Honoring our veterans: Retired Col. Gary Kayser, M.S. ‘04
In March 1983, Col. Gary Kayser’s lifelong service to country began when as a high school senior, he enlisted in the Army Reserve’s 84th Training Division with his future wife, Susan, by his side. He felt the Army Reserve would help prepare him for law school by increasing his self discipline while allowing him to earn tuition money. This began what would become an almost 33-year Army career following in his ancestors’ footsteps. Two of his great-grandfathers served in the Civil War and his grandfather served in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. His great-uncle was killed on February 5, 1918 after a U-boat sank the Tuscania off the west coast of France during World War I. Another great-uncle, who was also his godfather, was awarded a Silver Star for his actions saving the life of his platoon leader during the invasion of Sicily. His father enlisted in the Air Defense Artillery and became an Army Reserve cook.
In December 1985, Kayser was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve while he was studying for his B.A. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Later, he enrolled in the University of Kansas law school, but after a semester and a half, he decided law was not for him.
Kayser came to Illinois State University in March 2000 as the recruiting operations officer and assistant professor of military science in the United States Army Cadet Command. He was responsible for the recruitment and retention of all Department of Military Science students, administration of all federal and state scholarship programs, as well as teaching first and second year courses. In this role, he increased course enrollment, student retention, and annual commissions. During his tenure at Illinois State University, he enrolled in the Department of Technology’s graduate degree program studying training and development and project management and graduated in 2004.
“The technology graduate program expanded my critical thinking and writing skills and added an enriched depth to my identity and perspective,” said Kayser.
Kayser feels the training and development program’s coursework has provided a comprehensive framework for assessing training needs, developing training programs, and assessing training which he applied to every role he performed over the last sixteen years of his Army career.
Dan Brown, retired technology graduate advisor states, “[Kayser] was an exemplary graduate student. He brought his love of learning, leadership, and meticulous attention to detail to his studies. He proceeded through his studies seeking new skills and knowledge that had practical application to the community he served. Looking back on his roots it is not surprising that even in his retirement he continues to find opportunities to apply his leadership and management skills to better the lives of his fellow soldiers and their families.”
From August 2005 to June 2009, Kayser led a team of 26 field grade officers, senior noncommissioned officers, Department of Army (DA) civilians, and contractors to develop individual training policies and programs and provide guidance to subordinate commands. His team provided feedback to the revised content of military occupational skills training programs of instruction, including after studies identified issues that were causing a high number of severe injuries and fatalities of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army must be able to apply lessons learned in training and “real-life” experiences as quickly as possible in order to increase combat effectiveness and reduce casualty severity and frequency. Lessons learned are collected and analyzed to identify trends and learn the impact of the trends on the mission. The issue is defined in a problem statement and multiple potential courses of action are developed and eventually someone decides which course of action to implement. The cycle accelerates, as the Army makes every effort to gain and preserve advantages faster than an adversary can adjust.
In addition, Kayser has had several positions in the Pentagon. He was a legislative liaison officer coordinating the development, communication, execution, and evaluation of the Chief of the Army Reserve’s legislative priorities and Legislative Affairs Division Chief’s strategic engagement plans. After returning from a 2009-2010 deployment to Afghanistan, he was the director of training of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and was selected “by name” to implement and expand the Active Component to Reserve Component (AC2RC) Training Program Army-wide to support active component soldiers to contract with reserve component units and attend reclassification training.
The majority of Kayser’s Facebook contacts are former Illinois State students. Kayser’s time at Illinois State University was very special and rewarding to him. He enjoyed teaching the students and contributing to the development of our country’s future leaders, regardless of whether they chose to pursue military service. He is proud of the many ways they are contributing to our nation and communities through service. They helped him grow as a leader and educator.
“Kayser was an energetic and engaged leader with an extremely positive attitude. He searched for the best in people and taught them to grow those strengths. He viewed weakness in his students and subordinates as opportunities for improvement, and not as reflections of their potential. I was a better officer and a better person for having studied under and worked for [Kayser],” says retired Maj. Mark Miller, a former ROTC student at Illinois State University.
Following his 2015 retirement from the Army, Kayser was hired as a project manager leading a team of seven consultants tasked with implementing a strategic plan to transform Army Field Manuals (FM) into an accountable, transparent, and fully integrated enterprise. The project was completed and implemented six months ahead of schedule.
Currently, Kayser is a program manager working with Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Program. He leads a contractor team of 104 remotely-located advocates, four regional supervisors, two trainers, deputy program manager, a quality control specialist, and an administrative assistant. This program provides support to over 13,500 recovering soldiers, their family members, and caregivers by coordinating and providing non-medical case management services from 23 Army installation medical facilities, 57 Veterans Affairs medical centers, the U.S. Army Medical Command, and other internal and external stakeholders across the U.S. and Germany.