PORTLAND, Ore.—If the Governor of Oregon thought he was in good company as the commander in chief of the Oregon National Guard, the ceremony honoring him in Portland on May 14 puts him in even higher esteem.
The Oregon National Guard, led by Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, The Adjutant General, bestowed their highest honor on Ted Kulongoski, at an evening black-tie ceremony at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore.
At the Oregon Convention Center ceremony, Kulongoski led a procession of hundreds of Oregon’s citizen-Soldiers and citizen-Airmen into the Oregon Ballroom, members of the Oregon National Guard’s 234 Army Band played the University of Missouri “fight song” and the Marine Hymn. Kulongoski paused along the way to shake hands with the throngs of well-wishers and ceremony attendees.
The Order of the Minuteman Award was developed in 1985 to recognize leaders within the Oregon National Guard who have distinguished themselves with exemplary standards and leadership skills. Kulongoski is the first recipient of the award who was himself not a member of the Oregon National Guard.
During his time in office, Kulongoski has made it a point to attend every mobilization and demobilization ceremony. He has often been seen at locations across the state, shaking hands with returning Soldier and Airmen, or passing out his Governor’s coin.
“Governor Kulongoksi, I could not be more delighted that our Non-Commissioned Officers have chosen to bestow this recognition on you,” Rees said.
. The Adjutant General also praised Kulongoski for his service as the longest war-time Governor in the history of the state.
“Your service as a war-time governor has exceeded by far any other occupant of this office in time alone,” Rees said. “But regardless of duration, it would be hard to match the depth of your commitment to our soldiers and airmen, in leadership and in legislation.”
During his tenure as Governor, Kulongoski signed legislation helping Oregon veterans access medical and educational benefits. He has also supported funding for the Oregon National Guard Reintegration Team, a nationally recognized group of soldiers both currently serving and retired from the Oregon National Guard who are dedicated to helping soldiers and their families with any needs they may have during and after a deployment.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said Kulongoski passed more legislation to assist soldiers and veterans than any governor has since WWII, even in the face of financial opposition.
“When budgets were tight, somehow he found a way to carve out the money to address the National Guard’s most pressing needs,” Wyden said.
Rees reiterated Wyden’s sentiment by calling attention to bills which supported veterans’ program funding and the modernization of Oregon National Guard Armories—two examples of many pieces of legislation which the Governor supported.
A former Marine, Kulongoski came from humble beginnings in rural Missouri. According to his official biography, he was raised in a Catholic boys home. After high school, he joined the Marines, and worked as a bricklayer and truck driver before using the GI Bill to attend, and graduate from, the University of Missouri and law school. Kulongoski is the only Oregon governor to have served in all three branches of the state’s government.
Rees said Kulongoski’s experience as a Marine enables his job as The Adjutant General because he understands the experiences and challenges faced by men and women in uniform.
“Governor Ted Kulongoski has provided strong, understanding leadership,” Rees said. “His ability to relate to soldiers and their families during both good times and bad rings with sincerity because he has worn this suit of armor of our nation’s military.”
Rees conjured up the Marine motto of “Semper Fidelis”, which means Always Ready.
“Duty, Honor, Country,” Rees said. “I believe these words are engrained in Governor Kulongoski’s inner heart.”
The two highest-ranking enlisted persons on the Oregon National Guard—State Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Mark Russell, made the presentation of the award. Conley recognized Kulongoski for his attending the funerals of Oregon National Guard members killed in battle since Sept. 11, 2001. “There are not enough awards in the world to thank you for what you do for our fallen warriors,” Conley told the Governor during his speech. “Sir, thank you.” “This is difficult for me because the word duty is just a part of our lives,” Kulongoski said, as he addressed the crowd. “And when we do our duty, we never expect to be recognized.”
Kulongoski set aside his prepared notes, and spoke directly to the crowd. He said as he nears the end of his second term in office and looks back over his life, nothing brings him more pride and satisfaction than having served as the commander in chief of the Oregon National Guard.
“Why this is so special is because the National Guard is a family,” he continued. “Those who never serve may never know the binds which make us brothers and sisters. This is extremely personal to me because I am you, and you are me.”
Kulongoski said nothing is more important than duty, honor and country. “It is a value that you have, and that I have,” he said. “The award you have given me tonight is a reflection of who you are. I want everyone of you to know this night will forever be in my memory.”
Kulongoski first took office as governor in 2003. Oregon faced the largest budget deficit since the Great Depression. Kulongoski responded by changing Oregon’s budget with investments in economic development, and workforce training and transportation infrastructure. During his first term, Kulongoski helped create over 150,000 jobs, and attracted over a dozen new employers to the state.
He was re-elected in 2006, where, he spent most of his second term leading record investments in primary and post-secondary education, building the largest financial aid system in the state’s history, and created the state’s first Rainy Day Fund—a system which would prove invaluable during the global economic recession which started in 2008. The presentation of the award to the Governor kicked off the Oregon National Guard’s Senior Enlisted Conference at the convention center, held there May 15-16. The conference was a chance for senior Non-Commissioned Officers throughout the Oregon Army and Air National Guard to network, collaborate, and share ideas, as well as develop a strategic plan for the enlisted force structure. .