Shellito plans to reach out to veterans
ST. PAUL -- Larry Shellito commanded thousands of Minnesota National Guard troops the past seven years, including those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now faces a different kind of battle.
As the newly named Minnesota Veterans' Affairs Department commissioner, the retired major general said that his major task will be making sure the state's veterans know his agency can help them.
"It is the best kept secret," the 65-year-old Shellito said about his state department, so his job will be more public relations than hand-to-hand combat.
About 60 percent of Minnesota veterans do not know about the state agency's services, Shellito said.
"One of my key jobs is to work with the veterans' organizations," he said. "My goal is to create systems processes, tools, techniques for them to do their job more effectively."
The department helps 381,000 Minnesota veterans and their dependents obtain help from the federal Veterans Administration as well as assisting them as they return from overseas duty.
Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday announced that Shellito is his veterans pick.
Shellito, who lives in Woodbury, stepped down as state National Guard leader last year after seven years. He is a former Alexandria Technical College president and a Minnesota State University Moorhead graduate.
In making the appointment, Dayton specifically pointed out Shellito's efforts to create Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, a program to help Guard and Reserve soldiers reintegrate into society after returning from overseas.
Minnesota's National Guard under Shellito grew to more than 14,000 members, operating 63 facilities across Minnesota.
Shellito, a retired major general, began military service in 1968 and served in Vietnam, then spent 37 years in the Minnesota Army National Guard.
While the state Senate must confirm Shellito, he has received glowing reviews from all political segments. No other Dayton appointment has received as much reaction.
"Major Gen. Shellito will be a great leader for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs," U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, said. "Veterans across the state can count on Major Gen. Shellito's commitment to veterans and their families, and I'm pleased that Gov. Dayton has chosen him for such an important job."
Former colleagues joined in the praise.
"From the days when Gen. Shellito and I served together in the Minnesota National Guard, his commitment to those who have served our nation has been clear," U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-1st District, said. "He is a strong leader, a good listener, always focused on the mission at hand, an excellent manager and a visionary thinker."
And the man who succeeded him as head of the state Guard added his comments.
"I have confidence that he will faithfully serve all of Minnesota's veterans," Adjutant General Rick Nash said.
With a rural background, Shellito said he will talk to those who serve veterans around the state to see if they have special needs. For instance, some rural veterans complain that health care clinics are too far away.
It is important for veterans needing health care to stay close to home, Shellito said. That could help health care providers in those areas, he added, and make for better health services for all rural Minnesotans.
"On my to-do list is contacting the county veteran service officers," he said.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.