Former Wisconsin Guard Leader Passes Away

Former Wisconsin Guard Leader Passes Away

Retired Maj. Gen. Jerald Slack, Wisconsin’s adjutant general from 1989 to 1996, passed away May 18 following a brief battle with cancer. He was 88 years old.

Slack’s 37-year career began in 1959 when he enlisted in the Illinois Air National Guard. He transferred to the Wisconsin Air National Guard in 1961 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He completed undergraduate pilot training in 1963 and interceptor training in 1964. Over the course of his career, Slack accumulated more than 3,200 hours of flying time on several different aircraft ranging from the T-37 Cessna trainer to the A-10 Thunderbolt.

Slack spent most of his career in what is today the 115th Fighter Wing. From 1974-79 the wing flew the O-2 forward air control aircraft as part of a tactical air support mission, and during this time Slack’s brother Robert transferred to the Wisconsin Air National Guard. Slack would fondly recall the rarity of flying with his brother in the Air National Guard.

As commander of the Madison, Wisconsin-based 176th Fighter Squadron, Slack was greatly pleased when the unit returned to its fighter squadron roots with the arrival of the A-10 Thunderbolt in 1981. He stopped flying in 1987, and was designated chief of staff for the Wisconsin Air National Guard that year.

In 1989 a committee headed by former U.S. Army Secretary Robert Froehlke recommended Gov. Tommy Thompson appoint Slack to succeed Maj. Gen. Raymond Matera as Wisconsin’s adjutant general. Slack promised “very little change” at a press conference announcing his appointment.

During the Dec. 21, 1989 change of command ceremony, Thompson noted that the National Guard was entering a challenging new decade with monumental changes in Eastern Europe and student unrest in China.

“The role of the National Guard will most likely change,” Thompson said, expressing his confidence in Slack’s leadership. “The Guard will indeed move forward into a challenging new decade with the smoothest of transition.”

Indeed, Slack was at the helm when Desert Storm began, and seven Wisconsin National Guard units were in the theater of operations when combat began Jan. 16, 1991. This was the first time in at least a generation that the Wisconsin National Guard deployed units to a combat zone in support of a federal overseas mission. He praised how Wisconsin Guard units responded to the first large-scale mobilization in decades.

“They have been ready when they were needed,” Slack said before combat operations commenced.

At the end of his tenure as adjutant general, Slack spoke with emotion about what gave him the deepest sense of achievement.

“Everyone we sent to the desert came home,” he said in 1995. “There couldn’t be a more defining moment in my time here than when the last person came back alive. Everything else — everything else — pales in comparison.”

Slack outlined certain goals for his tenure in a 1990 at ease article. First, he wanted to boost the strength of both the Wisconsin Air and Army National Guard to about 95 percent. Second, he wanted to maximize use of Fort McCoy’s training facilities. He also wanted to increase the Wisconsin National Guard’s role in drug enforcement activities

During Slack’s time as adjutant general, the U.S. military was downsizing even as the National Guard and Reserves had demonstrated their effectiveness in combat zones. He served on Reserve Forces and Air Reserve policy groups, and was a strong advocate for the Army National Guard. State of the art facilities were built at Wisconsin’s Air National Guard bases. A combined headquarters — known today as Joint Force Headquarters — was built for the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management. The Wisconsin Military Academy moved from Camp Williams to a new schoolhouse at Fort McCoy. The Combined Support Maintenance Shop at Camp Williams and the Mobilization and Equipment Training Site at Fort McCoy also saw significant improvements.

“I think we might be in a good position for the next 100 years,” Slack said in 1995. “Our facilities program is a beacon for other states.”

Slack was inducted into the Wisconsin Air National Guard Hall of Fame in 2019.

Prior to being named adjutant general, Slack worked for many years as a state employee, beginning as a civil engineer with the State Highway Commission. He also worked for the Bureau of Engineering and chief engineer for the Department of Natural Resources. His civilian career ended as administrator for the Division of State Facilities Management, and secretary of the State Division of Facilities Management.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Sherill Cordt Slack, brothers Jim Slack, Robert Slack and Steven Slack, daughters Ann Slack and Sara Lenz, and six grandchildren. A memorial service will be held July 21 in Madison.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *