Reviewing nearly 40 years of service to his country and its allies—from Vietnam through both Gulf Wars, as a private, noncommissioned officer, commissioned Special Forces warrant officer, and special operations GS civil servant, in conventional and unconventional warfare on land, through sky, and in oceans, with every branch of the US military, on every continent in the world—Ranger Gary Lee O’Neal grins wickedly, shrugs humbly, and remarks simply, “I trained hard.” Ranger O’Neal bears scars from bullet wounds, shrapnel wounds, and bayonet-knife wounds from at least nine separate combat engagements. His service is characterized by nearly every combat qualification, multiple combat tours in Vietnam to include incursions into Laos and Cambodia, long periods of perilous service in virtually every country of Central and South America, general officer personal security duty in the Middle East, and the training of tens of thousands of American and foreign military personnel in every theater of the world. His career is highlighted by Ranger-LRRP duty during Vietnam, his selection for duty with the US Army Parachute Team (Golden Knights), DoD’s first antiterrorist teams (Blue Light), and formation of the US Army’s first Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course. His awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with V-device, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medals with V-device, three Army Achievement Medals, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Special Forces and Ranger Tabs, Master Parachutist Badge, Master Military Freefall Badge, and Combat Diver’s Badge.
Devoting nearly forty years with the US Army Rangers and Special Forces serving his country and its allies around the world, Chief Warrant Officer Gary Lee O’Neal (Ret.) is the stuff of legend—on land, sea and air. Trained from childhood in the warrior traditions of the Ogala Sioux, Ranger O’Neal epitomizes the spirit of the Ranger and Green Beret.
Drafted in 1969, Ranger O’Neal reenlisted, serving multiple combat tours in Vietnam through December 1972. Keen to master any skill useful in Combat, if Ranger O’Neal was not on a mission, he was training for one—picking brains and volunteering to serve with every elite team he could find—from his 173rd Airborne Brigade line company, Battalion Recon Platoon, Brigade LRRPs, Company C-75th Rangers and 5th Special Forces Group. He served on some of the most dangerous missions of the war: special recon, POW rescue, sniper operations and classified operations involving multinational forces.
Awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars during his Vietnam service, Ranger O’Neal refused award of the Purple Heart several times, regarding his wounds as hard-earned learning experiences rather than reason for decoration. He also discovered martial arts during that time, eventually mastering several styles, among them military Muay Thai, Hwa Rang Do, Chinese and Okinawan Kenpo, Ninjutsu and Jiujitsu. Tailoring the techniques to military combat, he developed what eventually became his own school, the American Warrior Free Fighting System for combat, in which he holds a 10th-degree black belt along with a 6th-degree Dan black belt in American Karate Do.
Returning from Vietnam, Ranger O’Neal served with Company B, 75th Rangers and later joined MSG Vladimir Jakovenko on ODA 594, 5thSFG, completing scuba and sub-operations training. Handpicked as one of the first men on DOD’s first antiterrorist teams (Blue Light), he also shared his expertise in the creation and training of the first Delta teams and was recalled throughout his career to assist the Delta effort.
Ranger O’Neal spent over fifteen years training and fighting with American and Latin American forces in Central and South America to oppose communism. When compromised while bringing home the body of a comrade killed in action, Ranger O’Neal was captured, shot and left to die. His wife and children were murdered in reprisal before his eyes.
Later, having earned accolades as an instructor of US and foreign military free-fall (HALO/HAHO), tandem, small unit tactics, hand-to-hand combat, SWAT tactics, recon and hostage rescue, he was personally selected by COL James Rowe to help establish the US Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) School, where he assisted in developing the POI, lesson plans and actual survival manual.
Ranger O’Neal served with the US Army Parachute Team (Golden Knights), competing nationally and internationally with distinction. As NCOIC of the R & D Detachment of the Military Free Fall (MFF) School, he helped to develop tandem and MFF bundle delivery systems. Key in developing the advanced MFF course and training assistance teams, he was selected by General Wayne A. Downing as Safety and Training Officer and was instrumental in organizing the school SOP and redesigning its POI.
Retiring in 1996, Ranger O’Neal attended advanced aviation technology school and worked as a military technical advisor for movies and television. Severely injured in a motorcycle accident, he returned to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to recuperate. Asked thereafter to return to Ft. Bragg to train Special Forces recruits, Ranger O’Neal served from 2004 to 2007 as a GS Master Trainer in the world’s largest unconventional warfare field exercise (Robin Sage), where his lifelong commitment to training—mine, body and spirit—has continued to focus on a single purpose: combat readiness.