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Minnesota National Guard leader Shellito to leave top post

ST. PAUL -- Larry Shellito returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s to a country that did not welcome soldiers. That experience led to his promotion of what on Wednesday -- the day he announced he will retire from the military -- he called "the n...

Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito
Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito and his wife, Evonne, share a smile Wednesday as he announces his retirement as head of the Minnesota National Guard. (Don Davis / Forum Communications State Capital Bureau)

ST. PAUL -- Larry Shellito returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s to a country that did not welcome soldiers.

That experience led to his promotion of what on Wednesday -- the day he announced he will retire from the military -- he called "the nation-leading Yellow Ribbon program."

Oct. 31, Shellito will leave after seven years as head of the Minnesota National Guard, and Wednesday he made it clear that the Yellow Ribbon program to ease soldiers' and airmen's return to the United States was a highlight of his 37-year National Guard career.

"Things that were imprinted on my mind (after Vietnam) are still there," Shellito said.

The Yellow Ribbon program is the foundation for a national program for the Guard and Reserve members returning from overseas duty.


Shellito looked back on his military career Wednesday as he announced he would leave the Minnesota adjutant general post.

Shellito reaches retirement age, 65, in August, and he has not decided what he will do next but said there have been offers.

Before heading the Guard, he was president of Alexandria (Minn.) Technical College.

Shellito, with homes in Woodbury and Alexandria, graduated from Moorhead High School and what now is Minnesota State University Moorhead.

He grew up in Comstock, Minn., and Moorhead.

He assumed his adjutant general duties Nov. 3, 2003.

Since he took the job, about 18,000 Guard members have been sent overseas, the Minnesota National Guard's largest post-World War II deployment.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said a committee headed by retired Gen. H. Steven Blum, who led the nation's National Guard for five years, will begin a search for a new adjutant general. The panel includes retired Gen. John Vessey Jr., a central Minnesota resident.


Guard members with a rank of major or higher may apply to the governor's office. Shellito said hundreds of Minnesotans qualify, dozens of whom are women.

Pawlenty said he will look for a seasoned, experienced Guard member who has served overseas, likely in combat, for the next adjutant general, who he will appoint to a seven-year term in August.

The governor called Shellito "one of the greatest public servants we have ever seen."

Pawlenty pointed out that while Shellito was in charge, the Minnesota Guard served in Iraq longer than any other military unit. The state Guard also was given command over Guard, Reserve and active military units, unusual for a Guard unit.

Shellito said he is proud of his airmen and soldiers. The Duluth air unit, he said, is a good example of how Minnesota Guard members have become known nationally.

"If you would fly up to Duluth, you would hear the airframes are being 'Duluthized,' " he said, a term for being repaired right.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Minnesotans should be proud of Shellito and the operation he commands.

"Gen. Shellito has led the Minnesota National Guard through a time of unprecedented challenges, with Minnesota Guard members deployed throughout the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said. "With his leadership, he has shown the nation that we have one of the premier National Guard organizations in the country."


Shellito said he decided to retire now because retirement age would have limited how much longer he could serve. Besides, he joked, "I'm tired."

The general said he will take time off to decide what to do next.

Shellito's military experience extends back to when he enlisted in the Army in 1968. He was commissioned a second lieutenant the next year and in 1970 went to Vietnam as a senior adviser.

He said his goal when he became a Minnesota Army National Guard member in 1973 was to command the Moorhead Guard unit. That was one of his early commands.

Shellito became a brigadier general in 1997.

The general and his wife, Evonne, have been married 32 years. They have two grown daughters and two grandsons.

He received his bachelor's degree at the school then known as Moorhead State University in 1972 and, seven years later, earned his master's degree there in business education. After attending military colleges, he earned his education doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1998.

Davis writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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