Four-Star Paratrooper Retires
Gen. Dan K. McNeill, right, outgoing commander for U.S. Forces Command, stands with Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff and Gen. Lance Smith, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command and North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation during the U.S. Forces Command change of command ceremony Jan. 9, 2007 at Fort MacPherson, Ga. McNeill would go on to become commander of NATO's International Security and Assistance Force.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, Jun. 23, 2008) -- In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson was in office, gas cost 34 cents a gallon and the nation was growing impatient with the war in Vietnam. Not exactly a great time to join the Army for some, but Gen. Dan K. McNeill held the unpopular view that he owed a debt to the country.

At a time when gas prices are now almost $4 a gallon, President George W. Bush is the commander in chief and the U.S. military is engaged on warfronts in two theaters, McNeill, 61, retired in a ceremony, June 19, at the main post flagpole here, ending an almost 40-year career.

"Over the years, I have come to realize that I may not have completely repaid the debt totally, but I have paid a sufficient amount," McNeill said.

McNeill's last assignment as the commanding officer of the 40-nation International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan made him the highest-ranking U.S. general in that country and one of only 11 four-star generals in the U.S. Army. Over the 16 months McNeill was in charge, troop levels rose from about 20,000 to the more than 50,000 service members on the ground in Afghanistan today. He assumed command of ISAF following a tour of duty as the commanding general of U.S. Forces Command.

McNeill was born in Goldsboro, N.C. and grew up in Warsaw, N.C., about 50 miles from Fort Bragg. He remembers visiting the post as a young boy and a Cub Scout. One of the first experiences he recalls with great fondness is a trip to what is now called the "old division area" where he ate at an 82nd Airborne Division mess hall and watched paratroopers jump at Sicily drop zone. Little did he know at the time, he would one day become one of those paratroopers as well as a four-star general in the United States Army.

McNeill joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps at N.C. State University in 1964, at a time when it was mandatory. Initially, he had no intention of staying in the Army but was required to fulfill his commitment as an "obligated volunteer."

"My expectation was to do my tour in Vietnam and then get on the block and do whatever it is you do on the block, but I found that I greatly enjoyed the people with whom I associated," he said. "I saw that there were opportunities - things I wanted to do and perhaps I could do while serving. I can't say that I thought in terms of 30 or 40 years ... I always knew I would leave the Army, it was just a question of when."

After graduation in 1968, McNeill was assigned as a protocol officer (counterinsurgency) at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance at Fort Bragg where he got his first taste of war in Vietnam.

A few years after serving in Vietnam, the Warsaw native was set up on an arranged date for a military ball with Maureen Flanagan, who would eventually become his wife of over 36 years. The two met at the Fort Bragg Officers' Club, just a short walk from their present quarters.

Those who know McNeill describe him as intense and energetic yet confident and competent. He has completed more than 300 parachute jumps throughout his career, including a combat jump into Panama on Dec. 20, 1989. As an operations officer for Operation Just Cause, McNeill was a paratrooper on one of two night parachute jumps conducted to pave the way for a freely elected government in Panama.

McNeill is a seasoned combat veteran who also served in Italy, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, as well as commanded the 82nd Airborne Division, Combined Joint Task Force-180, and XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.

While his career has taken him and his Family around the globe, McNeill said he had the good fortune to be asked back to Fort Bragg a number of times and was able to do a lot of things that he aspired to do because of this. McNeill spent about 24 of his 40-year career at what is known as "the home of the airborne."

Reflecting back, McNeill has seen a number of changes over the years at Fort Bragg.

"When I walk outside I look around and when my wife and I are running in the morning, I see that Bragg now has a skyline. There's some changes that are quite tangible and very visible, but the things I think I see (the most) are those that are dramatically more different and less tangible - the support that we enjoy from the surrounding communities, the friends we have who willingly provide us the support, the willingness of those who are in the ranks today to go forward and do what has to be done, although it is hard, tough, dirty work."

In addition, McNeill feels the most significant change he has seen was the transformation of the Army from a conscript Army to a fully volunteer force and feels today's Soldiers are "the best we've ever had." McNeil encourages those in uniform and went on to say, "The young people who serve in the Army today are what the Army needs. While it is not for everyone, that's for sure, being a part of an expeditionary force, being a part of an institution in which separation from home and Family is not only a frequent but expected event, as long as you can handle it - the country needs you, the Army needs you to stay with it."

McNeill's last assignment as the commanding officer of the 40-nation International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan made him the highest-ranking U.S. general in that country and one of only 11 four-star generals in the U.S. Army. Over the 16 months McNeill was in charge, troop levels rose from about 20,000 to the more than 50,000 service members on the ground in Afghanistan today. He assumed command of ISAF following a tour of duty as the commanding general of U.S. Forces Command.

In the Oval Office on Tuesday, President Bush praised and thanked McNeill for his job as ISAF commander and his service over the years.

Looking back, McNeill is firmly convinced he has finally won an ongoing debate with his father-in-law. McNeill said for years, they have discussed which generation is truly greatest. His father-in-law believes "Mr. Brokaw's" was, but McNeill cannot agree.

"I think the greatest generation may be the ones who are on the battlefield today," he said. "America doesn't truly understand what it has in its Army. It's something they are getting for pennies on the dollar. It is the most extraordinary institution and the strength of it is clearly the people who are part of it."

As for the future of the Army, McNeill feels Soldiers should continue to expect rotations to battlefields around the globe. "We have some tough years ahead of us," said McNeill. "The challenges that lie ahead for the Army are to keep the force a well-trained, well-equipped, well-manned and modern force."

As a general who has seen his fair share of Soldiers and civilians over the years, McNeill speaks highly of the quality he has seen demonstrated throughout the current Army civilian workforce.

"In addition to the Soldiers that are part of this Army, the quality of the civilian work force has been another one of the most extraordinary changes, especially at Fort Bragg, that I have watched," he said. "From the days when I came here as a new lieutenant in early 1969, into what they are today, the civilian work force of Fort Bragg clearly sees that their focus is on the Soldier and the Soldier is their being, their reason, and that didn't always exist."

As for regrets or things left undone, McNeill is confident he gave it his best and in the abilities of his successors.

"As I come up on 40 years, I realize that it is better left to those who come behind me," he said. "I don't have any regrets nor do I have a whole lot of sadness. I've done what I think I could do."

As McNeill prepares to close out the final chapter of his military career, he is certain the next chapter in his life will include a few of his favorite things - Family, fly fishing, hunting and North Carolina.

"I am a native North Carolinian and have been a tax paying citizen all my adult life," he said. "Life in North Carolina is especially attractive to my Family and myself right now."

The McNeill Family includes a son, Dan K. McNeill, Jr., who attended Fayetteville Academy for all but three years of his education. He is also a Wake Forest University graduate and currently an assistant district attorney in Charlotte.

Page last updated Mon June 23rd, 2008 at 11:57