NORTH OGDEN — Brent Taylor, who stepped down as North Ogden mayor to deploy to Afghanistan with the Utah Army National Guard, died in Afghanistan Saturday, according to North Ogden City Councilman Phillip Swanson.
"Major Brent Taylor was killed in Afghanistan this morning. A news conference will be held tomorrow morning. Please keep Jennie and his children in your prayers," Swanson said in a Facebook post, referencing Taylor's wife.
Swanson subsequently said by phone that North Ogden residents are taking the news hard. "Terribly so," he said.
A statement from North Ogden City Hall echoed the shock, lauding his service to the city.
"Brent had a profound influence on this community. He was the best of men with the ability to see potential and possibility in everything around him. We feel blessed to have had him as our mayor. Everywhere you look in North Ogden you can see his profound influence," it said, in part.
The Utah National Guard issued a statement Saturday referencing the death of a guard member "in an apparent insider attack," but didn't identify the deceased.
“My heart breaks for the loss and sacrifice of our soldier, particularly for the family,” said Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton, the adjutant general. “I wish them all the comfort and courage to face the difficult days ahead.”
Initial reports indicate the attacker in the incident was a member of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the Utah National Guard statement said. The reports indicate the attacker was immediately killed by other Afghan Forces.
Taylor announced last January that he'd be deploying to Afghanistan for a year-long stint, temporarily stepping down as mayor to do so and relinquishing mayoral duties to Brent Chugg. He planned to resume mayoral duties on returning, presumably sometime next January after his 12 months of duty, as allowed by state law.
“Serving as the mayor of North Ogden City has been one of the greatest honors of my life and the highlight of my civilian professional career,” Taylor said at the time of his deployment. “Service is really what leadership is all about. I am announcing today that I will be deploying to Afghanistan to continue my service as a member of the Army National Guard.”
Even while in Afghanistan, Taylor seemed to keep up with happenings in North Ogden, periodically posting about local issues on his Facebook page, a popular forum among North Ogden residents to debate local issues. On Oct. 17, he posted an upbeat message on the page from Afghanistan, discussing his efforts there and plans to return to North Ogden in early 2019.
"Things are going great over here for our team. We are working hard with our brave Afghan colleagues and our dedicated NATO allies to help ensure a safe parliamentary election day this weekend, so the people of Afghanistan can choose their leaders in peace," Taylor wrote.
He went on to reference a quote from Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister. He had been reading a Churchill biography, he wrote, "and wanted to share one of my favorite quotes from him: 'Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.' No matter what, never give up! I hope you are all well, and I am excited to get back to our wonderful city early next year."
Taylor joined the National Guard in 2003 and had deployed several times before, including twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. A major in the guard, Taylor, on deploying last January, served as a division chief in Utah Army National Guard headquarters.
'VERY DANGEROUS BUSINESS'
According to the National Guard statement, the incident Saturday, still under investigation, occurred in Kabul.
"What we do for our country is very dangerous business, but it's important to remember why we do it," Burton said in the National Guard statement. "The threat is very real. Let no one forget the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who defend our nation."
A press release on the incident from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which also didn't identify the victims, said a second U.S. service member sustained injuries, but was receiving treatment.
"The two U.S. service members were medically evacuated to Bagram Airfield. The wounded service member is undergoing medical treatment and is in stable condition," the NATO release said.
Stars and Stripes said the attack occurred at the Kabul Military Training Center and a report Saturday from the New York Times described the incident in stark terms. "An American service member was killed and another wounded when an Afghan commando opened fire on them on Saturday in Kabul," the Times said, citing Afghan and American officials.
The Times said the attack was the second such incident in two weeks, referencing the Oct. 22 attack by an Afghan commando on members of the American-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan, which left one dead and two injured. The Oct. 22 incident "intensified concerns about a rise in the kind of so-called insider attacks that, at their peak in 2012, almost derailed the NATO mission in Afghanistan," the Times reported.
Before deploying, Taylor told the Standard-Examiner that the Afghanistan stint was part of President Donald Trump’s order to increase troops and expand the capabilities of Afghan commando units. He was assigned at least initially to serve on an advisory team tasked with training staff from one of the commando battalions.
The National Guard statement said Gov. Gary Herbert and Burton planned to discuss Saturday's incident at a press conference on Sunday. Meantime, many reacted with shock and sadness to news of Taylor's death.
"God bless the Taylor family and please please keep his wife and children in your prayers, your service opportunities, and your kind acts. This brave man and his incredible family have given everything to protect the freedoms we hold dear," U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop said in a Facebook post.
Rep. Greg Hughes, speaker of the Utah House, called the news "unbelievably tragic" in a tweet.
"Today, the humbling reality that freedom isn’t free is a bitter pill to swallow. God Bless Mayor Taylor and his family. We love, cherish and support you," Hughes wrote.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch offered condolences to Taylor's wife, Jennie, and their seven kids.
“Brent was a hero, a patriot, a wonderful father, and a dear friend. News of his death in Afghanistan is devastating," Hatch tweeted. "His service will always be remembered.”
The statement from North Ogden City Hall also praised Taylor's service and outlook.
"He had a great love and vision for this community. He was patriotic to the core and a shining example of what an American politician should be," it said.
MAYOR, UTA TRUSTEE
One of Taylor's last duties as mayor of North Ogden was helping shepherd controversial plans to enlarge the amphitheater at Barker Park, aiming to bolster the cultural offerings in North Ogden. He was serving in his second mayoral term before going to Afghanistan and, before serving as the city's chief executive had sat on the North Ogden City Council.
But Taylor was outspoken on many issues and deeply involved in Weber County and Utah politics.
He also served on the Utah Transit Authority Board of Trustees, taking the oversight position last year, Taylor had said, with reform in mind. He had to step down from the post to deploy to Afghanistan.
“My only goal here is to reform the agency to the degree where the public can trust it,” he told the Standard-Examiner in April 2017. “That’s the only reason I wanted to be on the board.”
Last December, Taylor was the only trustee to vote against the UTA's 2018 budget, not convinced the plan outlined the wisest use of government funds. He also balked last year at changes to the retirement plan for UTA executives, thinking the new benefit package still too generous, though it represented a cut.
Locally, he helped spearhead debate, still ongoing, on changing the makeup of the three-member Weber County Commission. As is, the commission is made up of three members, and Taylor, like others, advocated increasing the size of the body to make it more representative of Weber County's population. Taylor also advocated creating separate branches to handle executive and legislative functions, powers currently in the hands of commissioners.