Written by: 
Meredith Moriak Wright

mbracing opportunities that weren't originally on the master plan provided Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel ('81) with experiences greater than he ever imagined.

Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel ('81) (Photo by Andy Morataya)

In June, Lengyel was appointed by President Barack Obama as the 28th chief of the National Guard Bureau and became the seventh member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Department of Defense's senior advisory body.

As chief, Lengyel serves as a military advisor to the president, secretary of defense and the National Security Council. He works directly with the 54 adjutant generals in the states, territories and the District of Columbia to fulfill the needs of those areas. And he's responsible for ensuring that more than 453,000 National Guard members are ready to secure the homeland and provide combat resources to the Army and Air Force if necessary.

"It's very meaningful to be selected as the chief of the National Guard Bureau. I never, in all my career, aspired to this or thought it would be possible," says the four-star general. "I'm pretty proud."

In the late 1970s, Lengyel came to the university as a chemistry major thanks to a scholarship from the Air Force ROTC program, an affinity for Denton and buddies from San Antonio who also had applied.

"As a college town, Denton had all the things college kids liked," says Lengyel, who spent his free time playing tennis and listening to music, often at The Crossroads, a rock 'n' roll club.

After completing the ROTC program, he joined the U.S. Air Force as a commissioned officer in 1981. He spent 10 years piloting the F-16 aircraft and serving the Air Force in Nevada, South Korea, Arizona and Germany as a weapons officer and flight instructor. He served in Operations Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom.

"As the son of a pilot, I knew the lifestyle of the Air Force, often moving around and living in other countries, and that appealed to me," Lengyel says. "I have always admired my dad and wanted to follow in his footsteps."

His father, Lt. Col. Lauren "Laurie" Lengyel, was an F-4 pilot who was held in Vietnam as a prisoner of war for six years before resuming combat missions.

The younger Lengyel left active duty in 1991 to join the Air National Guard as a reserve officer and begin his career as a commercial pilot with Delta Air Lines. Although he wasn't looking to return to active duty, he felt compelled to apply in 2004 for the job of the Air National Guard advisor to the commander in Germany. He had met his wife, Sally, a logistics officer, when they were both stationed there.

"The opportunity was one I felt qualified for, and my wife and I liked the idea of returning to Germany," he says.

It was saying "yes" to opportunities in the last dozen years that elevated Lengyel to the guard's highest post.

"It just seemed like every job after that one led to someone asking me to do another job," Lengyel says.

He credits his civilian career and time as a reserve officer for providing a unique perspective that empowers him to be an effective leader for the National Guard.

"I learned firsthand how to manage and train part-time soldiers and airmen, people who have another full-time career," Lengyel says. "I know what's important when leading those with other commitments."

Find more about Joseph Lengyel

Read the Joseph Lengyel Q&A.