On November 3, 2018, Jennie Taylor’s life changed forever. Her husband, Major Brent Taylor, was killed near Kabul by an Afghan soldier that he was training. He was a member of the Utah Army National Guard and the mayor of North Ogden—the first sitting U.S. politician to be killed in action since the Civil War.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be public, and I wish I could just keep it to myself.’ I didn’t like the world watching me get punched in the stomach,” Jennie recalls. According to protocol, Jennie was supposed to have 24 hours of privacy before they released Brent’s name to the news. But by 2 p.m., half the city was on her front porch.
Creating a Legacy
While Jennie doesn’t like the spotlight, she has chosen to embrace it as a way to honor her husband and their seven children. She reads her husband’s journals and finds motivation in them. He wrote about how soldiers in Korea and Vietnam inspired him. When he thought bootcamp or deployment was hard, he wrote, “This may be hard, but it’s nothing like they faced. How can I hold my head up when I meet them after I die? How can I say, ‘Sorry yours was hard, but I gave up.’”
In the years since her husband’s death, Jennie has often found herself in a position to speak about the price of freedom, the value of community support, and the healing that comes by choosing to find hope and happiness despite life’s heartaches. Then the military widow decided to give even more of herself. OnJuly 6, 2019, in honor of what would have been her husband’s 40th birthday, she established the Major Brent Taylor Foundation.
The mission of the foundation is to train, honor, and engage. “There is a lot of overlap, lots of distinction, but the biggest thing is helping people to become a legacy maker,” she explains. “Brent left us a legacy, and it is our job to now create a legacy and pass it on.”
An American Story
Megan Taylor, the oldest of the Taylor’s seven children, rolled her eyes last spring when the family was asked to come to another patriotic event in Washington, D.C. “Haven’t we already done that?” she asked. “Meg, this is going to be a part of your life for the rest of your life,” Jennie responded. “You can be irritated that people want to keep talking to you about this, or you can do what I’ve chosen to do, which is to see myself in the middle of the American story.”
As a military widow, Jennie says that she’s seen things that most of America has not. “I’ve been to Dover Air Force Base in the middle of the night and watched as they transferred my husband’s casket. I’ve been given a flag by a general at my husband’s funeral,” she says.
“Most of America sees it in a movie, or maybe they read it in a book or an article, but I’ve lived that. I feel compelled to tell that story because of my background and my husband’s background.” But Jennie understands that her experience is not hers alone. “It’s not just my story—it’s America’s. And the flags we fly are for hundreds of years’ worth of people who, unfortunately, like me, have buried someone like that,” she says. “I feel like God has put me in a position to be a voice, too. I didn’t ask for it. I certainly didn’t see it coming.”
A Life of Service
Jennie met Brent in college in 2003 on a blind date. “We started talking, and I felt a connection,” Jennie recalls. “Brent was a very driven, ambitious, and impressive young man. When he first told me that he wanted to join the military (on our first date!), my stomach hit the floor. I had never considered myself a possible military spouse! But as we continued to date and plan our future together, he had my support 100 percent.” The couple married in September 2003. Five months later, Brent left for bootcamp and was gone for a year.
“Our entire first year of marriage we wrote letters and sometimes, if we were lucky, he’d get a phone call privilege. It was strange because I was married but single,” Jennie recalls. Over Brent’s 15-year military career, he deployed to the Middle East four times. In 2007, he served in Bosil, Iraq, and then elected to serve another year in Baghdad after learning that they were shorthanded. Brent got into politics in2009 when he campaigned for the North Ogden City Council. He was elected and served for two years—all while actively serving in the Utah National Guard and pursuing a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Utah. Then he deployed again in 2012, this time to Kunduz, Afghanistan. When he returned in 2013, he finished his master’s degree and then started a doctorate in international relations—all while campaigning for mayor. He was elected as mayor of North Ogden in 2014 and served until 2017 when a deployment opportunity presented itself.
“Brent hadn’t deployed since 2012. We didn’t even talk about deployment anymore.It shocked both of us,” Jennie recalls.The deployment was to Afghanistan to train soldiers.They were shorthanded and needed people. According to Jennie, Brent felt uniquely qualified to take this mission because he had done it before.
“Brent always felt there was more he could do, no matter how much he did. He didn’t feel like he could say, ‘No, I’m done. I’ve done too much,’” she says. “We were seven months pregnant with our seventh baby when we found out about the deployment. It was crazy because he had to take a leave of absence, which meant the whole city knew he was leaving. Many people were shocked, but we were united.”
In August of 2018, Brent was able to come home on leave. It would be the last time that his family would see him alive. “It was awesome,” says Jennie. “We played with the kids and took a vacation. It was a wonderful two weeks.”
After Brent returned to Afghanistan and the kids went back to school, Jennie felt like the time until Brent’s release in January would go fast. The weeks went by quickly until Halloween—Jennie’s birthday. “It had been so hard,” she recalls. “I felt like I had been humbled and refined. I remember thinking, ‘I am a better person now than I have ever been.’ I didn’t worry about Brent because I was so worried about our family. Then the unthinkable happened.”
Continuing the Legacy
Now, Jennie is doing all that she can to build upon Brent’s legacy of patriotism and service through the Major Brent Taylor Foundation. The logo Jennie picked for the foundation is an oak leaf cluster—the symbol for the rank of major in the U.S. Army. The seven points on the oak leaf represent the seven Taylor children.
“I hope to inspire people to live their own legacy,” she says. “Yours is different than mine, and mine is different than yours.”
Kiersten Cragun, who graduated from Weber State University with a degree in public relations and communications, started working at the foundation in January.“ Jennie exudes joy,” she says. “She is a strong person but also very humble. She is the kind of woman I want to be—especially how she balances her time with her children and the foundation.
Training Future Leaders
The mission of the Major Brent Taylor Foundation is to train, honor, and engage. Over the past few years, foundation members have raised more than $135,000 in scholarships to help train current and future leaders. These scholarships are for students who have an interest in following one of Brent’s academic paths.The foundation has established two scholarships for graduating high school seniors in Brent’s name: one at Weber High School in North Ogden (Jennie’s alma mater), and one at Chandler High School in Chandler, Arizona (Brent’s alma mater). At each high school, these $1,000 scholarships are awarded to one young man and one young woman with a history of service and leadership.
“I wanted to choose young people who know that service is the key to leadership and who are motivated by what motivated Brent: serving, sacrificing, and leading,” Jennie explains.
The foundation has also created an endowed scholarship of $75,000 with the University of Utah and $62,500 with Brigham Young University. The scholarship at BYU is awarded to an undergraduate majoring in political science, and the scholarships at the University of Utah are for a graduate student pursuing a master of public administration and fora Ph.D. candidate from within the college of social and behavioral sciences. The award amount will vary depending on the return of the endowment’s investment, but last year, two BYU students received a year of half tuition, and the students at the University of Utah received a couple of thousand dollars each.
In the future, Jennie sees the foundation holding leadership workshops for military personnel who want to get into politics. “I think it would benefit our country so much,” she says. “Fifty years ago, many people in Congress had served in the military, but that’s not true anymore.”
Honoring Military Families
The second mission of the foundation seeks to honor military families by identifying, celebrating, and remembering their bravery and sacrifice.
The foundation has already created the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in North Ogden, Utah. Other memorials in St. George and Pleasant View, Utah, are under construction and will be completed in November. “These beautiful monuments honor military families and are symbolic of the ultimate sacrifice made by military members in service to their country,” says Jennie. “They stand as a reminder to those families that our communities will never forget their sacrifice.”
The foundation also places flags at funerals and other community events. In 2021, they placed flags at the dedication at the new Vietnam War Dog Memorial in Layton, and in 2020, they helped with the funeral of Air Force pilot Kade Allen from Brigham City, Utah, and with the funeral of Nate Lyday, a young Ogden, Utah, police officer killed in the line of duty.
The foundation also honors military families and others with their Christmas Magic program. “It started with one woman with three little kids, whose husband was deployed in the Air Force. I told her we wanted to help her withChristmas for her children. It was one less thing she should have to worry about,” says Jennie.The program grew, and last Christmas the foundation gathered gifts for 25 families.
Engaging with the Community
The third part of the foundation’s mission is to engage with community members through cultural and performing arts events. “Events that brought people together is what Brent loved most about being mayor, like the concerts or the chalk art festival,” says Jennie. “He loved to see people engaged in service and coming together.”
The most recent project for Jennie and the foundation is called Weber Remembers. It’s a coalition with the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, local businesses, community members, city governments, and police and fire departments. The event is a walk-through memorial to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Johnny Ferry, vice president of business for Honeyville, Inc., designed a living exhibit for the event based on his experiences visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
“I’ve been to the 9/11 museum many times. I wanted to do something to bring the idea back here with pictures, sights, sounds, and videos,” he says. “The goal is to bring the community together. Regardless of our political and other backgrounds, we can all connect because we are Americans.”
The free event will be held at the Weber County Fairgrounds from September 9 through September 11. The 9/11 exhibit will move through two buildings. The buildings will be dark with spotlights on 4 x 8 photo boards around the rooms. The living exhibit will start in Utah about what life was like in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
From Utah, guests “fly” to New York on September 10, 2001. They will cross the Brooklyn Bridge, listening to the birds and the lap of the East River below. They will see the massive World Trade Center towers and look for Rachel and Ross drinking coffee at Central Perk.
Next, guests will take a subway, complete with sounds and a fog machine. When they arrive in Manhattan, it will be September 11, 2001. There will be pictures of planes crashing into the two towers and 20 TV screens playing news feeds and heroic stories of what happened that day.
Visitors will go through the War on Terror, remember the attack on the Pentagon, struggle with the passengers on Flight 193, and hear stories of survivors who were in the buildings when the planes hit.
Attendees will then arrive in the community room where there will be a stage featuring local performance groups. One wall will feature the giant American flag named The Major, in honor of Major Brent Taylor. There will also be a children’s area where they can write thank-you letters to fire, police, and military workers. Finally, outside there will be the “Live Hero,” where visitors can talk with fire, police, or military workers inside their service vehicles.
Bringing people together is what Jennie hopes she can spend the rest of her life doing, especially in her hometown. “I feel like I’ve inherited Brent’s life,” she says. “God has been so good to us in this tragedy. Incredible things have happened. My kids are growing up without their father, but he’s not gone—not really. I hope to inspire them to live their own legacy. I hope they will figure out their missions in life and then just be awesome at it.”
To learn more, visit majorbrenttaylor.com.
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