Citizen-soldier takes Guard to next level

Lt. Col. Tom Fisher addresses the crowd Aug. 18, 2012, during his acceptance of command of the new 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade with the Utah Army National Guard.

Lt. Col. Tom Fisher is a fairly typical citizen-soldier with the Army National Guard, but he’s spent the past year preparing himself for something bigger, it seems.

He and his family recently returned to Mesa County after a year at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, the Army’s senior military education institution.

The barracks there date to pre-Revolutionary War times, and some of the military’s finest minds have learned strategic thinking, leadership strategies and lessons in military history at the school.

The college counts men such as Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks as graduates.

“It’s kind of unusual that a traditional guardsman … gets to go do this course full-time,” said Fisher, now a graduate in his own right.

Fisher’s been a “traditional” guardsman since graduating college in 1990 and serving 10 years in the Michigan guard and the last 12 in the Utah guard. He was deployed to the Winter Olympics in 2002 and did a tour in Iraq in 2004.

But the strategic leadership training at the college was something very different, he said.

The rigorous course aims to teach officers who are used to straight-forward operational assignments to think about problems in a more complex way. The ultimate goal is training students to provide advice to national commanders at places like CENTCOM or the Pentagon.

Graduates of the college often are advisers to the secretary of the army, secretary of defense, or the president himself.

“It takes a different kind of mindset. When you’re in jobs at the operational level, it’s more black-and-white,” Fisher said. “But when you get to the level where you’re dealing with other countries … there are never clear, simple answers to problems.”

To come up with those complex answers, studying officers begin with strategic thinking — breaking down their biases and opening their minds to new possibilities. The course then guides them into leadership study, backed with rigorous examination of warfare theory, both historic and modern.

More than 360 officers from across all branches of the U.S. military, as well as 69 countries, participated in the program this past year.

“Those relationships that you build, and the things that you learn from people of different experiences, I think was the most valuable part,” Fisher said.

Today, Fisher is applying his new master’s degree in strategic studies in his administrative job with Mesa County. He’s the county’s internal services director, overseeing human resources, information technology, purchasing and fleet operation.

He said one of the great benefits of guard service is “I can apply all of what I’ve learned to my job here in Mesa County.”

“The county has always been very supportive of my voluntary service, so when I came back, I could just walk right back into the organization,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s guard duty is evolving as well. On Aug. 18, he took command of the new 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade with the Utah Army National Guard.

His continuing pride in serving in the guard is evident.

“We’re serving the nation, we’re doing an important job, and we like doing it with the people we’re doing it with. That’s what it’s always come down to for me,” Fisher said.


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