Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Herbert stands in front of the Yerington City Hall, which is named after the longtime Nevada guardsman.(Photo: Steve Ranson / LVN)
YERINGTON — On a spring-like Wednesday morning in Yerington, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Herbert mingled with friends and fellow guardsmen he hadn’t seen in years.
Current and retired guardsmen, along with a number of community members and government officials from Yerington, gathered at the former Nevada Army National Guard armory south of the airport to honor Herbert, whose name has now become a permanent fixture on the remodeled building. The facility is now known as the Maj. Gen. Robert T. Herbert Administrative Building.
When Herbert first learned his name would be affixed to the facility, he was speechless.
“I never thought I accomplished enough to justify having my name on a building, but there were people who thought otherwise,” he said.
For those socially distanced in the former armory’s drill hall, guests listened to comments from Nevada’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, and Yerington Mayor John Garry, who was first elected in 2019. They also saw a portrait of Herbert placed on an easel. Garry said the acquisition of the armory was a dream come true. Over the years the Nevada Army National Guard has re-examined its usage of a number armories in rural Nevada, which are miles away from the major population bases for drilling soldiers. The guard approached the city of Yerington about the availability of the armory, and negotiations began in early 2020.
“As a representative of the community, I am grateful to receive this facility,” Garry said, explaining the former city hall had seen better days. “When this (the armory) became open, it was a Godsend.”
Garry — who also praised his predecessors, George Dini and Jim Sanford — said an abundance of gratitude has come from the city, but he was a little surprised to learn that Herbert would be the honored guardsman. The first-term mayor said he expected the honoree would have been selected posthumously.
Garry explained he read Herbert’s biography and accomplishments that spanned over 45 years and was impressed. He said people of this caliber are in leadership positions in the military and government.
“We are well served,” Garry added.
Herbert, now in his early 60s, said afterward the National Guard and communities have a close relationship.
“Being a guardsman is awesome because you are so embedded with the community,” he pointed out. “You understand the community, and you have the opportunity to take care of the community.”
For 20 years, Herbert served on former U.S. Sen. Harry’s Reid’s staff for 20 years. At the time, Reid was Nevada’s senior senator, and the Democratic lawmaker slowly rose to become the majority leader until he didn’t seek re-election in 2016. By working with Reid, Herbert helped procure more than $200,000 in equipment and improvements in infrastructure, a fact noted several times during Wednesday’s presentation.
“Every National Guard installation in the state was either built, replaced or refurbished including the Yerington armory during the 20-year period while General Herbert worked in Reid’s office,” Berry said.
Berry, who became the state’s adjutant general 18 months ago, said the armory built in 1959 has been a familiar landmark for about six decades in the Mason Valley, and now it begins a new chapter to serve the citizens of Yerington. The first troops to use the armory belonged to an air defense unit and most recently, A Troop, 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry drilled at Yerington before deploying to Afghanistan in 2009.
Herbert, a military brat who enlisted in the Army in 1975 as an 18-year-old, climbed through the ranks to become the highest-ranking general in the Nevada Army National Guard since the early 1980s when Maj. Gen. William Engel was adjutant general. At first, Herbert wanted to join the U.S. Air Force, but he soon learned from a recruiter that he needed four years of college to fly. Instead, he enlisted in the Army and soon found himself flying over both East and West Germany four years later.
Herbert’s next assignment took him to Fort Ord, Calif., home of the 7th Aviation Battalion, where he met another pilot, Randy Sayre, a 1971 graduate of Churchill County High School in Fallon. During their time at Fort Ord, Herbert told Sayre he was thinking of leaving the Army and applying to the airlines to become a pilot.
“Randy had told me about the test pilot job that was available in Nevada,” Herbert recalled. “He was fortunate to get his job with the gaming commission. He told me to apply for that (test pilot) job. That’s how I got to Nevada.”
Herbert spent most of the 1980s as a warrant office before receiving a commission as a second lieutenant in 1989. He climbed through the ranks and became a brigadier general in 2013 and a major general four years later. Although he served as a civilian in Reid’s office, Berry said Herbert drilled in Nevada as a traditional guardsman where he held key positions in aviation until he became director of Joint Staff, Nevada Joint Forces Headquarters in Carson City and then Special Assistant to the Chief, National Guard Bureau for National Security Policy, Carson City. The son of an Army master sergeant, Herbert also earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and completed National War College. He is the recipient of many decorations and achievements including the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award and the Legion of Merit.
In the early 1990s, Berry said the previous adjutant general asked Herbert to improve the state’s aviation assets.
“Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Tony Clark tasked Herbert to help convince lawmakers to bring Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters to the state, an effort to replace the Nevada Guard’s aging Huey and Skycrane airframes,” Berry said.
According to Berry, it’s fitting the Yerington armory is named after Herbert and for his accomplishments to the communities and state. Berry said the Nevada Army National Guard supports the transition of armories into renovated facilities for future state and community use.
“That is why we’re here today,” he said. “It makes sense for taxpayer money. It makes sense for our rural communities, and it makes sense for the State of Nevada.”
The transition of the former Nevada guard armory to a civilian agencies isn’t the first or last. Mineral County began using the vacated Hawthorne Army in the 1990s, and the Nevada Army National Guard pulled out of the Ely Armory in late 2018. Col. Mike Peyerl, the chief of staff, said the Winnemucca armory will be used by the Humboldt Health District.
“It’s becoming a challenge,” Peyerl said about staffing the rural armories such as Yerington.
Peyerl said over the years, more traditional guardsmen live in the larger cities, and it makes it more difficult for soldiers to commute the long distances. He also said more educational opportunities for military personnel at the university level are in Reno and Las Vegas. With Yerington, Peyerl said the mission began to change due to the 221st Cavalry’s readiness requirements and the addition of sophisticated training tools, such as simulators, which became a challenge for soldiers to use and become more proficient.
After Peyerl became chief of staff in January 2020, he said the Nevada Army National Guard and the city of Yerington opened discussions on the armory. Within nine months, an agreement was signed with Yerington paying $213,000 for the building, and after months of remodeling, the ribbon cutting occurred this week.
With civilian governments assuming ownership of the state’s armories, Peyerl, who graduated from Churchill County High School, said the Fallon armory will remain open. Currently, the 609th Engineer Company drills in Fallon, and Peyerl said the armory is near Naval Air Station Fallon, which will officially open a new Navy Marine Corps Reserve Center in June, and the Hawthorne Army Depot’s firing range for training. The Nevada Army National Guard, said Peyerl, is improving the qualification range for most weapons.
“It’s still viable for us,” Peyerl said of the Fallon armory, which was built about the same time as Yerington’s.