JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – In his office on the campus of East Tennessee State University, Dan Bishop may be far from the Middle East where he spent much of his 26 years in the United States Army.
But talk to him and you’ll soon discover the Middle East is never far from Dan Bishop.
“It was an interesting couple of decades,” Bishop said in a conversation that began with his time in service and ended with his goals for the future as the director of ETSU’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs.
“It’s a very rewarding job,” he said. “I’m just thrilled to be here.”
On the way to his current job at ETSU, Bishop got to see a lot of the world during 24 years of active duty including five tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“And then lots of other places too,” Bishop said. “We were in Germany for three years and then some time in Africa.”
Bishop was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and 2005, a period he now describes as one of the hardest in his military career.
“We lost close to a hundred soldiers, most of them in a place called Sadr City in Northeast Baghdad,” Bishop said. “Imagine a place like Johnson City, and you cram 2 million people in there on top of each other. And then you fight street to street.”
Bishop returned to Iraq for tours from 2007 to 2012.
From 2012 to 2014, he got his first taste of life in Northeast Tennessee as the head of ETSU’s ROTC Program. Here, he says he found a supportive community and a big opportunity to support veterans.
“We always thought we might come back here when I left active duty,” Bishop said last March.
He didn’t know it then, but one of the most complex challenges of his military career was still ahead.
In 2016, the Army assigned Col. Dan Bishop to the NATO Special Operations Component Command – Afghanistan. Part of his job was to help Afghan nationals build a free and independent nation.
“We were right on the cusp of building something that certainly was not going to look like a Jeffersonian democracy in the United States, but something that would work and that would be good for the Afghan people and would in part serve as a model,” Bishop said. “Little girls would go to school.”
At that point, Bishop strays from talk of the mission to reveal his current struggle — understanding how it all fell apart.
“I was shocked that the fall occurred as quickly as it did,” he said.
After nearly two decades of conflict, President Joe Biden announced a full withdrawal of American troops by Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that sparked the prolonged military operation.
Bishop says he lost seven comrades during his Afghanistan deployment.
“It’s is difficult to come to terms with the sacrifice,” he said. “It is still difficult to sort of figure out how that happened.
Next up came jobs in Washington D.C., including a post at the Pentagon in the Sensitive and Special Operations Division in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.
In early February 2022, Bishop got the chance to come back to his adopted home in Johnson City. ETSU called and asked him to be director of the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs.
“It gives me an opportunity to mentor, tutor, and really take care of our veterans and the military-affiliated population here on campus,” he said.
Bishop, who describes himself as competitive, says his goal is to build on ETSU’s reputation as a veteran-friendly campus and increase the number of student-veterans from 750 to more than 1,000.
“It’s an exceptionally rewarding experience to be able to still be part of the family and really help guys and gals on a day-to-day basis through whatever issues they’re having,” he said.