The chief of staff for the current leader of the Minnesota National Guard will take over the state’s top military job in November, Gov. Mark Dayton announced on Wednesday.
Major Gen. Jon Jensen will serve a seven-year term as adjutant general of the 13,000-member Minnesota Guard, replacing the retiring Major Gen. Rick Nash, who will stay on the job through Oct. 31. In a news conference announcing Jensen’s appointment, the governor praised the veteran guardsman as a “superbly well-qualified” leader who will help lead Minnesota troops in local, national and international efforts.
“Gen. Jensen has been a tremendous leader of the Minnesota National Guard through his years of service,” Dayton said.
Jensen, an Iowa native who began his military career in the Iowa National Guard, served tours in Kuwait, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq.
He’s spent 29 years in the National Guard, including two decades as a full-time soldier. In addition to serving as Nash’s chief of staff, Jensen was named the commanding general of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard in January 2017.
Nash, who has led the Minnesota National Guard since November 2010, hit the guard’s mandatory retirement age last year at 66. But Dayton sought and received a waiver from the federal National Guard Bureau that allowed Nash to stay on for another year.
Nash, who served alongside Jensen in Bosnia and Iraq, said that his colleague is up to the challenges facing the Minnesota Guard over the next several years.
He noted that the state has deployed thousands of troops for state emergencies and international military efforts since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“This will be a very seamless transition and you and the state will continue to be able to rely upon your guard,” he told Dayton.
Nash and other Minnesota National Guard officials have been in talks with military leaders in Texas and Louisiana, where the National Guard has been deployed to help with communities dealing with flooding and other impacts from Hurricane Harvey.
He said Minnesota hasn’t yet been asked but is ready to go if needed. Dayton has given advance approval if Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requests help.
“We’re on a list of those states who have been notified and have provided the National Guard Bureau with a list of types of equipment that can respond, and how fast,” Nash said.
Jensen said he’s prepare to help with those efforts — and to face other challenges that may await the Minnesota National Guard, from overseas deployments to shifting regulations over issues like the ability of transgender people to serve in the military.
While President Donald Trump recently announced a ban on transgender people joining the military, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opted to leave an Obama-era policy on transgender service members in place until he can convene an expert panel to look into the matter.
Jensen said the Minnesota National Guard is bound to uphold whatever policy federal defense officials put in place. But he said he wants to see a “consistent message” — and added that he believes military service should be open to all who are willing to join up.
“I’m very concerned that we have a consistent policy,” he said. “I truly believe this: Service should be open to everyone. Not everyone will select to serve, but it should be open to everyone.”
Jensen said that his focus areas as adjutant general will include building the “Yellow Ribbon” network, an effort that aims to link military members and veterans with services and employment in their communities.
“Our soldiers and airmen serve in support of their communities, so that community support is very important,” he said.