North Ogden Mayor and U.S. Army Maj. Brent Taylor talked about his desire to join the military with his wife, Jennie, on their first date.
Three days after their engagement, Brent said, he walked into the recruiting office and signed up to serve in the United States Army National Guard.
He was a boy who started the Constitution Club at Brigham Young University and was passionate about serving the country. She was a girl who called herself a patriot and soon became a history and government teacher. They both “loved America.”
But neither of them expected to end up where they are today: Brent’s fourth deployment with seven kids at home ranging from age 12 to newborn.
“I hope my kids grow up and look back at this, not as a time they missed Dad or that Dad wasn’t here or Mom needed extra help," Jennie said. "But as a time they can say, ‘We tried our best. We wanted to help. We answered the call because my dad was needed. My country needed me. My God needed me.'"
Later this month, Brent will be deploying to Afghanistan for an anticipated 12 months — the first known time in Utah history a mayor has been deployed for wartime service. Brent and his family continue to rely on their faith amidst the challenges that come with serving in the military.
'God, country and family'
Brent said he was in class at BYU on Sept. 11, 2001, when his professor sent the students home following the attacks. He had previously thought about joining the military, but after that day, his decision was solidified.
However, Brent knew it was something he had to clear with a future wife whom he hadn’t met yet. Then he met Jennie.
During her LDS mission to Santiago, Chile, Jennie said she saw the lack of priesthood leadership and the importance of “good men” in the community.
“In that moment, as a 21-year-old, I promised myself and my God that I would never get in the way of what my God needs my husband to do in life,” she said.
At the time, she thought her future husband would get called as bishop. She admits she sometimes wishes that was the case.
“I remember my heart just sinking,” Jennie said about the conversation to join the military on their first date. “It was like a pit in my stomach. Then I thought, why do I care if this kid wants to join the army? What does that have to do with me? I didn’t even know him; I had known him for five minutes.”
“But from that moment on, I think it was a sign or an indicator that this is what we’re doing," she added. "I never in a million years... pictured myself a military wife."
She never thought she would be married to the mayor either.
“It’s been a comfort to us that those things go together: God, country and family,” Brent said.
After 15 years in the military, seven in active duty, Jennie said the family is used to it and “it’s just what we do.”
“I joke with Brent that he’s either visionary or crazy,” she said. “I’m banking on the fact that he’s visionary.”
A leave of absence
Though Brent has been deployed three times before, Jennie said she felt the same pit in her stomach when she found out about this upcoming deployment. Brent was at a meeting at the National Guard headquarters in Draper when she received a text that said, “We need to talk when I get home.”
“I texted him back, ‘Where are you going?’” Jennie said. “I just knew, here we go again.”
The first time Brent deployed, Jennie said she had two kids under the age of 2. The second time, her kids were 3, 5 and 7. But now, with an 11- and 12-year-old, she said the older kids are “an extra set of hands” to help with the younger ones. And the couple's 11-year-old son knows he is going to have to step up to be the man of the house.
Jennie said the kids are used to Brent coming and going because he’s traveled quite a bit on other assignments for the military.
“They’ve never known any different,” Jennie said. “It’s not that they don’t care. They just know dad is gone and that’s what it is.”
Communication with their dad, Jennie said, is the most important thing, especially as the kids are getting older. But thanks to technology like FaceTime and Skype, that relationship is possible to maintain.
He said the most difficult part about being away is missing moments with his kids.
“You’re not there to see how they’re growing or talk to them about little things,” Brent said. “We stay in contact, but you miss a lot of the little things going on in their lives, and that’s hard.”
During the few weeks leading up to his deployment, Brent said the family tries to spend as much time together as possible. The family traditionally does a big trip when he gets back.
Answering the call
Brent, too, never imagined he would stay in the military for his career.
“I really just joined to volunteer for the wars,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of twists and turns over the years, and now I’m sure I’ll stay in the Army National Guard until retirement, which isn’t something we intended.”
Above all, it is Brent's faith and church attendance that has helped him combat homesickness and stay focused.
“When I first went to basic training right after joining (the military), it was one of those moments where no one is looking over your shoulder, no one is checking on you, so what do you do your first Sunday? For me, of course I was going to church. I made that a pattern. No matter where in the world I am, I will be at church,” Brent said.
After the anticipated yearlong stay in Afghanistan, Brent will return home to resume his responsibilities as mayor and finish the last three years of his second term in office.
“I don’t consider us unique or fabulous or special in any way," Jennie said. "We’re on a path we’ve chosen in life and we’re trying to do our best on that path and give what we can."
Jennie said her family has been overwhelmed with love and support from family, friends and the community, and she feels humbled to publicly represent “something that happens so quietly every day.”
“There are men and women who go off to a deployment everyday with no fanfare, with no attention, with no news articles on one individual. It’s what they do. The call to serve comes up, and you just answer it,” she said.
“I hope my kids grow up to learn to answer the call to serve wherever it comes, not necessarily in the military but whatever profession, whatever community need, whatever religious need. I hope they know that in our family, we help. In our family, we do what we can. If it’s something we can do, and the call comes to serve, we say yes.”