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Minnesota National Guard leader prepares for exit

In this Feb. 11 file photo, Gen. Larry Shellito of Alexandria, center, leads Gov. Tim Pawlenty, second from left, and others out of the House chamber following the governor's final State of the State speech. Shelito announced Wednesday that he plans to step down as state adjutant general Oct. 31. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Larry Shellito returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s to a country that did not welcome soldiers.

That experience led to his promotion of what on Wednesday he called "the nation's leading Yellow Ribbon program."

Shellito announced Wednesday that he will leave after seven years as head of the Minnesota National Guard. He made it clear that the Yellow Ribbon program to ease soldiers' and airmen's return to the United States was a highlight of his 37-year National Guard career.

"Things that were imprinted on my mind (after Vietnam) are still there," Shellito said.

The Yellow Ribbon program is the foundation for a national program for the Guard and Reserve members returning from overseas duty. Since he took the job in 2003, about 18,000 Guard members have been sent overseas, the Minnesota National Guard's largest post-World War II deployment.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said a committee headed by retired Gen. H. Steven Blum, who led the nation's National Guard for five years, will begin a search for a new adjutant general. Guard members with a rank of major or higher may apply to the governor's office.

Pawlenty said he will look for a seasoned, experienced Guard member who has served overseas, likely in combat, for the next adjutant general.

The governor called Shellito "one of the greatest public servants we have ever seen."

Pawlenty pointed out that while Shellito was in charge the Minnesota Guard served in Iraq longer than any other military unit.

The state Guard also was given command over Guard, Reserve and active military units, unusual for a Guard unit.

Shellito said he is proud of his airmen and soldiers.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Minnesotans should be proud of Shellito and the operation he commands.

"Gen. Shellito has led the Minnesota National Guard through a time of unprecedented challenges, with Minnesota Guard members deployed throughout the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said. "With his leadership, he has shown the nation that we have one of the premier National Guard organizations in the country."

Shellito, who turns 65 in August, said he has not decided what he will do next, but said there have been offers. He plans to take some time off.

Before taking his current job, he was president of Alexandria Technical College.

He grew up in Comstock and Moorhead and is a graduate of what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead. He later earned a master's degree in business education and an education doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1998.

He enlisted in the Army in 1968 and was commissioned two years later. He achieved the rank of brigadier general in 1997.

He and his wife, Evonne, have been married 32 years. They have two daughters and two grandsons.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.