By Master Sgt. Jonathan Wiley
1st Theater Sustainment Command
After three decades of military service, 12 duty stations in seven different states and Korea, and four overseas deployments, Col. Gary "Eddie" Gillon Jr. is returning to where it all began --not far from the old Kentucky home he left nearly 30 years ago.
Gillon, a Bowling Green native and 1990 distinguished military graduate of Western Kentucky University (WKU), retired from the Army at a ceremony at Fort Knox, Ky. March 29.
Maj. Gen. Flem B. "Donnie" Walker Jr., commanding general, 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), presided over the ceremony which was attended by several senior military officers and Gillon's family and friends.
One of Gillon's lifelong mentors, the man who coached him in track when he was a student at Barren County High School in the 1980s, also attended.
Gillon said Coach Terry Reed taught him lessons about leadership and resilience that stayed with him everywhere he went afterwards.
"When I was a sophomore in high school, I was cut from the high school baseball team. I was 14-years-old at the time and had played baseball since I could remember so it came as quite a blow," he said.
Reed saw Gillon's disappointment and turned the setback into an opportunity by introducing him to the sport of pole vaulting.
"For weeks, Coach Reed would meet me at the pole vault pit and he taught me what the sport, and life, was about. I learned a lot about the fundamentals of pole vaulting from him, but I learned the most about what it looks like to care for the people around you, to spend the time, make the effort, help them pick up the pieces and find or redefine a purpose and a future," he said.
Gillon credits Reed for being able to attend college. He went to Berea College on a track and field scholarship in his freshman year before transferring to WKU.
Gillon majored in physical education and planned to follow in Reed's footsteps and become a coach and teacher, but in his sophomore year he joined the Army's Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC).
Once he joined ROTC, Gillon said he found his niche.
"I didn't know it at the time, but once I joined I discovered in my core there is a need to be a member of a team. The world's largest outdoor team sport is the military, so once I was there, I found where I wanted to be," he said.
In the late 1990s, Gillon was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., and he was considering getting out of the Army and teaching.
"We were going through a lot of budgetary struggles," he said. "Because of the peaceful nature of the planet at that time, a lot of members of the team I was a part of were questioning what we were doing."
In early 2001, the Army transferred Gillon to Fort Campbell, N.C., where he served as troop commander with U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he said his purpose as a Soldier became crystal clear.
"I had only been at USASOC for a few months when the attacks happened," he said. "Afterwards, I was drawn into operations that were compelling in their purpose and execution. The people I carrying out these operations knew the risks were great, but the mission was clear, and they were able to exact some specific actions against very deserving people," he said.
Gillon said from then on he was all in.
He deployed to Iraq in 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, where he served as the support operations officer and battalion executive officer for the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion in southern Baghdad. He deployed to Iraq again in 2010 with the 703rd BSB, this time as the commander. Most recently, he deployed to Kuwait in 2018 as the Strategic Operations and Plans team chief for the 1st TSC.
During all of his travels, Gillon said he knew he would always eventually return to Kentucky where most of his family still reside.
His father Gary E. Gillon is a retired factory worker who lives on a small farm in Barren County. His older sister Lee Ann (Gillon) Daugherty teaches agriculture at Butler County High School in Morgantown, Ky. One of younger sisters, Deborah (Gillon) Burks, owns and operations Family Hair Salon in Glasgow, Ky., and their youngest sister Amanda (Gillon) McCord works there. His mother passed away in 2008.
Most of his wife's family lives in the area as well. He met Amy (Rush) Gillon, also a Bowling Green native, when they were students at WKU.
Gillon said he and Amy look forward to settling back into the community and becoming involved in Greenwood Park Church of Christ, where they recently became members.
First though, they are going to make a cross-country bicycle trip from southern California to Jacksonville, Fla.