Story by Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” That is how Gen. George S. Patton described leadership. In a nutshell, it’s how the 39th Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard would describe himself as a leader.
“I don’t like finishing second,” Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes said. “A leader must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their people. A leader builds on the strengths. If you let people know what needs to be done and get out of their way, you will be surprised how well they accomplish things. I encourage others to be the best by focusing your efforts and attention to be an expert at what you do.” “The military does a phenomenal job developing leaders,” Hayes said. “The military provides leadership training you will not find in civilian service.”
Those who served with Hayes through the years agree.
“Major General Hayes is the most technically sound artillery officer that I know,” said Lt. Col. Leonard Williams, Deputy Chief of Staff – Logistics/G4, Illinois National Guard, who has served with Hayes since Hayes was a Captain, mostly in the 122nd Field Artillery. “He served in all the key assignments within our unit and also served as our Battalion Commander. We are a tight-knit unit and we all keep in touch even after all these years.”
Hayes, who retired March 9 after 33 years in the U.S. Army and the National Guard, credits his father for encouraging him and his siblings to serve their country.
“My father encouraged his children to serve our country,” Hayes said. “To me, serving is honoring those who gave us what we have today and to assure future generations have those same freedoms. Everyone needs to give back. Everything we enjoy today is because of those who came before us. Someone else suffered for me so I can enjoy the freedoms we have today.”
Hayes said his father also told him and his siblings they would have to seek out their own paths after high school and living at home was not an option.
“He said he would show us the means to attend college,” Hayes said. “So, I sought out my own way to ensure I would get a college education.”
Hayes followed in his father’s footsteps by seeking out the Reserve Officer Training Corps, a military scholarship and commissioning program. Hayes attended college at the University of Kansas, graduating in 1987 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and at the same time earning a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant as a Field Artillery officer.
He did not, however, follow in his father’s footsteps by serving the military on active duty. Hayes, instead chose the reserve path, serving two years in the Kansas National Guard before coming back to his native Chicago and ultimately joining the Illinois National Guard.
“I chose the Reserve Officer scholarship because I wanted to serve in the military, but I also wanted to work in construction,” he said, explaining he had worked in the construction field in the summer during high school and college.
He would serve active duty time to attend his Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and once finished, he joined the Kansas National Guard and also entered the civilian workforce as a project manager cleaning up Super Fund sites. He later decided to return to Chicago, which led him to join the Illinois National Guard.
“I stayed with the Kansas unit for a while, but it got old – traveling to Kansas one weekend a month for drill,” he said. “I wanted to stay in the National Guard, so after two years with the Kansas National Guard, I joined the Illinois National Guard.”
Field Artillery wasn’t Hayes’ first choice during the Branch selection. It wasn’t even his second choice. Each officer-selectee puts together a Branch “wish list” once they enter senior year of the program, according to Hayes.
Hayes’ first two choices were for specific reasons – his first choice, Aviation, as he became intrigued after his first flight aboard a Blackhawk helicopter in 1985. His second choice, Armor, was an homage to his father, who served as an Armor officer in the 32nd Tank Battalion with Elvis Presley. Rounding out Hayes’ wish list was Field Artillery and Infantry. Hayes was commissioned in the Field Artillery and began his 33 year career of service.
Most of Hayes’ career was spent as a traditional Guard Soldier – monthly drill and annual training. He deployed twice during his career after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and to Kosovo in 2007. However, in June 2013, after spending 27 years as an executive in the engineering and construction field, Hayes was asked to serve full-time as the Assistant Adjutant General – Army and in the dual role as the Director of the Joint Staff under then Governor Quinn. In 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Hayes as the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard.
Much has changed with the military holistically in the past 33 years, Hayes said. Most notably is the transformation the National Guard has undergone since Hayes first pinned on his “butter bars” on Jan. 9, 1987.
“The National Guard was all over the place in the late 1980s,” he explained. “The Soldiers could be physically out of shape, but technically proficient in their jobs, or could be physically in shape, but lacking the training and experience to perform their roles. There was just no predictable consistency or proficiency at that time.”
Today, Hayes said, the ability of the “fight tomorrow” forces, as he terms National Guard and Reserve forces, has vastly improved.
“They have a professional consistency unmatched from when I joined the National Guard. The National Guard forces, both Army and Air, are consistently delivering today,” he said. “It makes me sleep well at night to know they are ready to serve whenever and wherever the mission requires their service.”
Hayes believes in the concept of Soldiers being the best at their jobs, noted by Illinois National Guard Soldiers who served with Hayes throughout his career.
“We were at active training one year and we had a minimal amount of artillery rounds,” recalled Col. Maurice Rochelle, Acting Chief of the Joint Staff, Illinois Army National Guard, who has served with Hayes for nearly 25 years. “Let’s just say I was shooting more than I was allotted. I think Major General. Hayes was the unit S3, in charge of plans, operations and training at that time. He came to me afterward and I thought I was going to have to explain, but he just said ‘I don’t want to know how you did it.’”
Hayes, who served as The Adjutant General, from 2015 to early 2019, noted among what he terms as his most important accomplishments, was the ability to align the top of the Illinois National Guard organization, both Army and Air, to create teamwork and esprit de corps.
“Getting the services to work together, recognizing their separate missions, is definitely something I’m proud to have accomplished,” he said.
“I think Major General Hayes will be remembered as someone who cared for his Soldiers,” said Rochelle. “Others say they care about the Soldiers, but he proves it. You can disagree with him professionally and he will give you the time of day. But he’s a no nonsense guy who is a great leader with a great mind.”
However, teamwork isn’t the only accomplishment during Hayes’ term as the Adjutant General.
In 2015, the Illinois National Guard was awarded one of the ten national Cyber Protection Teams, teaming with the Wisconsin National Guard to secure this capability for the state. Its importance, according to Hayes, should be obvious in today’s world.
“Enemies see what we’re doing. Technology creates an attack surface, which poses an immense risk to our nation,” Hayes said. “Our Cyber Protection Team is an asset for the Department of Defense as well as the state.”
Members of the team proved its importance during last year’s election cycle when they played a key role in monitoring Illinois’ election infrastructure, following the announcement the State Board of Election voter registration data was hacked into during the 2016 election.
“They supported last year’s elections here in Illinois, and will be valuable in the future by providing advice and assistance to protect our critical infrastructure,” Hayes said.
Unit and individual readiness is another important accomplishment during Hayes’ tenure.
“Without readiness, we can’t defend the country,” he said. “and it starts with our soldiers and airmen, if they aren’t individually ready, we can’t get units ready. In the National Guard, ready units mean relevancy to the Active Component; it assures future force structure in the Army and Air Force.”
Hayes said the readiness in the Illinois National Guard – during a time in which five Illinois Army National Guard units were named the Most Ready in the Army among similar units – and both Illinois Air National Guard flying wings had the highest Mission Capability Readiness rates – speaks volumes to the leadership at all levels in the Illinois National Guard.
“To have units consistently among the most ready is a great testament to their leadership,” Hayes said. “All of this was accomplished while still deploying Soldiers, Airmen and equipment to support combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and to various military exercises and training throughout the United States and overseas. It also shows that our Soldiers and Airmen take a great deal of pride in being ready to join the fight.”
Hayes says he can’t take credit for the construction of both the Kankakee facility and the Lincoln’s Challenge facility in Rantoul on the former Chanute Air Force Base, saying he just happened to be the Adjutant General during the construction phase. He did agree the two facilities were long overdue and much needed projects.
“Both projects were visualized by my predecessors long before I was Adjutant General,” he said. “They just happened be constructed while I was Adjutant General.”
The Illinois Army National Guard completed construction of a state-of-the-art Army Aviation Support Facility and Readiness Center in Kankakee in 2017 with $52.7 million in federal funds and an additional $11.9 million in state funds.
“The facilities at Midway Airport didn’t meet the needs of our Aviation unit,” Hayes said. “The new facility in Kankakee will provide for efficient and effective aviation maintenance and operations for many years to come.”
In 1993, the National Guard started a ChalleNGe program for at-risk youth with the Illinois National Guard program being one of the most successful and cost effective programs in the nation. Housed on the shuttered Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, Lincoln’s ChalleNGe Academy’s facilities were old and according to Hayes, did not meet the environment to properly teach students.
Since 1993, the program has a GED pass rate of more than 70 percent and boasts more than 15,000 graduates. The new $42.1 million complex is the only one in the nation designed specifically for a ChalleNGe program.
“This is an inspiring program which is critical to helping our challenged and at-risk youth,” Hayes said. “This new facility will have a positive psychological impact on the youth it serves.” When he visited the cadets, he clearly recognized their environment at home created their challenged upbringing. The program focuses on building cadets self-esteem, illustrating the importance of teamwork, and building on individual and life skills all the while improving their education. He often tells them “don’t let no enter into what is possible, anything is possible if you are committed, work harder than everyone else, and seek mentors to get you there.”
Hayes would offer the same advice to a young person just starting out in the military as he would offer to a mid-career Service Member.
“Look beyond today,” he said. “You have to understand where everything fits together. Work hard to attain the technical knowledge across all things you are working. Mostly, stand out above your peers.”
Spending 33 years in a career – civilian or military – one will have a laundry list of things they will miss most. Hayes said he’ll miss people most.
“You make lifelong friendships and bonds with those you’ve served and have shared experiences with,” he explained. “That’s what I’ll miss the most.”
Some of Hayes’ most memorable experiences of his career include stateside duty during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a deployment to Kosovo from 2007 to 2008, the Anaconda 16 exercise in Poland, a visit to Poland for their Armed Forces Day, a visit to Hamel, France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle, and a training exercise as a young 2nd Lieutenant at Fort Carson, Colo.
“A couple of weeks following the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I commanded a 510 person battalion-sized task force in New Orleans,” he said. “It was an honor to help Americans to recover from such a devastating natural disaster. The deployment was impactful for me because while we are trained to fight our nation’s wars, we need to put equal vigor and diligence to prepare for these types of disasters at home; war and disasters are often similar in many respects.”
“Through Major General Hayes’ leadership, we were able to get the Battalion ready and on the road with a day’s notice,” Williams said. “He is a great leader with the ability to creatively build unique missions. We had phenomenal officers, a tight knit unit, and he was our mentor.”
One of Hayes’ most memorable deployments was to Kosovo as Deputy Commander – Maneuver of a 2,900 Soldier NATO Task Force – Multi-National Task Force East from 2007 to 2008, during which time Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia to become the 243rd country in the world.
“We were deployed under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 as part of a peace enforcement mission with militaries from 42 other countries,” Hayes said. “While we were there, Kosovo declared its independence to become the 243rd country.”
As one of his last gestures relating to the deployment, in 2017, he sent one of the U.S. flags flown over the U.S. Capital by then Senator Barack Obama, over Camp Bondsteel on the very day they declared independence, and again on their Constitution Day in June of 2008 to the Kosovo Embassy in Washington. The embassy staff was extremely humbled by the gesture.
Exercise Anakonda 16, which involved 25,000 personnel from Allied and partner nations, was hosted by Poland in 2016. Hayes said it was the largest military exercise in Europe since World War II.
“As the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, I got to stand on the stage with senior US, Polish, and NATO leadership kicking off the largest military exercise since World War II,” Hayes said. “It was an honor to stand on the national stage during the kickoff which is a testament to the respect the Illinois National Guard has earned over the 25 years partnership with the Polish Armed Forces.”
Armed Forces Day in Poland is celebrated annually on Aug. 15 and commemorates the anniversary of the 1920 victory over Soviet Russia at the Battle of Warsaw during the Polish-Soviet War. Hayes fondly remembers this last years to commemorate Armed Forces Day in Poland when he was surprised and honored by the Polish President.
“During last year’s visit to Poland while celebrating their Armed Forces Day, I was at the Presidential palace to observe the promotion ceremony for Poland’s newest Generals,” he said. “To my surprise a couple days before, I was told I would be part of the ceremony and will receive an award directly from the Polish President. That day I was awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. The event was broadcast on Polish television nationally.”
The award from Poland is among Hayes’ most special awards he has received.
“The Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland is pretty special,” he said. “I have watched Poland grow up as a country and military and have been engaged with the Polish Armed Forces since 1999. What makes the award special for me is it is recognition from outside of our military.”
Sometimes just standing on the same piece of ground that Soldiers in the Illinois National Guard fought on a century before makes the event memorable, said Hayes.
“During World War I, Illinois National Guard Soldiers were among the first forces to fight. We had units attached to the British forces and a couple of units attached to the Australian forces when the 33rd Division arrived,” Hayes said. “The very first battle of the war we fought was alongside the Australians on July 4, 1918 in Hamel, France. Exactly 100 years later to the day, on July 4, 2018, I got to celebrate the sacrifices of those brave Australians and Illinois National Guardsmen. This battle was the very first combined arms maneuver ever executed air forces, artillery, tanks and infantry units in fighting seamlessly together to defeat the Germans in 96 minutes on an entrenched hill on the eastside of Hamel, France. This battle was the very first Australia had ever fought on foreign soil and it was with the Illinois National Guard. So important was this event to the Australians, it was televised live throughout Australia.”
One of the most memorable events, Hayes said, happened early in his service.
“Early in my career, I was training assigned to a mechanized artillery unit (1-127 FA) and we were training at Fort Carson, Colo.,” he said. “It was night, overcast, with no moon light. I got a little turned around and couldn’t find the firing position. My battery commander had to come get me and the unit who were only 400 meters away. After the field problem, the 1st Sergeant presented me with a cap that had two bills – one turned 45 degrees to the left, one turned 45 degrees to the right.”
“The cap said ‘I am their leader, which way did they go’,” he added with a chuckle.
Others also shared memorable experiences serving with Hayes over the years.
“When I was a brand new 2nd Lieutenant, straight out of Officer Candidate School, all of us brand new officers were going to change the world with our great ideas,” Rochelle chuckled, recalling a story from when he first met Hayes. “He was my first Commander and he just looked at me and said okay Lieutenant, now go pick up that broom and sit in the corner. When we’re ready for your ideas, we’ll let you know. He was a great leader and he put me in my place.”
Williams recalled when the unit converted from Field Artillery to Military Police.
“In 2003, we had to convert the 122nd Field Artillery Battalion to a Military Police unit and then deploy them,” Williams recalled. “At that time, we were one of the only artillery units to convert to Military Police – it was complicated and complex, but Major General Hayes led us through that flawlessly and the unit completed a successful deployment.”
Some of the people that Hayes has met throughout his career have included military leaders, both from the United States and other countries, but Hayes said, the most memorable events of his career was attending a dinner hosted by then-Vice President Joseph Biden, and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden at Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
“Vice President Biden’s son, Beau, served in the Delaware National Guard,” Hayes said. “During a visit to Washington, D.C., the Vice President and his wife hosted a dinner for The Adjutants General. “We each got to spend some time talking with him and his wife individually without any politics involved.”
Hayes said it’s been an honor to be able to interact with so many senior leaders of our military including the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley, and the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. In addition, he had the opportunity to escort the Chief of Staff of the Japan Self Defense Forces during a visit to the United States.
“I’ve met leaders from all around the world,” Hayes said. “Many of which I’m still friends with.”
Some of those leaders are from Poland, with whom the Illinois National Guard has participated in the State Partnership Program since 1993. Hayes said the SPP was developed to take fledgling ex-Soviet countries in eastern Europe and begin by building relationships to foster democracy and to assist them with interoperability with the United States. The National Guard was used for this program due to it lower profile and would not be perceived as a threat.
“If we had initially sent the active Army to Poland, the Soviet Union would have perceived it as a threat,” Hayes said. “In the beginning stages of the partnership, Poland wanted to join NATO, so our mission was to assist with the transition from the Soviet doctrine to NATO. Illinois was a natural alignment due to the massive Polish population in Illinois.”
Hayes explained the continued partnership is good for the world as a whole.
“Democracies never go to war with each other – not to say it would never happen, but it hasn’t so far,” Hayes said. “Allies and partnerships are critical to our defense, and enhancing the capabilities of our friends military allows them to better defend themselves. The Polish Armed Forces have certainly become a great ally and partner. Having friends around the world plays is vitally important to peace around the world.”
Since the SPP began, Hayes said the Illinois National Guard has completed 30 combat rotations with the Polish forces to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Kosovo.
Beside Hayes along the journey has been his wife, Danette. Hayes had a special message for his wife, Danette.
“My wife sacrificed most during my career,” he said. “She was my partner all along this great journey. Without my family’s support, I would not have achieved all that I have. I really appreciate all she’s done and hope she knows that.”
Those who served with Hayes respect his journey in the military and will miss his leadership.
“It was an honor serving with Major General Hayes,” Rochelle said. “Working with him throughout these years, we have developed a great relationship with both him and his family. I think of him as a great leader and a great friend.”
When one chapter closes, another one begins.
“I have five grandchildren who are the object of my attention on the weekends,” Hayes said. “And I just started a new job here in Chicago doing what I enjoy in the construction and engineering field.”
Hayes said the military is like one big family, some members you see often, others not.
“I will miss everyone, but we’ll stay connected,” he said. “I know we’ll see each down the road.”
“Major General Hayes is like the trunk of the officer tree,” Williams said. “He brought us up as artillerymen and those roots are deep. We all still stay in touch, whether it’s through social media, phone calls, emails or our annual Saint Barbara Ball each December. I have a deep respect for both he and his wife. I think that says a lot about his ability to groom and mentor junior Soldiers.”
Saint Barbara is the Patron Saint of Artillery and is celebrated each Dec. 4. Hayes and his wife started the unit ball some 20 years ago, according to Williams.
“He and his wife got the Saint Barbara Ball going about 20 years ago and he’s the one who pulled us all together,” Williams said. “That’s a great testament to the retirees and to him.”