|From Fredericksburg Standard fredericksburgstandard.com
FHS Grad Dies In Iraq
Fredericksburg lost one of its own to the fighting in Iraq very early Sunday morning when 1LT Phillip Isaac Neel died of wounds suffered during an engagement with enemy forces north of Baghdad.
The second-oldest of Fredericksburg residents Col. Leroy (Lee) and Kathy Neel’s six children, the 27-year-old U.S. Army infantry officer was killed near Balad in the Diyala Province.
A Department of Defense statement issued Monday said Neel died of wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using grenades.
Later, in a phone call here Tuesday afternoon, Neel’s family learned from his battalion commander in Iraq that the young platoon leader had sustained a serious leg wound about 10 minutes after midnight Easter Sunday but continued to give orders for his men to return fire from where he’d fallen.
He was eventually airlifted from the scene by a medical evacuation helicopter but reportedly died a short time later around 2 a.m.
A 1998 Fredericksburg High School graduate, Neel had been serving in Iraq since October 2006 with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division out of Ft. Hood.
With services for Neel still pending, hopes are to have his body interred sometime next week in the U.S. Military Academy Cemetery at West Point, NY.
Depending on when burial can take place, the Neel family would like for a memorial service to be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 21, in the Fredericksburg High School Auditorium.
“Phillip was an inspiration and leader to his five siblings,” his family said in a prepared statement issued late yesterday afternoon. “He led by example and consistently challenged them to do the right thing in all circumstances, no matter what pressures were involved.”
“He was a blessing to his parents and honored them by his compassion, his commitment to serving the Lord, his bravery and his selflessness,” the statement continued. “He cared deeply for his soldiers and died as he lived n putting others’ needs before his own. Phillip loved his family and his soldiers, and he felt it an honor to serve his country.”
The family statement concluded by noting, “He prayed for his enemies; he loved his God. We will miss him terribly, but he has left us with many wonderful memories and an unforgettable example of excellence.”
Neel had recently returned home to Fredericksburg while on a two-week leave from his duty station at Baquba, Iraq, to join his brothers and sisters in a surprise spring break visit for their parents who have lived in Fredericksburg since moving here in 1996 from Ft. Leavenworth, KS, after his father retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army.
Prior to being shipped to Iraq, Neel had joined the Army as an enlisted man following his May 2005 graduation from FHS.
Advancing to the rank of specialist while serving a two-year stint with the Army, Neel was deployed to Kosovo as an Airborne unit paratrooper.
But he then decided to begin the process to become a commissioned officer by studying for a year at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at West Point. From there, he continued on over the next four years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he graduated as a second lieutenant in May 2005.
At West Point, he was on the school’s parachute team and participated in national competitions, performing group aerial designs and formations during free-fall events.
His military honors included the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct, National Defense, Kosovo Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, Iraq Campaign Ribbon, Global War on Terror Service Ribbon, Over Seas Ribbon, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Infantry Badge, Parachute Badge and Ranger Tab.
In Fredericksburg, the Elder Board of Fredericksburg Bible Church where Neel was a member as a youth has established The Phillip Neel Memorial Fund in his honor. Those wishing to support this fund may designate their contributions to: Fredericksburg Bible Church Benevolence Fund.
During his high school years in Fredericksburg, Neel was a member of the cross country team, played on a traveling soccer team and was a student in the Principles of Technology rocket program.
In addition to his parents, Neel is survived by a grandmother, Katherine (Mrs. Zeke) Lewis of Fredericksburg, along with five brothers and sisters:
• Kelly Foster, 28, of San Antonio.
• Jesse Neel, 24, a student at Tarleton State University and former U.S. Army paratrooper who jumped into Iraq in 2003.
• Oliver Neel, 23, a student at Texas A&M University at Galveston.
• Erin Neel, 21, a student at Texas Tech University.
• Joe Neel, 18, a May 2006 graduate of Heritage School in Fredericksburg who has been accepted to the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at West Point.
Neel is the second U.S. Army officer with Fredericksburg ties to die in Iraq since the Gulf War II began there in March of 2003.
In 2004, injuries sustained during a July 10 grenade attack north of Baghdad ultimately claimed the life of 1LT Andrew (Andy) R. Houghton, 25, older son of former Fredericksburg residents George and Cindy Houghton of Kendall County.
Houghton, who was part of the 1/4 Cavalry Squadron of the U.S. Army’s 1st Division, was severely wounded when the Bradley fighting vehicle in which he was riding while on an early morning patrol with his platoon near Samarra was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
He subsequently died of severe head injuries a month later on Aug. 9 while undergoing treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.