ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Army National Guard bid farewell this week to Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter after his 29 months of service as the acting director of the Army National Guard, and more than 44 years of military service.

A native of Sturgis, Carpenter's career began in 1967 when he enlisted with the South Dakota Army National Guard. A little known fact about Carpenter is that shortly thereafter he joined the U.S. Navy, where he attended the Defense Language Institute to study Vietnamese for 48 weeks.

When asked what he can still remember of the language, Carpenter says, "That was a long time ago."

After serving a combat tour in Danang, South Vietnam, he returned to South Dakota, where he was commissioned in 1974 in the Army National Guard.

"It was a lot different than the homecomings that we have today," he said. "We had a draftee Army back then ... and I have been lucky enough to experience that and to have also experienced the Army National Guard that we have today - the difference is night and day."

Over the next 35 years, Carpenter would move up through the ranks. An Engineer officer for most of his career, he went on to hold various titles, eventually becoming the acting director of the Army National Guard.

"You know, I wanted this job. I applied for the job twice and didn't get the job," he said. Pausing briefly to reflect on his two and a half years of stewardship in an "acting" capacity, he then added: "But I got the job."

Carpenter's greatest strength was how vigilant he was in making the people of the Army Guard his top priority.

"The first is having enough people. When I took over in May 2009, we had around 366,000 soldiers in the Army National Guard. We then received guidance to cut that to about 362,000, and the real irony was that the previous five years were spent trying to increase our size."

Tweaking recruiting efforts in order to meet the new limit while not dipping below that figure was only one of several challenges Carpenter faced, and he faced his challenges head-on.

But focusing on people meant far more than just focusing on numbers. As the acting director, Carpenter faced increasing behavioral health and suicide numbers, with a 100 percent increase in suicides from 2009 to 2010.

"Another part of my people priority has always been resiliency and finding ways to decrease those numbers and setting goals for ourselves," he said.