The National Guard embraces the citizen soldier concept that began during the Revolutionary War. Its mission is to respond to domestic emergencies, overseas combat missions, counter drug efforts, reconstruction missions and whatever mission it is called to respond. The National Guard is an important and critical component of the entire U.S. Military force.
“It’s state run first and then federal,” explained Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, director of the Joint Staff of the Tennessee National Guard. “It’s the best of both worlds and a great way to do it all. It takes a lot of obligation and each member has a duty to perform at the highest level.”
Winstead grew up in a small town in East Tennessee. While he didn’t come from a military family, it was ingrained in family tradition to honor and respect the military.
“We always respected the military — what it stood for, the ideals, the structure,” Winstead said. “It teaches honor, sacrifice, teamwork, obedience, less about self and more about others. Those ideals affect everything we do.”
He graduated from Centre College in Kentucky with an economics and management major. He received his law degree from the University of Richmond in Virginia, married his high school sweetheart two weeks before graduation and began practicing law in Nashville in 1988. The Winsteads moved to Franklin in 1993 and had two daughters.
In early 1990, Winstead’s wife heard the Tennessee National Guard had openings in the Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) Corps and volunteered his service. In the Winstead family, service is an important part of their lives so it was no surprise when in August 1990, Winstead was sworn in and direct-commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the Judge Advocate Corps assigned to the 194th Engineer Brigade, Tennessee National Guard.
It was just as preparations were underway for Desert Storm — the mission to liberate Kuwait from Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded the small country in August 1990. Desert Storm began in January 1991 and liberated the Kuwait in 100 hours. The Operation involved regular Army, Reserves and the National Guard.
The JAG office plays an integral part in preparing the individual soldier for deployment. It ensures the soldier has medical checks and proper gear. It provides guidance for wills and insurance and legal help in other areas to “help make them be a better soldier,” said Winstead, who is a partner in a civilian law office. “JAG isn’t a total legal service. We can’t represent a soldier in court proceedings.”
JAG also reaches out to the community to make certain services work together while soldiers are deployed, he added.
Continuing education is key to becoming a better leader. In 1998 Major Winstead attended the Command and General Staff College.
At age 45 Lt. Col. Winstead deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom III 2004-2006 to serve as the Command JAG for the 194th Engineer Brigade. He was stationed at Tillil Air Base — formerly Imam Ali Air Base when it was Saddam Hussein‘s air field. It was bombed and captured in 1991.
“We were with two other guard units, from Alabama and Texas,” Winstead said. “It was a place where some soldiers came in to transition to their final location and for others it was their final destination.”
More than 5,000 soldiers and airmen were on the base at any time. In a beat-up, caved in building Winstead worked with the Alabama and Texas Guard Units to develop a consolidated law office with a criminal, personal, contract and administrative law division.
“We called it The Alamo — Last Stand for Justice,” he said. “This was everybody’s idea and everybody made it work. We could run 24 hours a day, a great example of working together.”
Winstead was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for the project.
While deployed, “I felt sorry for my wife,” he said. “She did the same job she always did plus my job. I was told to go to a place where there was a lot of sand, three meals a day and I get paid. My job was to do my job as best as I can so [the soldiers] can do their job.”
In 2010, Winstead went to the U.S. Army War College.
On Feb. 15, 2017, he was promoted to Brigadier General. The 29-year veteran of the Tennessee National Guard is still enthusiastic about his “part time” job.
Carole Robinson may be contacted at