By Anne Burt
Retirement from the U.S. military is a big occasion where parades, ceremonies and lavish gifts are tradition. BYU”s Colonel Roger Maher, however, was perfectly content to quietly slip into a silent, unpraised military retirement after 30 years of service.
Maher thought he had succeeded, until he received a telephone call from a young lady.
“Congratulations,” the voice said. “Oh, by the way, we”d like to feature you at the unforum and invite you to a luncheon with President Bateman and company.”
Maher said he had no idea what he had fallen into. He quickly learned he was selected as one of the seven annual recipients of the Brigham Award at BYU, awarded to people who show outstanding service to others.
Maher”s surprise did not end there.
The BYU cadets of the ROTC also invited Maher”s good friend, a general, to what was intended to be a simple retirement ceremony.
“These cadets, one more time, outpaced themselves,” Maher said. “It was the most incredible retirement ceremony that I had ever been too.”
Feelings of love and admiration toward Maher are common among BYU cadets.
“He is a wonderful example of a leader, and servant of the Lord,” said Cadet Brian Bales from Ann Arbor, Mich. “And he is like a father to over 250 cadets.”
Another cadet said despite Mayer”s high rank, he has time to spend with the cadets.
“He is very approachable and extremely friendly,” said Cadet Jed Bailey, from Farmington, Utah. “He is genuinely interested in the well being of those around him and has dedicated his life to serving others.”
Maher”s interest in military service began at an early age as Maher observed the fine behavior of his father and his father”s friends, all World War II veterans.
Maher also recalled drawing pictures of airplanes, particularly the F-86 Saber Jet, before attending grade school.
A farm boy from Tooele, Utah, Maher said he realized in high school that his poor vision would limit his ability to flying planes.
After serving a mission in France for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Maher said his thirst to see the world expanded.
After his return from France, the U.S. military notified Maher that his draft number for the Vietnam War was 155. Maher said the requirement to serve in the military did not bother him. However, he said there must be a better way to serve then by fighting in the mud and trenches.
In the summer of 1970, Maher came to BYU and enrolled in the ROTC program. In addition to vision limitations, ROTC officials added hearing and colorblind problems to the list.
Maher”s dream of being a pilot was impossible.
“I decided I would like to do something that would keep me in contact with these guys so that I could support them in some way with the execution of their missions,” Maher said. “Intelligence was one way to do that.”
Maher spent a year in the jungles of Southeast Asia briefing aircrews on threats, resisting interrogation and survival techniques during the Vietnam War.
Maher”s service in the Vietnam War began years of involvement in U.S. military intelligence fulfilling Maher”s desire to see the world. Maher”s service whirled him to over a dozen different assignments, and awarded him 17 medals of honor colorfully displayed as ribbons on Maher”s crisp, blue military uniform.
Maher said his favorite medal was given to him for a 9-month assignment developing a database for installations worth striking in Libya. When the U.S. military attacked Libya, President Reagan chose six targets from Maher”s list, he said.
Maher said he sat in the command center with two 4-star generals during the Libyan air raids. Maher fondly recalled watching one of the generals agonize over the loss of one American plane.
The last two years of Maher”s military service were at BYU”s ROTC program teaching military science. Maher got permission from two generals and a major general to be released from his current assignment to come teach at BYU.
“I”ve have loved this tour of duty,” Maher said. “These young people … are some of the best and the brightest and the most energetic that you”ll ever run across. They are great, young Latter-day Saints. They are great, young, American patriots.”
Maher said he wants his BYU cadets to understand that gospel principles taught by The Church of Jesus Christ are an advantage to help them become great soldiers and great generals.
Maher lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife Camille. They have six children.