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A Monday Night, While The Nation Slept

By Dean Popps

Monday night, while most of us slept, two senior Army leaders and a solemn accompanying cadre of others, made a silent, sad, nighttime journey to receive the remains of one of their own, a US soldier killed in Afghanistan, Major Brent Taylor of Utah, a husband and father of seven young children.

Major Taylor, the victim of a Taliban “insider attack”, was repatriated at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Both his family and his Army family were present, including the most senior of leaders.

Under Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff, Mark Milley are, by any measure, what the Army calls “studs” or “hosses”. McCarthy, whom I know longer and better, is a younger man, VMI grad, and an all-star—smart, capable, experienced, and a former trooper in 75th Rangers, the most elite Ranger unit. He was among the first on the ground in Afghanistan in 2001. After the Army, banking, and Capitol Hill, he spent 5 years running interference for Bob Gates, as his deputy in the front office, and then had a wildly successful defense industry career until he was confirmed as Under Secretary of the Army by the US Senate in summer of 2017. And, yes, he’s a real stud and leader.

Army Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, is out of central casting. He’s a larger-than-life Special Forces Princetonian, via New England roots, with much of his career as a flag officer spent leading combat forces. He loves being Chief, and the troopers love and respect him, but like all real soldiers, he prefers the smell of gunpowder in his nostrils to the Washington bureaucracy and games. Yes, he a “hoss” and a “stud”—and a great Chief.

Why do I mention these leaders ?

On Monday evening, I talked to McCarthy. His sober tone reflected the Army work ethic of these two men. I asked if he was Dover-bound.

“Of course, it’s our highest duty,” he told me, “the Chief and I will be there”.

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McCarthy drove home that night, had dinner with his wife and daughter and read to the youngster before she slept. He and Milley rendezvoused at midnight for the mournful military flight to Dover and Major Taylor’s 4 AM arrival , which is depicted in the AP photo above.

I sensed and know that it was sad, emotionally draining duty for them, as it has been during the dozens of other times that these men have answered the same call to duty at Dover during their tenure.

The youngest of the seven Taylor children is 2 years old and was present with the others. Mrs.Taylor’s composure and presence was epic, I am told. But then again, she’s an Army wife. Simply the best.

How to make sense of this?

Both McCarthy and Milley arrived back in the Capital at dawn, had breakfast, and started their monster days, beating 90% of the Pentagon workforce into the revered and frequently dreaded “building”. That’s what studs and hosses do.

Major Taylor will now rest for eternity with the heroes of this Republic. He and his family take the gratitude of a tearful nation for their immense sacrifice. May his memory be eternal and may the nation continue to honor and support this Gold Star family.

Ryan McCarthy and Mark Milley take our thanks, too, for shouldering the forever difficult and profound burden of confronting the deaths of those whom they lead.

In doing so, even in the dark of night, they honor the dead and us.

Dean Popps is a former senior US Army civilian official who served with both men.