Daniel M. Dick
Class of 1970, BS
Major General Dan Dick has never been a practicing engineer, but has always thought of himself as “an engineer who found flying fighters a lot of fun.”
Engineers have a methodical mindset, make decisions based on facts, and understand the big picture, said the general, currently an independent defense consultant to Fortune 500 companies. His industrial engineering training and engineering aptitude have served him well in leadership roles.
His biggest leadership challenge began on the night of June 25, 1996, when terrorists attacked the U.S. Air Force housing complex of Khobar Towers, located in the eastern providence of Saudi Arabia. A truck rigged with some 20,000 pounds of explosives had been parked adjacent to the eight-story building and detonated. At the time of the explosion, the Air Force general was on the final leg of his trip from the U.S. to take command in the Persian Gulf the next morning.
“I was supposed to have taken command the morning of the bombing, but my flight was delayed by one day. When I arrived at 0500 on June 26th, it was a horrible scene. Recovery and identification of the dead and wounded were still underway. Tragically, 19 airmen were killed and about 500 others were injured – many very seriously. Sadly, the safe host nation security situation our forces had grown to know while inhabiting the Persian Gulf countries changed that day,” the general recalled.
Almost immediately, he was asked by his superiors to utilize his engineering knowledge to plan, layout, and build an airbase around an abandoned runway in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert for about 5,000 Air Force personnel and 100 aircraft displaced by the attack.
The general quickly formulated his plan and within 45 days after the attack, Prince Sultan Air Base was built. “My industrial engineering education from Virginia Tech was put to good use. It was an extremely hectic 45 days as we laid out and built an entire airbase at the same time. During the day, we would figure out the best laydown for a part of the base, such as the aircraft maintenance complex, and then at night, our great civil engineers would erect canvas hangers and aircraft maintenance facilities. Every morning you would wake to new facilities that weren’t there the day before. And the construction took place while the wing continued to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, ” said the retired command fighter pilot.
His love of flying started as a youngster when he was growing up in central Ohio where his father taught him the ropes of farming and passed down his enthusiasm for aviation.
“My dad was taking flying lessons when my mom became pregnant with my older sister. Mom made dad quit the lessons because she thought flying was dangerous. Years later when I was a teenager, my father and I were on our way to work on the farm when a small airplane flew over us. Dad asked if I was interested in learning how to fly. I said, ‘yes,’ and we immediately headed over to (visit) his friend, Mr. Ostrander, a flying instructor who owned a little grass strip and a piper cub plane. I probably didn’t chat with Mr. Ostrander more than 10 minutes before we were taxiing out for my first flying lesson. From then on I was hooked, much to my mother’s displeasure,” said the general. He used his paper route money to pay for the lessons.
Even though his mother continued to express her aversion to flying, her only son pursued his pilot’s license, finally obtaining it at the Virginia Tech airport during his senior year through the Air Force pilot instruction program.
During his senior year in high school, the future general was accepted to Virginia Tech, “an easy decision.” His best friend’s father and his two older brothers had attended Tech – the father, an electrical engineer, was the president of the General Electric plant in their home town, and his oldest brother was an industrial engineer.
Upon Dick’s arrival in Blacksburg, he enrolled in general engineering courses and soon gravitated towards the industrial engineering discipline. He was a member of the Corps of Cadets and found a home in the Air Force branch of ROTC, at a time when the Vietnam War was raging. In December of 1969, during his junior year, the U.S. Selective Service System held its lottery by birthday drawing, determining the draft future of some 850,000 eligible young men.
“I remember the night of my draft lottery like it was last week. My S Squadron classmates and I had settled into a dorm room to listen to the draft number birthdays being called out on the radio. I had just sat down when I heard July 12th – my birthday. My draft number was 15, so I knew I was headed into the service after graduation,” the general recalled.
But before he graduated, Dick had joined the German Club and at one of its parties his junior year, he met his wife, Lynn. They married soon after graduation and took their honeymoon while in route to Lubbock, Texas, where he was stationed for pilot training.
In the fall of 1970, he was called into active duty and in the following three decades the general and his family would live all over the U.S., Europe, and the South Pacific. He served as the 13th Air Force commander, responsible for all Air Force operations in a 32-country area in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans; 12th Air Force vice commander, overseeing the operations of 45,000 personnel at 54 installations throughout the western U.S. and Latin America; air combat command director of plans and programs, formulating the combat Air Force’s $18 billion annual budget; and the commander of the Air Force’s largest and most complex composite wing comprised of 8,000 personnel and 150 aircraft in 11 different operating locations in five countries on the Arabian peninsula.
“Nine years in Europe, one year in the Persian gulf, and two years in Guam … not only was I honored to serve my county, I was given the rare opportunity to immerse myself in other cultures and discover the way others lived in the world,” said the humbled globetrotter.
Even with much of his time spent abroad serving in the Air Force, the dedicated airman continued to further his education both academically and technically. He graduated from Squadron Officer’s School in 1976 and three years later he completed a master’s in business management from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. In the early 1980s, the general completed the program at Air Command and Staff College. He also earned a degree at the National War College. The general was one of the elite 160 servicemen and women accepted for the year-long course; 40 of which were from the Air Force branch.
The general’s son, Bryan, followed in his father’s footsteps in more than one way. He is now an Air Force major and F-22 fighter pilot. He is a graduate of the Air Force ROTC program and has a civil engineering degree, but from “that other Virginia school.” Just the same, the general is extremely proud of his son’s choices and accomplishments.
After serving some 33 plus years, the seasoned general retired from the Air Force. With an extensive educational background, combined with a plethora of worldly experiences and a successful track record in leadership roles, he has been sought after in the private sector. In 2003, he was made the director of strategic initiatives and business development for joint, transformational, and U.S. Air Force programs for General Dynamics. And in 2006, the general served as the vice president for business development for L-3 Communications, responsible for the technical and management services division’s $300 million Air Force account.
Since 2008, as the owner of Dan Dick Consulting, LLC, he has been operating independently as a defense consultant for small businesses and large Fortune 500 companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, EADS, and Embraer.
The entrepreneur has also served on the board of directors and chairman of the government security committee of Rolls-Royce Goodrich Engine Control Systems, LLC, and as an outside director and chairman of the government security committee of Cardno TEC, Inc., a mid-sized environmental engineering firm.
In the late 1990s, he was unable to accept an invitation to become a member of Virginia Tech’s industrial and systems engineering advisory board due to his demanding Air Force schedule and pending overseas assignment. But several years later, once back in Virginia, he wrote the ISE department and asked to be considered again whenever they had a vacant board position. He became a board member serving a five-year term from 2001 – 2006. Later in 2008, the general was selected for the department’s Marvin H. Agree Distinguished Alumni Award.
Still as committed than ever to his alma matter, the enthusiastic Hokie is a football season-ticket holder and often visits his old stomping grounds.
“He continues to make time to support and serve others as he has done through service on my advisory board in the (industrial engineering) department. I have known a lot of people in my life, but can’t think of anybody that is a better all-around human being than Dan Dick,” said Don Taylor, department head.
Class of: 1970
Year Inducted into Academy: 2013