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Keeping the public aware of the United States' need to remain militarily strong is an important function of local National Guard units, members of the Utah National Guard were told Tuesday night.

Gen. Robert T. Herres, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this effort is handled better by Guard members because they are permanent residents of the areas where they serve."The military is an integral part of the society it serves and can only be as good as that society will allow," Herres said during the Utah National Guard's 29th annual awards dinner.

Herres had high praise for Utah's Guard units, noting that they are considered among the best trained and best staffed in the United States.

Herres spoke at the 29th annual Minuteman Awards Banquet, at which he was honored along with six Utahns.

Other award recipients were Ellis R. Armstrong, internationally known civil engineer; Leon G. Harmon, former president of First Interstate Bank and an honorary Guard colonel; Chief Master Sgt. Marion K. Nielson, of the Utah Air National Guard, who retired this year after 36 years of military service; Robert H. Hinckley, honorary Guard colonel and automobile industry official; Glade Peterson, general director of the Utah Opera Co.; Frank N. Davis, president and chief executive officer of Utah Power & Light Co.; and Agnes M. Plenk, founder of the Children's Center.

Even though relations between the United States and the Soviet Union appear to be improving, Herres said, it is important that public perceptions not cloud reality. He said the Soviets still represent the largest military structure in the world, and the United States must be vigilant and prepared if the world remains peaceful. He said public perceptions must not cloud reality.

While nuclear arms reductions and military force reductions proposed by the Soviets are welcome signs, conditions will not change overnight, he said.

"We must take these things one at a time, and build our relationship layer by layer," Herres said. "If we ignore realities, it will be at our peril - or even worse, the peril of our grandchildren."

Herres said the United States and Soviet Union have come a long way from the "very chilly" confrontations of the 40-year cold war. He said that while the proposed changes may mean a safer world ahead, they are also creating more complexities. Herres said the straightforward handling of relationships common during the cold war are a thing of the past.

Maintaining military strength is a responsibility the United States bears because of its role as a world leader. It is that strength that allows other countries to move freely in the world and to exercise the rights of trade and travel, Herres said. Continued strength is also important to the nation's philosophy of deterrence, Herres said. This is a philosophy dating from 424 B.C. Herres said, and it remains the key to continued world peace.

Gov. Norm Bangerter told the group he is proud of the Guard and its reputation. He promised continued support for the Guard.