, Timothy, 17, and Matthew, 13.
Once he returned to Nevada, Hanifan spent two years in the Individual Ready Reserved before holding key leadership roles including director of Training and Mobilization; deputy commander, 17th Sustainment Brigade; battalion commander for the 421st Regional Training Institute; commander, headquarters, State Area Command. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Hanifan was activated on four separate occasion for more than four combined years since to serve in various positions including officer in charge, Nevada National Guard Airport Security; exercise director/coordinator for Vigilant Guard 2008, the largest domestic operations training exercise to respond to a natural disaster in the history of the Nevada National Guard; exercise director for the National Level Exercise 2010; deputy State Operations Officer (J3); and director of Plans and Training.
Hanifan’s résumé is what caught Gonzales’ eye.
“It is solid,” Gonzales said. “That guy has done everything. Col. Hanifan has been one of those go-to guys, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Hanifan’s mother, Starlene, lives in Fallon along with one of his sisters, Kieran Kalt, who spent eight years in the Nevada Army National Guard. Kalt said her brother met his goal to become a general.
“Our dad would have been proud,” said Kieran Kalt. “I know our dad would be thrilled.”
John Hanifan, who died in January 2012, also served in the Nevada Army National Guard and was commander of the Fallon unit in the 1950s.
Kalt said reading played a major role in her brother’s success.
“We remember him as an avid reader when he was young,” said Kalt, who teaches elementary school. “As a teacher, I tell my students the more you read the further ahead you get.”
Hanifan has attended multiple military schools, including the U.S. Army War College (Distance Learning), where he earned a Masters in Strategic Studies; the Support Operations Course; Command and General Staff College; Military Intelligence Advanced and Basic Officers Courses with an emphasis on Electronic Warfare; Transportation Officers Transition Course; Intelligence in Combating Terrorism; the U.S. Army Jump School.
He has received numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters; Army Commendation Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters; Army Achievement Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters; and the Humanitarian Service Medal.