Classroom, community, country: Remembering Brent Taylor

Brent R. Taylor, a U graduate and doctoral candidate, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 3 while on duty with the Utah National Guard.

The Department of Political Science has created a memorial scholarship in honor of Taylor, which you can find here.

“Brent was just months away from taking his comprehensive exams and was already completing work toward his dissertation prospectus,” said Mark Button, chair of the Department of Political Science. “For those of us who knew and worked closely with Brent, the loss of such a valued colleague and admired friend is immense.”

In the days since news broke that Brent Taylor had been killed in Afghanistan, the U grad’s dedication—to his family, his community, his country and here at the university—has been shared repeatedly.

Taylor, 39, was killed in an apparent insider attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 3, 2018. He was a major in the Utah National Guard and had deployed to Kabul as a military intelligence officer with the Special Operations Joint Force Headquarters. He had just two months left in his year-long tour of duty.

Taylor is survived by his wife, Jennie, and their seven children.

This was Taylor’s fourth deployment—and third to Afghanistan—since entering military service in 2003. He was awarded a Purple Heart Medal and a Bronze Star Medal for exceptionally meritorious service during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, perhaps put it best in describing Taylor as a “patriot whose personal life resonated with excellence.”

“From his commitment to education to his passion for politics, Brent was dedicated to making a difference,” Burton said in a statement.

Taylor’s community service began in 2009 when he was elected to the North Ogden City Council. At the same time, he was enrolled in the U’s Master of Public Administration program.

In 2012, Taylor received the Student Veteran of the Year award from the U in recognition of his military service in Iraq, community service and academic achievement. That same year, Taylor received his master’s degree; he was able to fully put his education to work after being elected mayor of North Ogden in 2013.

Despite the demands of running a major city, Taylor opted to pursue a doctorate at the U in political science with a focus on international relations. His work was outstanding, illustrated by the fact he received a graduate scholarship in 2013 from the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. The national award is given yearly to just one or two students who are pursuing studies focused on national security or intelligence.

Taylor would have taken his comprehensive exams at the start of spring semester. Professor Steven Lobell was the committee chair for Taylor’s dissertation proposal, titled “Domestic Choices, International Outcomes.” Taylor was curious about why U.S. foreign policy decisions varied so widely during a period when the nation was consistently more powerful relative to other countries. His tentative answer, Lobell said, was that budget constraints and degree of domestic popular support contributed to the variation.

“Brent would fly into my office between his meetings, shifting from mayor to graduate student,” Lobell said. “We would discuss a course paper, a reading or literature review, his preparation for the comprehensive exams or his dissertation proposal. Even though Brent was deployed in Afghanistan and could have delayed his studies, he stayed in contact with his committee members.”

Lobell said Taylor’s service to his country extended to his post-graduate school interest in the possibility of serving in the U.S. State Department in the future.

In the meantime, even as he pursued his own degree, Taylor also made time to mentor other, more junior graduate students in the program, Lobell said.

Taylor seemed to make time for everyone, said Seth Wright, a colleague in the doctoral program. At one student gathering, Taylor shared the news of his soon-to-be-born daughter and that he was going to be deployed in a few months, Wright said.

“When we suggested perhaps it was just too much to ask for him to be deployed yet again, he without hesitation assured us that he loved serving our country and the people in Afghanistan,” Wright said.

While Taylor was in Afghanistan, their schedules sometimes matched enough that they could briefly chat on Facebook, Wright said.

“He would share some of his adventures in the Middle East—or discuss something great that was happening in North Ogden—and sometimes punctuate with the phrase ‘Mission Accomplished,'” he said. “It’s my feeling that Brent would prefer we remember him in a way reflective of how he acted—as people of intent, willing participants of the polls and deliberate in helping others. I believe he would prefer we remember him while on our feet.”

Professor Emeritus Steve Ott was Taylor’s graduate advisor in the MPA program and said Taylor was impressive for his “insight, clarity of thought, highest concern for moral and ethical positions, and his willingness to stand alone in arguing for completing tasks despite being repeatedly activated to attend military intelligence school and deployments.”

Last week, the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, an academic center based at the U, and the International Dark-Sky Association paid tribute to Taylor during their conferences.

Taylor was a strong advocate for dark sky initiatives, offering remarks at the dedication of the North Fork Park in Ogden in April 2015.  He noted the connection between humanity and the stars—which, he said, were the most common feature on flags around the world.

The park, he said, would be a place where new generations would be awestruck by the night sky and inspired to “do more, to be better, and to reach higher”—just as he did.