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New leadership takes command of N.D. National Guard

BISMARCK--With more than 43 years of service in state government, Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk has overseen the transition of the North Dakota National Guard from a force of last resort to a go-to for military and emergency operations.

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BISMARCK-With more than 43 years of service in state government, Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk has overseen the transition of the North Dakota National Guard from a force of last resort to a go-to for military and emergency operations.

Decades after beginning as a photographer and moving up the ladder to the top spot, Sprynczynatyk, 65, retired as adjutant general and director of the Department of Emergency Services, a position in which he has served since Aug. 26, 2006.

"I see the Guard continuing to be a great asset for the people of North Dakota," Sprynczynatyk said.

Replacing him is Brig. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, who has served in the deputy role since 2007 and has been a National Guard member since 1990. The National Guard has more than 4,200 airmen and soldiers. The adjutant general also oversees DES, the state's agency for emergency response coordination and communication.

Here's a look back at the careers of both men as the National Guard undergoes its change in leadership.

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Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk

For Sprynczynatyk, the journey to adjutant general began with an enlistment that allowed him to put a hobby to good use.

He graduated from North Dakota State University in 1972 with a degree in civil engineering, joining the National Guard in 1972 as a photographer in the 116th Public Information Detachment.

"It had been a hobby of mine for some time, (and) I was able to serve my country," said Sprynczynatyk, who, in 1978, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 164th Engineer Group.

Sprynczynatyk began his civilian career at that time, spending 28 years with the State Water Commission, 11 years as the state engineer. For five years, he was director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation before being named adjutant general.

"At some point, it became a goal, probably not until around the year 2000. It suddenly became clear that one day I could become adjutant general," Sprynczynatyk said.

One of the biggest changes over the years is in the type of force the National Guard has become.

"The most significant change has been prior to 9/11 the Guard was a strategic reserve - the force of last resort. The Guard has transformed into an operational force," Sprynczynatyk said.

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A major challenge for Dohrmann will be in maintaining combat readiness and funding, according to Sprynczynatyk.

"I believe he'll be able to carry on the direction the Guard has taken on in the last several years," Sprynczynatyk said.

Meanwhile, Sprynczynatyk said he's going to adjust to a slower pace while remaining involved in the community in various organizations.

"I'll wake up on Monday, and it'll all be behind me," Sprynczynatyk said. "I've had opportunities to serve at all levels. It's time to step back and enjoy life."

The praise for Sprynczynatyk was high from those who have worked with him.

"Total state service of more than 43 years. I've never heard of anything quite like this," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said of Sprynczynatyk in October when announcing his retirement. "His leadership and vision will leave a lasting impact on North Dakotans."

Brig. Gen. Robert Fode, project development director at the DOT, said he's always respected Sprynczynatyk and found him to be a strong leader in the National Guard and the DOT.

"He's brought a lot of great things to both of these organizations. Gen. Sprynczynatyk is a very compassionate individual who enjoyed taking care of Guard members and their families," Fode said.

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Fode said Sprynczynatyk will be missed, but Dohrmann brings strong leadership as well; he expects a fairly smooth transition.

Brig. Gen. Alan Dohrmann

While he does not see any big shifts in strategy, Dohrmann, 55, said he wants to be ready for that 500-year flooding that seems to happen every other year in North Dakota.

"We've got to make sure we're ready to go when that happens," Dohrmann said.

One of his main areas of focus will be to ensure those under him are ready for whatever challenges ahead, foreign and domestic.

"There will not be significant changes. We'll continue to execute our strategic plans," said Dohrmann, who, as deputy adjutant general, worked closely with Sprynczynatyk to develop a strategic plan for the state's National Guard.

Dohrmann, who received his bachelor's degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University in 1983, sees the need to keep people ready for deployment equally important.

"The federal budget is always a concern. We've morphed into an operational force; we're incredible bang for the buck. But if we don't get the dollars for the training, that muscle atrophies after a while," said Dohrmann, who began his military career as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany and Japan.

In 1990, he left active duty and moved to North Dakota, transferring to the National Guard and joined its engineering branch after learning of an officer position in Valley City. He also entered the University of North Dakota School of Law, graduating in 1993.

"My thought at the time was to go into law school and be a prosecutor," said Dohrmann, whose education led him to multiple stints as a judge advocate general for the National Guard. Two of them, from January 1999 to July 2001 and June 2002 to June 2004, were in Bismarck. From July 2004 to June 2005, he was a JAG in Kosovo.

He said the JAG positions helped prepare him for the upper echelon of positions, according to Dohrmann.

"It's hard to imagine yourself in these jobs sometimes; in the mid-2000s, I was thinking I was tracking for the adjutant general position," said Dohrmann, who has been deputy adjutant general since 2007. From August 2009 to October 2010, he was at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, serving as commanding general for Task Force Falcon.

When Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced Dohrmann's promotion in October, he praised Dohrmann's leadership in coordinating the 2011 flood response for Bismarck and Mandan. This included the filling of millions of sandbags and having everything in place within a couple weeks' time.

"That was the most remarkable emergency response effort I've heard of ever. He will be a very strong adjutant general, and he will move us into a new era," Dalrymple said.

Amber Wilson, a chief warrant officer for the National Guard, worked with Dohrmann during his time as a JAG officer in Bismarck.

Wilson said Dohrmann had extensive experience in drafting bill language for legislative sessions.

"It gives him the ethics piece and ability dealing with legislative issues," Wilson said.

Wilson said Dohrmann's active-duty military experience also will help in maintaining the National Guard's combat readiness.

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