Former Nevada Army Guard’s commander ends military career

Fallon native Michael Hanifan steps down after 36 years

Brig. Gen. Troy Armstrong, left, land component commander, offers words of praise and congratulates Brig. Gen Michael Hanifan at his retirement dinner.

Brig. Gen. Troy Armstrong, left, land component commander, offers words of praise and congratulates Brig. Gen Michael Hanifan at his retirement dinner.

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 After nearly four decades in the active-duty U.S. Army and Nevada Army Guard, Fallon native Brig. Gen. Michael Hanifan retired from military service at the end of February.
Former and current colleagues marked the end of his career with a retirement dinner for the 57-year-old Hanifan, who spent the first 10 years of his career as an active-duty military intelligence officer. He finished his time in uniform as both the assistant adjutant general for the Nevada Army Guard and as the deputy commanding general (Reserve Component) for the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Coincidently, another Fallon native, Brig. Gen. Michael Peyerl, replaced Hanifan is his position as assistant adjutant general.
After graduating from Churchill County High School in 1982, Hanifan received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science in engineering and physics.
Hanifan, who lives in Indian Hills south of Carson City, recognized his military colleagues during his remarks at the dinner, particularly those in the Nevada Guard. He also reflected on his first assignments as a newly-commissioned second lieutenant and his active-duty assignments at Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord), Washington, Fort Polk, Louisiana and Fort Hood, Texas.
Hanifan worked extensively with National Guard units during various military exercises before he transferred to the Nevada Guard in 1998.

“I wondered if I should stay for another 10 years and make it a career?” Hanifan said.
After consulting with his wife, Denise, and pondering his active-duty Army options, he decided to transition in 1996, first to the Individual Readiness Reserve for two years and then to the Nevada Guard. Hanifan said during his next decade of service, it felt as if he was an active-duty officer transplanted in the National Guard.
During that time, Hanifan was hired by Bently Nevada as a civilian engineer. At the retirement dinner, Hanifan thanked his business colleagues and supervisor for their support of his reserve-component service. At times, Hanifan’s military duty took him away from Bently for weeks; one assignment called for Hanifan to go on active duty for two years.
“They have been great in supporting me and supporting my mission,” Hanifan said.
During his military career, Hanifan reflected on a number of many memorable moments, including when the Nevada Guard first established the 17th Sustainment Brigade. Hanifan served as the brigade’s deputy commander from April 2009-March 2010. After Hanifan became commander of the Army Guard, he visited the brigade when it was deployed in Kuwait in January 2016 within the Iraqi combat zone.
“It was great to start a unit from the ground up,” Hanifan said in a separate interview, remembering the process to form and staff the brigade.
Earlier in his career, Hanifan was the commander of 1st Battalion, 421st Regional Training Institute from 2002-2005. Prior to that assignment, he commanded Headquarters, State Area Command in Carson City. In his last month of command, 9/11 occurred when 21 terrorists hijacked four passenger jets on Sept. 11, 2001.
In October 2001, Hanifan was selected to lead the Nevada Guard’s mission to provide airport security at the state’s major airports. After the soldiers received additional training from the Federal Aviation Administration at the formerly known McCarran International Airport, Guardsmen worked around the clock at McCarran and airports in Reno and Elko.

Zandra Duran/Nevada Guard
The Hanifan family includes, from left, Timothy, Denise, Michael and Mathew.

“This was the first time the state did something like that,” Hanifan recalled.
During the airport security mission, he noted the Transportation Security Administration didn’t exist and the screeners were airline employees. In the wake of 9/11, Hanifan said the government and airlines beefed up security and, during the Nevada Guard’s airport activation, the Guardsmen were responsible for responding to security threats.
In 2006, Hanifan worked with the units sent to Arizona and California on two- and three-week rotations to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
He said the most devastating incident during his Nevada Guard career occurred on a late summer morning in the capital city.
Hanifan recounted the lone gunmen who randomly opened fire at customers at the IHOP Restaurant on Sept. 6, 2011, and killed three Nevada Guard soldiers and a civilian before he took his own life. Hanifan said he knew each soldier personally and his immediate concern was to care and comfort the families after their loss while navigating the Nevada Guard through the aftermath of the tragedy.

Nevada Guard
Col. Michel Hanifan stands at attention with Col. Daniel Waters.

“We lost some very good soldiers,” he said.
For the next decade, Hanifan and other soldiers annually organized a memorial run each September to honor Lt. Col. Heath Kelly, Master Sgt. Christian Riege, Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney and South Tahoe resident Florence Donovan-Gunderson. Hanifan would attempt to preface the run with a short speech, but each time he would choke up while remembering the victims.
Hanifan said soldier suicides have become an area of increasing concern in recent years. He said the National Guard has implemented major programs in recent years to curb increasing suicide rates and help soldiers who have seemingly given up on life.
“Any suicide is too many,” Hanifan said.
Hanifan never did deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan during the height of the Global War on Terrorism; instead, he remained in Nevada as the state’s training officer and then as deputy commander of the Nevada Guard. If times had been different, Hanifan said he would have taken the opportunity to deploy overseas.
“It wasn’t in the cards for me,” Hanifan said.

Nevada Guard
Former Gov. Brian Sandoval, left and Brig. Gen Michael Hanifan jog at memorial run to honor the Nevada Army National Guard victims of the 2011 IHOP shooting.

From 2013-2017, he was the commander of the 3,300-soldier Nevada Army Guard.
It wasn’t all domestic duty for Hanifan. When he was a young lieutenant with the 9th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he participated in several lengthy Team Spirit exercises in South Korea.
During his career, he said Denise often worked with military family members. She was quick to support them during deployments or, unfortunately, when casualties occurred.
“These were hard times to take care of units and soldiers,” Hanifan added.
During his remarks, Hanifan recognized the officers who served as his mentors when he made the transition from the active Army to the Nevada Guard.
Hanifan said retired Col. Dennis George, the chief of staff at the time, warmly welcomed him into the Nevada Guard. Three retired colonels — Joseph Rooney, David Sarnowski and Craig Wroblewski — provided important guidance on training and domestic operations. Other retired colonels including Michael Carlson, Aaron Kenneston and Felix Castagnola were also key figures who helped Hanifan transition into the National Guard.
Although Hanifan credited many soldiers for shaping his life, he said his father, John, was his personal role model in leadership in both the Nevada Guard and at his civilian employment with Kennametal in Fallon.
“I learned a lot from listening to him,” Hanifan said.

Nevada Guard
Brig. Gen Michael Hanifan serves food during the pandemic when the Nevada Army National Guard assisted local health officials.

John Hanifan, who died in 2012, was part of The Greatest Generation. Michael Hanifan said his father was prepared to deploy during the Korean War, but the war ended when John was finishing his studies at the officer basic course.
“He was expected to go,” Michael Hanifan said. “He grew up with duty.”
Michael is not the lone Nevada Guard officer in the family. His sister, Kieran, was an officer in the 422nd Signal Battalion.
Even with his military career in the past, Hanifan remains committed to the military and he vows to practice what he preached for the past 36 years. Many changes have occurred in society since he took his military oath in 1982, but not his personal values.
Hanifan said the core value he emphasizes is selfless service, which places the country’s and the Army’s priorities above an individual’s. West Point’s motto “Duty, Honor, County” remains Hanifan’s lifelong mantra.
“My service was never about me,” Hanifan said.


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