2006 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Ron McNeal

Architect of the military’s personnel recovery efforts that have successfully rescued more than 1,000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On March 23, 2003, Pfc. Jessica Lynch’s convoy was ambushed in the Iraqi town of Nasaryi, and she was abducted by enemy forces. Seeing as how the U.S. military had not conducted a successful mission to rescue an American prisoner of war since World War II, her prospects for survival seemed far from certain. Fortunately for Pfc. Lynch, the U.S. military has unparalleled capability to locate and recover personnel who may become isolated or captured in enemy territory, a capability that is surpassed only by our military’s will to use every tool available to recover our young men and women. One of the chief architects of America’s personnel recovery operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is Ron McNeal. And thanks to McNeal’s leadership and the bravery of our troops who execute these recovery missions, our military has successfully retrieved not only Jessica Lynch, but more than 1,000 other U.S. troops and civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

A member of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), Ron McNeal is the primary advisor to the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) Commander when it comes to personnel recovery matters, significantly contributing to USCENTCOM’s personnel recovery operations within the area of responsibility over the past four years.

McNeal has prepared both commanders and forces for personnel recovery events through improved planning, training, education, and the development of theater policy and procedures. More specifically, McNeal authored or led the development of every USCENTCOM personnel recovery directive, plan, order, or other guidance document.

McNeal has frequently deployed to the USCENTCOM region to lead the analysis and improvement of organizations, processes, and procedures. In 2005 he deployed into the theater seven times, totaling more than five months, to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, and Qatar, providing assistance to the theater’s 13 Rescue Coordination Centers.

Of particular significance, McNeal’s recommendations resulted in the establishment of a Joint Personnel Recovery Center to coordinate and integrate military personnel recovery activities with the interagency and international organizations in Iraq. McNeal also authored the Concept of Operations that defined and codified personnel recovery procedures for the multi-national forces, as well as a synchronization matrix that succinctly established the command, control, and coordination responsibilities and processes for all personnel recovery events in Iraq.

In short, Mr. McNeal has been the driving force behind the development and refinement of the personnel recovery system within Iraq.

McNeal has made similar enduring contributions at the national level. He chaired a working group that authored the definitive analysis of Department of Defense-wide personnel recovery mission. The analysis formed the foundation upon which the JPRA Strategic Plan was built, a plan that will guide DoD personnel recovery for the next decade.

When Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young, Jr. and David Williams’ Apache helicopter was forced down in central Iraq on March 24, 2003, they swam a quarter-mile in a canal before finally being apprehended by armed Iraqis. They would eventually be held captive with five soldiers who were in Jessica Lynch’s company. After three weeks of being moved from prison to prison, they were rescued by a Marine task force. Upon his rescue, CW2 Young said, “We felt like we won the lottery of life.” But it wasn’t luck that saved Ronald Young and the others. It was the extraordinarily talented and committed men and women in our armed forces who work on personnel recovery. And Ron McNeal has done more than any single individual to advance these personnel recovery capabilities. His analytical skills and judgment have significantly and indelibly contributed to one of the nation’s highest priorities—the safe return of our missing, captured, or isolated personnel.

This medalist was the recipient of the National Security Medal. This medal was combined with the International Affairs category in 2008, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.