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In between speeches by President Bush and challenger Bill Clinton, the National Guard Association elected Utah Adjutant Gen. John L. Matthews as the organization's president Tuesday.

Bush and Clinton addressed the National Guard Association of the United States' annual conference, which began in the Salt Palace Sunday.Matthews is an Air National Guard major general and former high school principal. He has been Utah's adjutant general for the past 10 years and has served the past two years as the National Guard organization's vice president-Air. He replaces retired Maj. Gen. Robert F. Ensslin Jr., the former adjutant general of the Florida National Guard.

"We are at a critical point in our history," Matthews said. "We face major challenges, but I'm an optimist. I believe that we have the right product at the right time in history as the nation gropes for ways to deal economically with threats both foreign and domestic, and we have the perfect organization to sell our product."

Matthews said the National Guard is "all that is good about America personified in one organization. Whenever you hear news about natural disasters or foreign wars, you hear about the National Guard. The National Guard is the link between the citizens of Beaver, Utah, and the United States Army and the Department of Defense. The National Guard is grassroots America."

Matthews, a fighter and tanker pilot, has been a member of the Utah National Guard since the mid-1950s. He has a master's degree in education administration from Brigham Young University and is a graduate of the Air War College.

"I love America, I love the flag and I love the National Guard and am dedicated to protect all three," he said.

The National Guard Association of the United States is a privately funded advocacy group of 58,000 commissioned officers and warrant officers from the Air and Army National Guard. It lobbies Congress for better equipment, standardized training and adequate manpower and facilities.