North Ogden • American flags lined the street leading to North Ogden City’s municipal center where a small cluster of flowers were laid in memory of Mayor Brent Taylor, a major in the National Guard killed Saturday in an insider attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A similar display of flags was set outside the Taylor family’s home, where friends and family gathered with Taylor’s wife, Jennie, and the couple’s seven children, ages 11 months up to 13 years.
“When I asked Jennie what she would like me to say when we came out, she said that there is heartache but no regret,” said Taylor’s sister-in-law Kristy Pack, who spoke to members of the media on behalf of the family.
“It would be hard to find a family that loves our country more than this family,” Pack said, “and that has the desire to serve our country more than this family.”
Political leaders, colleagues, friends and family are remembering Taylor, 39, as a man of service and principle, who valued transparency and sought to move beyond the common divisions in society.
Oscar Mata, a political consultant and former executive director of the Weber County Democratic Party, said the news of Taylor’s death was “heartbreaking.” Taylor was a “proud Republican,” Mata said, but also someone with a natural ability and interest in bringing people together to serve the broader community.
“He just had a way of helping people see the things that they have in common rather than the things they disagree with,” Mata said. “It was a skill that was just amazing.”
Mata and Taylor co-chaired Weber County Forward, a group pushing for a restructure of the county’s three-member commission governance model.
While Taylor had never discussed his future ambitions with Mata, his name was often listed among the potential candidates for higher office. And Mata said he had hoped Taylor would run to be the county’s mayor if their Weber County Forward effort was successful.
“I had a lot of hope for the future of politics here in Weber County knowing that Brent Taylor was going to be playing a critical role in it,” Mata said.
At a media event in Draper early Sunday, Utah National Guard Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert discussed the limited details they knew about Taylor’s death.
Taylor, a trainer of Afghan commandos, died while on a foot patrol when an Afghan soldier attacked. Other Afghan fighters killed the man quickly, according to NATO. One other soldier was wounded by the attacker’s small-arms fire, but is expected to recover.
Burton lamented Taylor’s death, calling the guardsman and mayor “a man of excellence.” He said Taylor’s remains will arrive at Dover Air Force base Monday evening, and that the funeral is still being planned.
“He is a heavy loss for us and he will be missed,” Burton said.
The major general described the attack as a betrayal and an incident of misplaced trust.
“I do believe that Major Taylor felt he was among friends with the people he was working with,” Burton said. “That is what is so, ultimately, painful about this.”
Burton said the circumstances of the attack remain under investigation.
In his Facebook updates, Taylor regularly complimented the Afghan soldiers he helped train. In his last post, dated Oct. 28, Taylor urged Americans to vote in the midterm elections this Tuesday and to remember that more “unites us than divides us.”
He wrote, “I am proud of the brave Afghan and U.S. soldiers I serve with.”
And nine days earlier, he wrote of the Afghan election, “We are working hard with our brave Afghan colleagues and our dedicated NATO allies to help ensure a safe parliamentary election.”
Back in June, he said, “I absolutely love working with the awesome soldiers of Afghanistan and my U.S. colleagues.”
Taylor, Burton said, was well-regarded as personable, highly educated and committed to the Afghan soldiers under his training.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert described Taylor’s death as a sad day for Utah and the United States.
“He was the personification of the love of God, family and country,” the governor said.
Taylor entered military service in 2003 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Military Intelligence Corp in 2006, according to biographical materials provided by the National Guard. He held a bachelor degree in political science from Brigham Young University, a masters degree in public administration from the University of Utah and was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah in international relations.
Previous staff positions held by Taylor in the National Guard include platoon leader, battalion plans officer, vulnerability assistance officer, explosive ordinance disposal office, mobile training team chief, selective service officer and recruitment sustainment program coordinator.
Taylor’s current deployment was his fourth, after previous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in December 2006. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, as well as various service and achievement medals.
Herbert said the war on terror has been difficult for the nation.
“It’s been excruciatingly long,” Herbert said. “It’s hard to identify who the enemy is.”
Herbert said it can be easy to forget that America’s military personnel continue to serve in very difficult situations. He commended that selfless service to represent the state and nation and to provide better lives for their fellow man.
“They’re being sent into harm’s way and casualties still occur,” Herbert said, “as we see here today.”
Taylor served as a city councilman in North Ogden and then was elected as mayor in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. North Ogden Councilwoman Cheryl Stoker will remember Taylor as a man who “respected everyone’s opinion” and saw political disagreements as an indication that our democracy was working.
She said he improved the morale of city employees and worked to better his community, including pushing through a revamp of the city amphitheater that is still underway.
“He was very fair and open-minded,” she said. “And he was huge on transparency. He wanted the residents to know everything that was going on.”
She said his love to serve was matched only by his love of family.
Taylor was last home in August, when he had a two-week leave. On Aug. 26, he posted “Reporting back to duty.”
“As a family, we are proud to do our part for America. I can’t wait to be home for good early next year, and will keep you updated on how and what I am doing. In the meantime, please be kind in this group, respect our city and each other, and disagree and debate without falling into the negativity and contention that are sweeping across politics in our country. God bless you all and see you on the flip side!”
Taylor has five brothers who have also served in the Utah National Guard.
Pack identified the Taylor children as Megan (13 years old), Lincoln (11), Alex (9), Jacob (7), Ellie (5), Jonathan (2), and Caroline (11 months). Those children “along with his parents, siblings and other family members — we would like to express our sincere appreciation for the outpouring of love and support during this unspeakably difficult time.”
“As one of many, many military families to give the ultimate sacrifice, we also want to express our love for this great nation and the pride that we feel knowing that Brent gave his life in service to his country — the country he and Jennie both love so much," Pack said.
Toby Mileski, former mayor of neighboring Pleasant View, was also present at the Taylor family home Sunday while Pack addressed members of the media. Asked for his thoughts on Taylor’s death, Mileski said “Brent was a hero — bottom line. And he’s going to be missed.”
A GoFundMe page to support his wife, Jennie, and their seven children has already raised more than $180,000.
Tribune editor Matt Canham contributed to this report.