Shellito reaches out to veterans
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 65-year-old 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, D-Minn., 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."
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.
"On my to-do list is contacting the county veteran service officers," he said.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.