Brig. Gen. Tom Brewer endured a ceremonial hosing-down after flying his last military training mission Friday - a flight that will precede his retirement from the Utah Army National Guard at the end of August.
Brewer is one of the state's two assistant adjutant generals and is responsible for the training and readiness of all Utah Army National Guard units. The retirement will follow his 60th birthday, the mandatory retirement age for one-star generals.Brewer, a Salt Lake City native, started his military career in the Air Force in 1956, where he was an instructor pilot until he left active duty to work in the family's tire business with his two brothers, both of whom were pilots during World War II.
He later joined the Air National Guard, attracted by its F-86 fighters, but the Air Guard's speedy fighters were swapped for propeller-driven C-96 cargo planes while he was in training. "That dampened my enthusiasm. They often went on four-to-five day trips, and that didn't fit well with the family business," he said. Besides, he said, cargo planes didn't hold the same flying excitement the fighters had.
But the Army National Guard across the ramp at the Guard base was flying helicopters. So he switched services, believing he would be back in smaller, more adventurous aircraft and on a schedule that better suited his civilian career.
What he hadn't planned on was a call to active duty when the Berlin Airlift was initiated in 1961. "So I ended up spending a year in the Army, and I didn't even have a uniform yet."
Brewer had to think long and hard when asked if he saw any unfulfilled ambitions now that he's at the end of his military career. "I would like to have flown a Stear-man, but it's not a real big deal," he said.
The open-cockpit Stearman biplane is a far different animal from the military hardware the Utah Guard has acquired during Brewer's career.
A significant equipment upgrade for the Guard came while Brewer was the Guard's Army aviation officer, a job he describes as perhaps his favorite assignment with the Guard. The Army chief of staff was coming to town, and the adjutant general wanted to know if there was anything the Pentagon official needed pitched to him during the visit.
Brewer said he called a friend in the Guard's Pentagon command to solicit his input and learned the Guard wanted to add attack helicopters to its inventory. The Vietnam War had just ended and all of the attack helicopters were in active-duty units, even though many of the experienced pilots were leaving active duty - some of them moving to the Guard.
Brewer passed that suggestion on to the adjutant general, who passed it on to the chief of staff. Utah soon after became the first Guard or Reserve component to be assigned attack helicopters.
Cobras left the state several years ago, replaced by the Apache, the Army's first-line attack helicopter.
Brewer is also proud of his involvement with the Guard's Freedom Academy, a summer program for high school students in the state.
Brewer said the Freedom Academy drew little interest when he got involved 20 years ago because its teaching on the value of freedom was laden with Cold War-era propaganda "that didn't sell well with kids in high school."
Brewer said the program was rebuilt and now attracts 150 participants each summer, most of them representing the student body leadership of most of Utah's high schools.
Brewer said he saw tremendous development in the structure of the National Guard after Adjutant General John L. Matthews, who also retires this fall, chose him to be the Guard's chief of staff.
The Guard structure had been small enough that virtually all decisions came from the top down. "The staff had been taught to do what they were instructed to do, right down to decisions for paint colors on building walls," he said. "Now we were in a position to make our own decisions."
"When people asked `What does the general want us to do?' I said, `He wants you to do your job. That's what he wants.' "
Brewer was promoted to assistant adjutant general in 1989, a move that requires most officers to trade in their flying wings before tacking on a general's star. Promotion into the general-officer ranks is a rare opportunity, "But they never made a pilot that wants to quit flying," he said.
Brewer was assigned to the Army Aviation Advisory Committee where he is currently the chairman. He was able to keep his wings and continued flying helicopters because of that assignment, he said.
Brewer said his retired friends and neighbors warned him about the possible down side to his extended flying career - Friday's fire-hose shower from his peers, which added to the shock of retirement. The shower has become standard procedure for military pilots completing their last flight.