Wounded Army Casualty Assistance Officer gets to honor soldiers as a civilian

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel McNeal looks out over the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, Georgia.May 20, 2019. (Daniel McNeal/U.S. Army)
June 13, 2019

By MaryTherese Griffin, Army Warrior Care and Transition

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel McNeal retired May 27, 2019 after more than 30 years of military service. McNeal spent several years in the Navy before joining the Army as a Senior Noncommissioned Logistician. After three deployments, there was a special job that McNeal embraced as a calling.

“I had previously served as a Casualty Assistance Officer and a member of the Military Funeral Honors Team. In those roles my desire to serve our fallen heroes began,” McNeal said. On his most recent deployment, McNeal had collateral duty as the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Mortuary Affairs. Several of his teammates were lost during the deployment and McNeal was responsible for ensuring a dignified and proper transfer of their remains.

“[The mission] was extremely personal and important to me. After returning home, I attended several funerals of my fallen brothers at Arlington National Cemetery. It was then that I knew my calling was to honor and serve our veterans and their families and try to bring a few moments of peace on possibly the worst day of their life,” said McNeal.

McNeal, who calls Canton, Georgia home with his wife of 27 years Amy, didn’t exactly make it out of his last deployment unharmed. He was medically evacuated out of the Horn of Africa to Landstuhl Germany in May 2017 with multiple injuries including a traumatic brain injury, broken hand/wrist, broken shoulder, and severe rib and chest contusions. McNeal spent several weeks at the medical center undergoing numerous surgeries before being transferred to Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The father of three adult children had to not only recover and overcome physically, he had to figure out how to change his career as he transitioned out of the Army. McNeal credits his Transition Coordinators at the Warrior Transition Battalion with introducing him to an opportunity to continue to serve fallen Soldiers as a civilian.

“I was introduced to the Career and Education Readiness Program by WTB Transition Coordinators. Once I transferred to the Community Care Unit, Mr. George Scruggs was instrumental in enrolling me into an opportunity at the Georgia National Cemetery through the Operation Warfighter Internship Program,” McNeal said. Operation Warfighter is a Department of Defense internship program that matches qualified wounded, ill and injured Service members with non-funded federal internships in order for them to gain valuable work experience during their recovery and rehabilitation.

“OWF is a great program which allows us to pursue our post-military goals and sets us up for success after we leave the military. We may not get to choose how and when we leave the military, but this program gives us the necessary tools for success,” McNeal said.

McNeal’s success with the opportunity from the OWF program at Georgia National Cemetery, led to him being offered a permanent position in the year-long Cemetery Director Intern Program at the General Schedule 11 pay grade. Upon completion of the program, McNeal will be assigned to a National Cemetery as an Assistant Director with unlimited opportunities at any of the 136 National Cemeteries in the United States.