Granddad called back to duty


By Jan Snider
United Methodist News Service

His 3-year-old grandson peddles the tricycle as quickly as little legs will allow while 58-year-old Danny McDaniel answers the child’s taunt to catch him if he can.

Days like this have filled the past two years of the retired soldier’s life. All that changed, though, when he was ordered recently to report to Fort Bragg, N.C., to await further assignment.

Grandpa is going to war.

Uniforms weighed down with an assortment of medals were culled from the back of the closet. As the dry-cleaning bags hit the garbage, “Pa-Pa” is transformed from tricycle-pursuer into warrior and officer Col. Danny McDaniel.

“One of the things that brought me into this recall was they were looking for a medical type, specifically a veterinarian who had been in combat,” he said.

McDaniel is a vet — and a vet. He is a seasoned soldier who saw active combat in Vietnam in his early 20s, and upon returning to the states earned his degree in veterinary medicine.

After running his own veterinary practice in Jackson for a few years, he chose to return to the Army and put to use his leadership skills running medical and educational programs for the Army Reserve. When he retired, he stepped down as commandant of the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy in Meridian, one of five academies that train federal and local law enforcement for anti-drug and counterterrorism operations.

Living next door to two of his four young grandchildren, McDaniel had immersed himself in their lives, volunteered at Oak Grove United Methodist Church and at the local animal shelter. This year, he is a Junior ROTC instructor and assistant soccer coach at Quitman High School.

McDaniel believes his reactivation is happening for a reason, and that the Lord is behind it. He said he is drawing on his faith as a Christian to meet this new challenge.


The recall to service didn’t surprise McDaniel. “I could fight this. I mean, I could go and say that my knee hurts. I’ve had back surgery and could probably get out of it. But I am just not that kind of person. Legally, until I’m 60 years old, I am still a deployable asset.

“I raised my right hand 30-something years ago and agreed to defend the country and do whatever they felt like I needed to do, and I feel honor-bound to that obligation.”

By going, he says, he can keep another person from having to return for a third or fourth tour.

With a grin, McDaniel admits he is excited about the assignment, which will place him in Iraq, then Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, where terrorism is gaining a foothold. As a member of the 352nd Civil Affairs Battalion, he will be involved in nation-building projects.

McDaniel will use his skills as a medical and veterinary officer to further public health in the region. He says that food safety, nutritional and agriculture programs have suffered under past regimes. “Consequently, they do not produce enough goods for their people,” he says.

Focus will be on helping communities build municipal and agricultural infrastructures, some of which will be modeled after successful U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. Goals will include eradicating livestock disease and modernizing farming practices.

It’s a leadership position he feels called to fill. “My mother told me that God may have given you something to perform once in your entire life, just one time, just one thing,” McDaniel says.

“I honestly believe that the Lord is making all this happen. I believe that he has something he wants me to do.”

While he is looking forward to the challenge, McDaniel’s soft-spoken wife, Linda, steels herself against the risk. She fights back tears as she says, “I try not to think about it.”

When her husband told her that he might be called out of retirement, Linda says she got angry at first. “I said, ‘It’s not fair, you’ve done your time, you’ve served in Vietnam.’ But I live with him every day and it’s a duty, an honor thing with him, and it comes through very strongly.”

She has resolved to manage the situation day-to-day and, instead of approaching it with trepidation, to reflect on the pride she has for him instead.

McDaniel’s brother, Terrell, is most against the recall. He remembers being just 10 when Danny served during the Vietnam War in an elite branch of the Army as a Ranger.

“Those were very emotional times, wondering whether or not he was going to come home and watching my mother worry,” says Terrell of Hendersonville, Tenn. “This recall brings back all that concern for my mom and the family.” 

McDaniel acknowledges the unease that he, too, feels about how his redeployment will affect his 83-year-old mother, Sue. During the Vietnam War, she lost contact with him for several months when he was in combat.

Terrell hasn’t changed his mind, “He will be in a commanding role, and they need him there and they’re lucky to have him. I’m grateful for his willingness to give of himself that way … but it just seems absurd. It certainly creates a lot of tension to have so great a love and so much admiration for him, and yet just be so sick about it.”

What friends think

The Young At Heart Sunday School class Oak Grove UMC has an empty chair where McDaniel usually sits.

The class consists of a couple of retired military and several other members who believe complying with the reactivation is the patriotic thing to do.

Before leaving, McDaniel told the group of the sites he dreams of visiting, including the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys.  “I’ll send you a hunk of wood out of the Tigris River Valley. I don’t intend to walk out of here and you never hear from me again.” He said they would regularly hear from him by e-mail.

McDaniel said this is an opportunity to live his faith. “I have always relied on my beliefs as a Christian to give me strength to be the kind of example that I think God wants me to be.”

Young soldiers have often turned to him for advice. “You take young people and put them in a stressful situation, they are going to look to their leaders to see how the leaders are reacting, and I have always been a commander who wanted my troops to see that I am doing whatever they are doing. I am sharing the danger, the work and the hardships because that is the way it is supposed to be.”

Prayer has strengthened his resolve to carry out his new assignment. “I pray every day, and basically my prayer is, ‘I realize this is what you want me to do. Help me do a good job.

“I learned in Vietnam not to pray, ‘Don’t let me die’ — that’s asking too much,” he says. “So I learned to say in my prayers every day, ‘Don’t let me let my buddies down; let me do my job. If I gotta go, let me go with honor.”