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By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
More than three decades after initially enlisting in the U.S. Army to give back to the country that has given so much to his family, Lt. Col. Michael Legler, of Pekin, Illinois, retired from the Illinois Army National Guard.
“Both my parents were born and raised in Germany,” Legler said. “They both had to flee from East Germany some years after the war. I guess that’s what inspired me to enlist in the Army - among other things: I wanted to give something back to the United States.”
Friends and family joined Legler as he was recognized for more than 33 years of military service, including 28 years in the National Guard, during a retirement ceremony at the Illinois Military Academy, Camp Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, April 30.
"I may have hung up the uniform, but my service and commitment to Soldiers and their families will continue,” Legler told a group of family and friends gathered at the Illinois Military Academy for a retirement ceremony. “I was extremely lucky to serve for 33 years, but I get to continue to work on behalf of our troops and their families.”
Maj. Gen. Michael Zerbonia, Assistant Adjutant General – Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard, thanked Legler and his family for their many years of service and commitment.
“Today a long career … is celebrated with family and friends. There is nothing more you could ask for. You have done a great deal for this organization,” Zerbonia said. “To his family, thank you for letting us borrow him for 30 plus years and letting him do what he loves. We know he had to miss a log of things as we all do, but he missed them because he loves you and wants to protect this great nation.”
Legler enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1986 as a food service specialist, serving in Germany and at Fort Riley, Kansas.
“Prior to enlisting in the Army, when I was still in high school, I worked in a banquet facility,” he said. “When I took the ASVAB, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, I scored pretty high and my recruiter told me I could serve as anything.”
Legler said he’s always enjoyed cooking and decided that’s what he wanted to try in the military.
“After my active duty service, as a civilian, I worked as a certified chef,” he said.
The Plainfield, Illinois, native used his enlistment in the Army to get out on his own and subsequently earn money for college. It was shortly after his second enlistment he earned a Green to Gold discharge to attend college through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Kansas State University. The Green to Gold discharge allows service members to be released from active duty early so they can enroll in an Army Senior ROTC program. During this time, Legler served concurrently as a program cadet in the Kansas Army National Guard.
In 1993, Legler received his commission as a second lieutenant, serving as an Armor Platoon Leader and Detachment Commander of 2nd Battalion, 635th Armor Regiment.
“There is something really cool about being part of a crew where the weapons system weighs 60 tons,” Legler said. “It was a great experience and I think my biggest regret about leaving the Kansas National Guard is the Illinois Army National Guard doesn’t have tanks.”
In 1997, following a move back to Illinois, Legler joined the ILARNG, branching as a Transportation officer, and then later as a Chemical officer.
Legler served with the 1244th Transportation Company, based in North Riverside, Illinois, and later as the Commander, 1644th Transportation Company, based in Rock Falls, Illinois. He’s also served in the then-404th Chemical Brigade, headquartered in Normal, Illinois and later in the 44th Chemical Battalion, based in Bloomington, Illinois, during which he transitioned to the Chemical Corps branch, serving as battalion’s training officer and later as the executive officer.
Legler, who has served as a traditional Guardsman throughout his career, was hired as a dual-status technician in 2009, serving in the domestic operations branch in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Operations and Training directorate (G3).
Legler moved to the Joint Staff when it was formed and was assigned to the strategic planning directorate (J5).
He deployed three times during his military career, from 2006-2007 as the coalition transportation operations officer with the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, based at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait; in 2012-2013 as a member of the Bilateral Embedded Support Team (BEST) A-10 to Afghanistan; and in 2019 as Commander, BEST A-23, to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Legler thanked his friends and family for their support over the years.
“Thank you to my wife, Krista, my children Casey and Christian, and granddaughter Sophia,” he said. “I have missed birthdays and other events, and you have sacrificed a father with no say in the matter. I can’t go back and recapture that time, but we won’t have to worry about any additional missed time.”
Legler also thanked his fellow Soldiers in the Illinois National Guard.
“I am lucky to have people like you in my life and who have remained a part of my life throughout my career,” he said. “I am looking forward to supporting you and your families in my civilian role as you continue doing the important work of defending our nation and our communities.”
Although Legler has hung up his uniform, he looks forward to his continued service to members of the Illinois National Guard and their families in his civilian role as the Director of State Family Programs, Illinois Army National Guard, a position he’s held since 2020.
“The mission of the Illinois National Guard’s Family Programs is to support the families of service members and the service member as well,” he said. “The goal is to make it as easy for the service member to continue serving by addressing the issues which may come up from time to time. We work to connect the family and the service member to resources available, which they may not know exists.”
Legler said, in his experience, the majority of service members leave the military before they reach the 20-year mark because the family got tired of sharing him or her with the military.
“Family support is incredibly important,” he said. “Without the family’s support service members feel pulled in two directions – the duty of military service and commitment to the family.”
Legler said he wouldn’t have been able to continue serving in the military if his wife and family wasn’t supporting what he was doing.
“Military service takes a toll on family. You will miss important events,” he said. “But if the family doesn’t support the service, you won’t have a service member for long in my opinion.”
Legler offered a last piece of advice.
“Whatever job you take, leave it better than you found it,” he said. “Make things better and make improvements.”