NEWS | April 2, 2017

State, nation, world honor Colorado Adjutant General for half a century of military service

By Lt. Col. Elena O’Bryan Colorado National Guard

U.S. and Allied military members and civilians crowded into a packed Colorado Air National Guard hangar at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, April 2, to watch the retirement of the 42nd Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed the date as “General Mike Edwards Day.”

“For the past 43 years, our entire nation has benefited from the distinguished and noble service of General Edwards,” Hickenlooper said. “Coloradans will remember him as one of the most accomplished adjutants general in our state’s history. Veterans across our state will long benefit from his tireless efforts to serve those who have served. General Edwards represents the best of our nation’s military, and we are forever grateful for his service to Colorado and our country.”

The Chief, National Guard Bureau, Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel presented Edwards the Distinguished Service Medal.

“We have a special force,” Lengyel said.  “No one represented and advocated for that force more than Mike Edwards.”

“Mike Edwards was a leader among the 54 adjutants general,” he said.  “No one’s better at building partnerships.  That’s the way you get things done.”

Senior military leaders from Israel, Jordan, and Slovenia were among about 100 distinguished visitors who attended the retirement ceremony. 

Over a period of 10 years, Edwards significantly grew the Colorado National Guard’s enduring relationships with the Republic of Slovenia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under the National Guard State Partnership Program.  The SPP military-to-military exchanges have supported Combatant Command security cooperation objectives, promoted regional stability, and increased partner capacity and interoperability.

Maj. Gen. Yousef Al-Hnaity, Commander, Royal Jordanian Air Force, presented to Edwards on behalf of His Majesty King Abdullah II Jordan’s Legion of Military Merit First Class.

“Our 13 years of partnership with Colorado National Guard is a sign of the unique relationship between our great nations,” Hnaity said.  “The foundation you built for our State Partnership Program will ensure that the cooperation between Jordan Armed Forces and the Colorado National Guard will not only last for generations to come but also provide a measure of security for our children and our grandchildren.”

Jordan and Colorado have been SPP partners since 2004.  The partnership is the sole SPP within the Levant region of U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.  The Colorado National Guard conducts more security cooperation agreements in Jordan than any other component.

Colorado is among three states which lead the National Guard’s partnership in homeland defense cooperation with Israel’s Home Front Command.  Bilateral engagement exchanges between the National Guard and Israel began in 2005.

“We are committed to conducting and expanding this relationship that allows us to get better,” Israeli Home Front Command Head of Public Preparedness Col. Ariel Blitz said. “Together, we are better; we are stronger.”

Edwards grew up on a farm in Lyman, Neb.  He said, from a young age, he envisioned a life of military service through a little book from the local American Legion Post.  He read it during rainy days.  It listed the names of Nebraska veterans back to World War II.  His uncle’s photograph was in the book.

“I recognized other faces.  They were the leaders in the community.  School board members.  Bank Presidents.”

“We were raised by those who had served so it kind of became second nature,” Edwards said.  “It is truly relationships which make us who we are and what we are about.” 

Retreat sounded during Edwards’ remarks.  He came to attention and turned to face the flag during the playing of the National Anthem. 

“That beautiful song always sends shivers up and down my neck,” he said.

Edwards graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, which commissioned him as a second lieutenant June 6, 1973.    

Retired General Norton A. Schwartz, the 19th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, said, “Mike Edwards is the last man standing from the class of 1973 at the Air Force Academy.”

The Cadet Squadron 13 Bull Dogs attended the event.

So did the Adjutant General of Wyoming U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Reiner and the Adjutant General of Oklahoma U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robbie L. Asher.

“The cool thing is that all three of us were born in Nebraska,” Edwards said.

Edwards recognized the contributions of his wife, Laury, and called her “Colorado’s First Lady of the Guard.”

Both of their children serve in the Colorado National Guard. 

“What a great opportunity to be a TAG.  The Colorado Guard will never be far from my heart.”

Edwards ended his speech by thanking military members and veterans for their service.

“Thank you.  You have touched us these many years,” he said.

Edwards has 43 years of military service, including 36 years in the Colorado Air National Guard.   A command pilot with more than 4,600 military flight hours, including 135 combat hours, Edwards flew A-7, AT-38, C-21, F-4, F-16, T-37 and T-38 military aircraft.  He is also a civilian pilot.

Former Governor Bill Ritter appointed Edwards adjutant general in 2007.

A member of the governor’s cabinet, Edwards simultaneously served as Executive Director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which provides guidance and support to its three divisions: Veterans Affairs; National Guard; Civil Air Patrol.

Edwards protected the Veterans Trust Fund from dissolution during the economic downturn, while ensuring repayment.  He also administered the Veterans Assistance Grant program, adding a second critical grant stream to help veterans. Under Edwards, reimbursements for county Veterans Service Officers rose from slightly over $1 per hour to above minimum wage, creating more access for veterans needing assistance in filing claims for federal benefits.

The adjutant general has administrative control of more than 5,300 Colorado Army and Air National Guard members conducting both state and federal missions. The National Guard is the first military responder during domestic emergencies and, as the U.S. Army’s and U.S. Air Force’s combat reserve, deploys overseas in support of the war fight.

During his tenure as Adjutant General, more than 6,000 CONG Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen mobilized in support of overseas contingency operations. He also oversaw the CONG’s record-setting response to some of the worst natural disasters impacting Colorado, including the High Park Fire and the Waldo Canyon Fire during 2012, followed by the Black Forest Fire and historic flooding along the Colorado Front Range in 2013.

Additionally, Edwards attracted a new National Guard cyber protection team to Colorado, bolstering the state’s military cyber defenses.

He appointed the CONG’s first female general officer, Colorado Army National Guard’s Land Component Commander U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Laura L. Clellan, in 2014.

Under Edwards’ leadership, the Civil Air Patrol's Colorado Wing, with its 1,600 volunteers, took on a bigger role in state response, flying wildfire watch and conducting flood damage surveys. Colorado’s CAP was first to fly support of the U.S. Army’s on-base unmanned aerial systems operations.

Former CONG Assistant Adjutant General – Air retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Andy Love presided at Edwards’ military retirement.

“There is absolutely nothing that I could say that would speak more than our presence,” Love said to the crowd.  “Mike has made a mark and a very long shadow.”

Edwards said that he plans to retire in Colorado.

Hickenlooper appointed U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael A. Loh as Colorado’s newest Adjutant General and Executive Director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs with an effective date of April 10.  Loh graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1984.  A command pilot with over 3,200 flight hours including 2,900 hours and 128 combat flight hours in the F-16 fighter jet, Loh has served in the Colorado Air National Guard since 1991.  A formal change of command ceremony will occur May 5 at 3 p.m. at the Colorado Army National Guard Army Aviation Support Facility at Buckley Air Force Base.