Published October 13, 2005
Some men have such a compelling demeanor, such a depth of character and are such pillars of strength that they make an indelible impression upon your life. Major Brian D. Neal, a pilot for the United States Air Force, is such a man. Neal is patently unassuming, but remarkably exceptional in many ways.
On Oct. 6, 2001 Major Neal piloted one of two B2 stealth bombers on a 12,500 mile combat mission from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to Afghanistan. This historic flight against key Al-Qaeda strongholds marked the beginning of the United States' war on terrorism.
Major Neal flew across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, had five aerial refuelings and 32 hours later arrived over Afghanistan to deliver a barrage of guided munitions, including the 2,000-pound JDAM and 5,000-pound "Bunker Buster," refueled twice more and finally landed in Diego Garcia just off the coast of India after a very successful mission. When Major Neal and his crew finally landed they had completed the longest combat mission in the history of aerial warfare, consisting of a continual flight of 44.3 hours.
The assignment given to Neal and his crew was truly a test of human endurance. Because of the demands of the mission Neal had only three to four hours of sleep in a period of 62 hours, but executed one of the most complex and challenging combat missions in history under conditions of extreme fatigue and significant stress.
To complicate the mission the crew confronted a developing typhoon near Thailand that necessitated a deviation off the planned route, the coordination of a change in one of the refueling rendezvous and the need to make up for lost time in order to reach their targets on schedule.
Two hours from the planned ingress over Afghanistan, 30 hours after take-off and 47 hours after the initial wake-up, the crew began to receive extensive retargeting messages that significantly changed their mission. Of the original 13 planned targets, 70 percent were retargeted within one hour of ingress. All objectives were accomplished and all targets were hit and completely obliterated under extreme fatigue and the most stressful conditions imaginable.
Up to the challenge
Neal admitted, "The greatest challenges were having to leave the blessed wife of my youth and my two young sons, having to function properly with little sleep, and having to digest all the information in a minimal amount of time inasmuch as the scenario was continuously changing. The emotions of the moment made it easy to stay awake while in the country over the targets. As a military officer I count it a privilege to serve this great nation, but my greatest privilege is being in the Lord's army."
Major Neal's pastor, Wayne Robertson at Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, recognized him for his successful mission. Robertson stated, "This monumental effort proved that as President John F. Kennedy declared 40 years ago, 'We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship ... to secure the survival of liberty.' This incredible and historic achievement of Major Neal reflects great credit upon him and the United States Air Force."
Of his military aviation feats, Neal says, "I want people to know that it is God who orchestrates times, seasons, events, circumstances and record breaking flights. Things happen not for men to get credit, but for eyes to be turned to Jesus."
Unchurched and clueless
Neal was born in Milledgeville, but moved to Atlanta with his family by the time he was in the first grade. He played football in the Rehoboth Baptist Church recreational league as a second grader. One day some of the deacons from the church came to the practice field to share the Gospel. Neal recalls, "I was unchurched and clueless. They gave me a Gospel tract that I read that night. I prayed the prayer in the tract primarily to check the box to indicate that I had done what was suggested."
Neal continued, "Seven years later I was approached by a man on the baseball field. At that time in my life everything seemed to be going well and I had no felt needs. We spoke of baseball until he asked, 'If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?' I remembered my second grade experience and answered his questions to his satisfaction, but that obligated me to attend a Bible study with him. After about four weeks of exposure to God's Word, the Spirit of God graced me to believe the Gospel. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord for godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Bless the Lord for seeking those who are not seeking Him. I love Him because He first loved me."
As a teenager Neal attended Decatur's Shamrock High School, where he played football, wrestled and ran track. He explained, "My assistant principal had a son to go to the Air Force Academy. In addition to that I got interested in flying through the movie Top Gun and by seeing the F-15s that were at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta. I also wanted to play Division I football, so I decided the Air Force Academy was the perfect match for me."
Neal added, "I had a clear sense of direction through the desires of my heart and the doors that Christ opened that I was to attend USAFA. The athletic department gave me an appointment and one week later Senator Sam Nunn gave me an appointment to the Air Force Academy."
As an eleventh grader Brian met Heather Green of Stone Mountain at Rehoboth Church. The first date came six months later when he invited her to go with him to a Bible study. Five years later the two were wed just after Neal graduated from the USAFA. The Neals have two sons, Travis, nine years old, and Tucker, six.
Major Neal declares that the pinnacle of his B-2 flying career came when he was selected to lead the second night's attacks during Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition to this notable achievement his awards and decorations are significant. Among his attainments he has received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Aerial Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Force Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters.
Desire to study, lead
In spite of all his successes and accomplishments Neal avows, "My walk with God is my life. Take away Christ and I have nothing. I, like every other believer this side of glory, struggle through my sanctification process, but praise be to God, He has given me a desire to study His Word and pray. My prayer continues to be that God would daily increase my desire for His Word. The more I read and study, the more I know Him; the more I know Him, the more I love Him; the more I love Him, the more I obey him."
Brian Neal has gracefully taken the role of spiritual leader in his home. He reads his Bible both morning and evening. It is no wonder that his wife and sons are always eager to listen to what God has shown him in His Word.
The Air Force major teaches a Bible study to pilots at the Moody Air Force Base chapel near Valdosta Friday mornings at 6:30. Neal humbly acknowledges, "God is faithful to give me opportunities daily in my fighter squadron to share Biblical principles with both believers and unbelievers. Indeed, it is in Christ that I have my being."
Robertson summarized Neal's life by saying, "He is a man who has proven his love for his country, commitment to his family, devotion to Jesus as his Lord and faithfulness to his church. Brian is a man who is evidence of Christ's presence."
Perhaps we could characterize the Air Force pilot's life with the words used to describe Amasiah, one of the Bible's military men. In II Chronicles 17:16 the Bible declares that Amasiah was a man "who willingly offered himself unto the Lord."
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