ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois – “I fell in love with leadership.”
These are the words that Maj. Gen. Daniel Mitchell, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, repeated over and over as he looked back at his nearly 40 year career in the Army.
Mitchell, who grew up north of Peoria, Illinois in the small town of Princeville, dreamed of going to Iowa State University to study engineering.
However, his plans changed when he found out that the degree could be a five-year program, so he applied to another well-known engineering school – the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“I had nothing against the Army,” said Mitchell. “My Dad had served as a veterinarian in the Korean War. I thought West Point was a good engineering school so I had no problem doing my five years, getting out, and being an engineer.”
Little did he know on that hot July day in 1981when he reported for “beast barracks” that 40 years later he would be retiring from the Army as a general officer.
Mitchell graduated from West Point on May 22, 1985, with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering. Unlike many of his classmates, he branched into the Ordnance Corps.
“I went into ordnance because I thought ‘you are an engineer what is the closest thing to using your degree if you do decide to stay in?’”, said Mitchell.
At the time, the Ordnance Corps produced weapons systems.
Mitchell’s decision to forgo combat arms was not well received by his regimental tactical officer.
“I did have to stand in my regimental tactical officer’s office for two hours while he yelled at me for going ordnance,” said Mitchell. “I kept telling him, ‘I want to be an engineer. I want to use my degree.’”
As he neared his five-year mark in the Army, he was offered the chance to serve on recruiting duty, as a Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor, or to transfer into the Army Reserve. Mitchell said no thank you; he was getting out.
“At every point in my career I assessed the situation and tried to make the best decision for me and my family,” said Mitchell. At that point Mitchell decided that the best decision was to return to Illinois and work as an engineer.
Then the Army gave him the carrot he wanted: a chance to get a master’s degree at the Naval Post Graduate School at Monterey, California.
“I wanted a master’s degree so I said, ‘OK’”.
After graduating with a Master of Science in logistics management, his follow on assignment was at the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
However, it wasn’t just the ability to get an advanced degree that kept Mitchell in the Army, it was because he, “fell in love with leadership.”
“I had been a platoon leader and a company commander and I was fascinated with how if you took care of Soldiers they gave you back 10-fold,” he said.
While Mitchell learned a lot about leadership from his Soldiers, he also learned from the officers he served under. Two that stood out to him were Lt. Gen. Russell Honore and Gen. Ray Odierno.
Mitchell met Honore when he was a major at 1st Cavalry Division, and Honore was the division commander for support at the division.
“He set high standards for us,” said Mitchell. “He drove us to be very good at our trade. If anyone had an error on their equipment readiness report he knew about it and would hold you accountable.”
It was also while assigned to 1st Cavalry Division that Mitchell took part in Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Operation Joint Forge was part of a NATO led stabilization force in the region to help maintain the military force in Bosnia.
After leaving the 1st Cavalry Division in May 2000, Mitchell headed to the Pentagon office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans.
It was there, he met Odierno, and would serve as his executive officer.
“He was a great leader,” said Mitchell. “I learned a lot, it was a tough job, but when you have a great leader it makes coming to work more enjoyable.”
However, while Mitchell enjoyed working at the Pentagon there was one day that was not enjoyable – Sept. 11, 2001.
“I worked in A ring, which was the inner most ring of the building,” said Mitchell. “The plane punched through E ring, D ring and C ring. If it had gone through the all five rings, I would have had a bad day.”
While the plane didn’t directly destroy his office, the ensuing fire and smoke ravaged it. So after spending a few weeks working from home, Mitchell and his team began working from Crystal City as the Army geared up for into Afghanistan.
After leaving the Pentagon, in August 2002, Mitchell went to Europe to serve as the commander of the 201st Forward Support Battalion, 1st Infantry Division.
During his three years in The Big Red One, Mitchell took part in Operations Joint Guardian in Kosovo and Operation Iraqi Freedom I and II.
In March 2003, Mitchell and his battalion took part in the invasion of Iraq by supporting the 173rd Airborne as they jumped into Bashur and then secured Kirkuk, Iraq.
The following year, his battalion would be back in Iraq, this time in Baqubah for 13 months in support of OIF II
After returning home from Iraq in July, 2005 Mitchell spent a year as a student at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania where he earned a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies.
Upon graduation, he was initially passed over for brigade command. However, he was on his second look given command of Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas.
“It was one of the best job I ever had,” said Mitchell. “I learned a lot about lean manufacturing and working with unions and running a billion dollar business. It was a rewarding job. I learned a lot.”
After serving as brigade commander, Mitchell was sent to U.S. Army Materiel Command, at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, where he served as the deputy chief of staff and executive officer to the deputy-commanding general. It was here he originally planned to retire, but the Army had other plans for him.
“I never planned on being a general officer,” said Mitchell. “I didn’t think I was qualified. I was putting in my retirement papers when they told me that I was on the (general officer) list. I went home and told my wife and she despaired because we had built a house in Huntsville.”
Mitchell said it took him about three years to learn to become an effective general.
Mitchell’s first assignment as a general officer was as the deputy-commanding general for Army Sustainment Command, before moving to Fort Bragg to be the DCG for the 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
After serving as the DCG for the 1st TSC, Mitchell served as the DCG for support at the Installation Management Command at Joint Base San Antonio and as the deputy chief of staff for logistics and operations at U.S. Army Material Command.
One of Mitchell’s responsibilities while working at AMC was serving as the liaison with Korean and U.S. senior executives to provide millions of dollars’ worth of all classes of supplies to the Korean peninsula as part of the Army’s pre-positioned stock program which was initiated by then AMC commander, Gen. Gustave Perna.
In 2018 he was appointed commanding general of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive & Armaments Command at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan.
Mitchell said he found the command to be rewarding because it allowed him to better manage the supply chain and focus on increasing by 10 percent, the Army’s ground equipment supply chain by using demand planning with reliable supply partners and by targeting safety stocks.
Last June, Mitchell returned to Rock Island Arsenal to take over command of ASC.
Mitchell said he felt that the command gave him the opportunity to put to use all of his previous experience in the Army.
As his Army career ends, his plans are similar to many other retired service members – spend time with his family, his hobbies, and finding a job.
“I’ll probably work for about five years and then get out and serve my church and my community,” he said.