Thomas O’Neill III grew up in Lawrence Township, New Jersey. His grandfather, COL Thomas O’Neill graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1934 and served on Eisenhower’s staff during World War II, and commanded 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division during the Korean War. His battalion, as part of Task Force Dog, served as the rear guard for the 1st Marine Division as they conducted a retrograde from the Chosin Reservoir. He developed a love for the Marines that he passed on to his grandson at a young age. Young Tom played football in high school, and had dreams of one day becoming a professional quarterback. After graduating high school, he attended Marine Military Academy prep school in Texas for a year before entering college. He was the captain of the football team and graduated from Quincy University with a degree in Business Administration. He worked in finance until one day, he had an epiphany and decided to join the Marines. Working with a recruiter, enlisted for Officer Candidate School (OCS) and after becoming a Second Lieutenant, he completed the Basic School and Infantry Officer School. He was in the Basic School on September 11, 2001 and realized that he would see combat soon. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and when he arrived at Twentynine Palms, California, he found his unit in a cycle of intense training, to include urban combat training, preparing to fight the Global War on Terror. He felt well trained, noting that 3/7 Marines were the “cutting edge” when they deployed to Kuwait in January, 2003. He was a fire support team leader when his unit entered Iraq, and he was responsible for calling close air support and indirect fire to protect his Marines, noting that 3/11 Marine Artillery saved their lives on several occasions. After crossing into Iraq, 3/7 Marines advanced to Baghdad before being shifted to Karbala. Returning to the states in September 2003, he was reassigned as the Weapons Company XO (Executive Officer). The mood was sober when 3/7 Marines deployed again to Iraq in January, 2004, relieving 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Al Anbar province along the Syrian border. The area was a hotbed for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) and was noted for being a dangerous area. One of his duties was as a liaison with a local Sheik, and his nephew, a Police Lieutenant who was working for AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq). After confronting the Police Lieutenant, Tom’s vehicle was hit by an IED of several 155 artillery rounds that were daisy chained together, and he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) concussion. Shortly after, he experienced the worst day of his life, the Battle of Husaybah, during which one of his closest mentors, CPT Gannon, was killed. That fight changed his outlook and left him with Post Traumatic Stress, and he realized that there “was nothing fun about this war.” In March, 2005, he left the Marine Corps as a Captain, realizing the difficulties of fighting a counterinsurgency. He then embarked on a career of bringing telecommunications to the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan with Kabul as the national hub. He worked closely with Afghan civilians, and his local partner was a powerful businessman / gangster who was related to Hamid Karzai. Tom enjoyed success working in Afghanistan and established good relations with his partners based on mutual respect, honor, and being able to pay promptly for work done. Eventually, he received a NATO contract and became the President of the Kabul Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. While living and working in Afghanistan, he was able to collect HUMINT (Human Intelligence) on many of the Afghans he worked with. After years working in Afghanistan and surrounding countries, as well as a stint working in the Green Zone of Iraq, he returned to the United States where he is completing an MBA and planning on writing a book based on his experiences.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, playing football, and his grandfather, COL Tom O’Neil. He examines some of his grandfather’s experiences in Korea, and how that planted the seed that later encouraged him to join the Marine Corps. He describes his experiences training for war, and deploying twice to Iraq. He recounts in detail several battles he was in and engagements with Iraqis over both of his tours. He discusses his work in Afghanistan as a civilian working on telecommunications and collecting intelligence. He analyzes the war in Afghanistan as a proxy war between India and Pakistan. Finally, he reflects on his service in the Marines and what it means to him.