U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ian O'Neill, security force platoon leader for Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika takes a quick break after a mission in the Sharan District of Paktika Province, on Forward Operating Base Sharana, Nov. 14, 2012. O'Neill, a West Point Military Academy alum and native of Manhasset, N.Y., plans on applying for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course upon completing his deployment to Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (11/23/2012) – “Duty, honor, country: those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
These words were stated by West Point Military Academy alum, U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur. “Duty, honor, country” is now the academy's motto. For Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika Security Force Platoon Leader U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ian O'Neill, these hallowed words reverberate throughout each step of his military career.
“They [his grandfather and father] never pressured me to join,” said O'Neill about his desire to join the military. “It was more of a sense of duty to try to live up to what they did.”
Following in the shadows of his father's Navy career, his grandfather's Special Forces career, at a mere 24 years of age O'Neill is still relatively young. However, this doesn't deter him from learning as much as he can on his first deployment.
“Leading Soldiers into combat – I can't see anything harder than that [or] more humbling,” said the Long Island, N.Y., native.
As he prepares personnel for a convoy into the Sharan District of Paktika Province, O'Neill calmy articulates his intent for the mission. As mission preparation continues, Soldiers in O'Neill's platoon provide good-natured ribbing, which express their respect for the young officer. The Soldiers crack a few jokes about the tab on the left side of his uniform, just above his unit patch, but O'Neill is non-plussed.
“It [Ranger school] was another one of those challenges just to see if I could hack it,” he said. “Especially going up those mountains, I was thinking about my grandfather and my dad and how I wouldn't want to disappoint them. My grandfather was Special Forces in Vietnam and that's what I want to do.”
The platoon leader is alert, but calm and collected, as the element moves to its destination. His movements are deliberate as he watches for anything that seems suspicious or out of the ordinary.
U.S. Army Sgt. Scott MacKinnon, 1st squad's dismount leader, echoes the sentiments of many in his platoon. Although MacKinnon has only worked for O'Neill for a handful of months, MacKinnon has already formed his impression of the officer.
“I tell you what: I've been in the military for a hot minute,” he said. “I'm really pleased to be under him. He's got an amazing ability to listen and take input. To me, that's the mark of a great officer.”
MacKinnon finds O'Neill's Ranger tab to not only be a mark of merit, but an asset to the platoon's operations in a combat theater.
“The Ranger tab, to me, is a measure of an amazing infantry Soldier,” MacKinnon said. “To watch the package that he puts together is just simply amazing. His attitude is absolutely amazing and his command presence is some of the best I've ever seen.”
Among the myriad reasons for serving, O'Neill pinpoints the one thing that sways him to continue on in his military career.
“It is how selfless some of these guys are,” he said. “The camaraderie – every single day they impress me and the amount of motivation they have to do a good job and it's not just for a paycheck. They do it for each other and I don't think there's any other organization where there's that much selflessness and brotherhood.”
In the meantime, O'Neill will work on his packet to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and apply for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course.
“The choice to walk in their footsteps was my own,” he said. “They always said ‘you can be whatever you want to be.' I want to continue to develop our guys and make them better for the next mission.”
By Army Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford
Provided through DVIDS
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