Anthony Dill ’88: Army Colonel’s 31 Years of Service Began with ROTC

This alumni feature story was written for the Spring 2017 issue of the University of West Florida’s alumni magazine.

View the story in UWF Connection (PDF)

In the middle of the night in December 1978, 12-year-old Anthony Dill ’88 landed at Tehran International Airport in Northern Iran.

After 20 years of service as a pilot in the Army, Dill’s father retired and accepted a government contract position with Bell Helicopters, rebuilding American “hueys” for the Shah in Tehran. The family’s six-month stay in the country coincided with the Iranian Revolution, the overthrow of U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and the rise to power of the Islamic republic.

“Before the move, news outlets were reporting minor protests and clashes in the city, but we were told not to be concerned, that the violence was under control and isolated.” Dill said. “So we land in Tehran, and no one from the company is there to meet us. My dad loads us and all of our luggage into two cabs. We get to the hotel, and the owner kinda freaks out – ‘all the Americans have already been evacuated.’”

After about a week in Iran, the Shah was thrown from power.

“We saw the city go from everyone wearing blue jeans to the women in full black veils,” Dill said. “My mom would send me out for food, and I’d have extremists sticking guns in my face. Our school was burnt to the ground. My dad was making contingency plans to get us out, but we were trapped. Finally, we learned that the State Department had coordinated a noncombatant evacuation operation and secured three 747s from Pan Am. We were on the last flight out.”

Arriving back in the U.S., Dill recalls “not being in the same place” as his peers in eighth grade. The trivial things his friends cared about didn’t seem relevant to him. It was during this time when Dill decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in military service. He wanted to protect his family and his country. And he never wanted to feel like a victim again.

Dill’s family eventually settled in Pensacola, and Dill graduated from Pensacola Catholic High School. He enrolled at the University of West Florida and immediately sought out the University’s ROTC program.

“I remember we’d be in these field training exercises, wading waist-deep in the swampy waters near campus, learning how to navigate, read a map, work together as a team,” he said.

It was these experiences in ROTC that Dill credits with giving him the mental fortitude and training to do well in the Army’s advance camp and later on in ranger school.

Dill’s military career would eventually lead him to become a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces. During his 29 years of active duty, Dill would serve 81 months in hostile fire zones, traveling to battlegrounds around the world, including Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dill also served as the commander of the Golden Knights U.S. Army parachute demonstration team from 2007 to 2010. One of the highlights from this time was coordinating former President George H.W. Bush’s parachute jump in celebration of his 83rd birthday.

In June 2016, Dill was among 326 military leaders selected from the more than 650,000 ROTC graduates nationwide to be inducted to the U.S. Army Cadet Command’s ROTC Hall of Fame. Other inductees include former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and George Marshall, the U.S. Army chief of staff during World War II.

Now the inspector general for the Georgia Department of Defense, Dill serves as “the eyes, ears and conscience of the commander,” ensuring the department is ready for the next emergency or war situation.

As he prepares to retire from military service as a colonel in summer 2017, Dill feels like the time flew by.

“I’ve always tried to get into the hardest units with the most rewarding missions,” he said. “I think a key to success is surrounding yourself with good people and giving them the ability to do good. When there’s an emergency or you’re at war, I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the apparatus that responds to make things better.”

Photo credit: University of West Florida, courtesy of Anthony Dill