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‘I have given my life to serve’: Utah mayor and father of seven killed in Afghanistan

North Ogden, Utah, Mayor Brent Taylor was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday. (Christopher Campbell/North Ogden City)

Brent R. Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, and a father of seven, was killed in action Saturday while serving in Afghanistan as a member of the Army National Guard, officials confirmed.

Taylor, 39, was killed in an apparent insider attack after a member of the Afghan security forces opened fire at a base in Kabul where foreign troops provide training to Afghan forces. The attack wounded another U.S. service member. Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, confirmed that the person who opened fire on Taylor was killed immediately.

Taylor is survived by his wife, Jennie, and their seven children who range in age from 11 months to 13 years old.

“Brent’s life impacted so many of us in remarkable ways, and we are grateful for the expressions of gratitude and sympathy that we have received. We are especially grateful for the love and support shown to Brent’s grieving children,” family spokeswoman Kristy Pack said in an email.

“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,” she added.

News of Taylor’s death brought shock and grief to a Utah community in which he had served as mayor since 2013 and, before that, as a City Council member.

“I hate this. I’m struggling for words,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox posted Saturday. “I love Mayor Taylor, his amazing wife Jennie and his 7 sweet kids. Utah weeps for them today. This war has once again cost us the best blood of a generation. We must rally around his family. Thank you for your sacrifice my friend.”

At a news conference Sunday, a visibly emotional Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) called it “a sad day for Utah." He said others had discouraged Taylor from deploying a fourth time, telling him, “You’ve done enough. You’ve done your part.”

And yet, Taylor insisted he wanted to go back.

“He thought he could do some good in Afghanistan, to help the people be liberated," Herbert said. “That’s an admirable quality that we all ought to emulate. What can we do to help our fellow man?”

Herbert noted it is military protocol to wait 24 hours after contacting next of kin before publicly identifying a fallen service member, but acknowledged tributes to Taylor had already begun spreading on social media the day before.

Taylor announced his deployment to his constituents in early January via Facebook Live, explaining that he had been called to help train Afghan commando units after President Trump had ordered an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“There are three great loyalties that have guided my life and everything in it: God, family and country,” Taylor said then. “While I am far from perfect in any of these respects, I have given my life to serve all three of these loyalties whenever and however I can. And right now there is a need for my experience and skills to serve in our nation’s long-lasting war in Afghanistan.”

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He anticipated his deployment would last 12 months and reassured North Ogden citizens that the city would be in good hands.

During the past 10 months, Taylor posted periodic updates of his Afghanistan service to Facebook, often sounding and looking optimistic.

In September, he celebrated from afar his 15th anniversary with his wife, Jennie Taylor. In their marriage, they had endured five years apart during four of Taylor’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he wrote. Earlier that month, he wrote, he had watched his youngest child learn to walk via Skype.

“[Jennie] is truly the center of our home and at the very center of all our lives,” Taylor wrote. “I second Winston Churchill, who said: ‘My most brilliant achievement was . . . to persuade my wife to marry me.’ "

In his last Facebook post, dated Oct. 28, Taylor quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt — “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved” — and spoke with pride about witnessing Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in eight years, despite threats of violence.

“As the USA gets ready to vote in our own election next week, I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote,” Taylor wrote. “And that whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us. ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ God Bless America.”

On Twitter, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) called Taylor “a hero to all of us.”

“Brent was a hero, a patriot, a wonderful father, and a dear friend,” Hatch wrote. “News of his death in Afghanistan is devastating. My prayers and love are with Jennie and his 7 young children. His service will always be remembered.”

In less than a day, a GoFundMe set up to help Taylor’s family had raised more than $135,000.

The motive for Saturday’s shooting — the second insider attack at a base against foreign troops in less than two weeks — was not immediately clear. The Taliban praised Saturday’s attack, saying it was conducted by a “sensible” Afghan.

Burton noted that Taylor was extremely driven and had completed work toward a Ph.D.

That he was killed in an insider attack was “additionally bitter for us," Burton said.

“Knowing Brent Taylor, he was a bridge builder and a man who made friends and just loved people,” Burton said. “It’s bitter because he was with folks he was helping ... and that’s what is ultimately so painful about this.”

Taylor’s body is scheduled to be flown back to Dover Air Force Base Monday night and funeral arrangements are pending, according to the Utah National Guard.

Afghans began voting on Saturday in parliamentary elections. Violence forced a postponement of the vote in the strategic southern province of Kandahar. (Video: Reuters)

Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report. This post has been updated.

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