Those who worked with Col. Dan Reichen of Springfield over his three and a half decades in uniform said he always had a smile on his face, was great at building teams, never pretentious, and was often both good hearted and sustaining.
And, like sweet fried dough, he also had a way easing stressful situations and jobs.
So perhaps the moniker he earned from occasionally bringing Krispy Kremes to his friend’s house might be a contrite, but oddly fitting, way to sum up a 34-year military career that has now come full-circle. To Lt. Col. (ret.) Dave Malenfant’s children, the combat veteran will always be ‘Dan Dan the Doughnut Man’ or ‘Doughnut Dan’ – and he was always energizing people, lifting their moods, reducing stress, and pulling people together to accomplish the mission.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, Col. Dan Reichen officially retired from the Illinois Army National Guard during a ceremony at Illinois National Guard headquarters on Camp Lincoln, Springfield. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his 34 years of military service.
“He was always down to earth, always about the Soldier and helping those under him achieve their goals,” Malenfant said. “He reminds me of the way (General) Omar Bradley’s Soldiers described him, a real Soldiers’ leader.”
The colonel’s 34-year military career started when the military was preparing to fight the Russians during the Cold War. It transitioning to the Global War on Terror when Reichen earned an Air Medal and a Combat Action Badge in 2005 while deployed with the Polish-led Multi-National Division Central South in Iraq. And now the military is modernizing to potentially face “near-peer” adversaries, like…. Russia. “My career has definitely gone full-circle,” Reichen said.
“He’s compassionate, intelligent, articulate, and very personable – never ‘hoity, toity’ like some officers get when they make colonel,” Malenfant said.
“Dan Reichen could make any environment fun,” said Col. Randy Edwards, the Illinois Army National Guard’s Plans, Operations, and Training Officer (G-3). Edwards recalled working for Reichen under then G-3 Col. Rodney Thacker. “We had state active duty operations responding to a winter storm and, at the same time we had multiple units going out the door on federal missions. It was chaos. But Dan has a way of bringing down the stress level, looking at the problem, and finding a way to divide and conquer the multiple issues.”
“I joined when I was 17. My mom (Dorene) had a hard time signing the paperwork. But from the time I was 9, 10, 11 years old, I always had it in my mind that I was going to join the Army,” said Reichen, who was the youngest in a family of four older sisters growing up in Waltham Township, population 634. The township is in a rural area near Utica about five miles north of Starved Rock State Park. “I had 16 in my grade school class,” he said.
For the first six years of his career, Reichen was an enlisted Soldier in what was then the 233rd Engineer Co. based in Marseilles. He was a private first class when the unit was activated on state active duty to help the people of Plainfield, Illinois, following the Aug. 28, 1990 tornado. The tornado killed 29 people, injured more than 300 and destroyed thousands of buildings in the Will County village.
The community, first responders, and the Illinois National Guard all came together to help, Reichen said. Wearing the uniform and responding to help fellow Illinoisians and Americans in need made him extremely proud of his National Guard service, he said. “I have always been and will always remain proud of the Army – more specifically, the Illinois Army National Guard.”
When the time came for him to attend his first NCO leadership course, his company leadership pointed him towards Illinois Army National Guard’s Officer Candidate School instead. He graduated from OCS and was commissioned in 1994, a couple years before he completed his international business degree at Illinois State University in Normal.
Col. Reichen said his time as the Recruiting and Retention Battalion Commander was his most rewarding job. Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Mike Donaldson served as Reichen’s top enlisted Soldier during his three years in battalion command from 2013-2016.
“He took the time and listened. He was willing to discuss anything and made his decisions on the facts put in front of him,” Donaldson said. “At the time, recruiting was strong, but retention was always an issue. We created the retention teams that are still there now.”
Recruiting and retention is a highly stressful, numbers-driven job, Donaldson said. “He knew when it was time to get serious and get to work, but he also liked to joke around and that helped reduce the stress. He is very fun to be around. I’d poke him, then he’d poke me.”
Much of that joking revolved around professional sports. Reichen is a diehard Chicago sports fan. Donaldson – not so much. “I like the (Denver) Broncos and (St. Louis) Cardinals.”
Near the end of his tenure as Recruiting and Retention Commander, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. “At the time, he probably got the better of me. He went to the victory parade and everything – and described it all,” Donaldson said. Despite their (fan) differences, they remain close. “I am genuinely happy to call him my friend.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Watson has known Col. Reichen for the past 15 years. “It doesn’t matter what he has going on in his life. He asks about you and your family,” Watson said.
Reichen challenges his subordinates and builds their confidence. “He likes to take on challenging projects. He brings the team together and is very good about keeping them on task,” Watson said. Everything Reichen does, he does as a team, he added. “He doesn’t do anything without his staff. He always has the staff behind him.”
During his tenure as the Deputy Plans, Operations, and Training Officer (Deputy G-3), the staff was tasked with the re-design of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which involved moving 14 units. “His number one criteria was on the demographics and turbulence on the Soldiers – not just the Soldiers, but their families. Every job he took, he put people first,” Watson said.
As the Human Resource Officer, Reichen helped guide the transition of many Title 32 military technician jobs to Title 5 civilian jobs. “Again, he kept the ‘people-first’ mentality through the process. He cares about people and how they are going to be affected down to the lowest rank. It’s just who he is. He cares.”
Several people said that Reichen was very good at bringing down the stress levels. “He’s just a character,” Edwards said. “He’s the type of personality that draws people towards him – that brings teams together. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a bad mood.”
Col. (ret.) Joe Schweickert, the former Illinois Army National Guard Chief of Staff, recalled Reichen using some of his trademark dry humor during the 2007 Torgau Exercise, which the Illinois National Guard’s 244th Army Liaison Team (now 244th Digital Liaison Team) conducted with other countries including about 180 Russian Soldiers and officers.
“He told a joke to all these Russian staff officers and not one of them laughed. They all just sat there stone-faced,” Schweickert said. This, of course, made it even funnier to Dan and his fellow American Soldiers. But by the end of the exercise, he was able to bond even with the humorless Russians, trading uniforms with his Russian counterpart, an officer named Andre.
“Think about that – in 2007 we were training with the Russians,” Reichen said. “Obviously, we are not training with the Russians now. We are training and adapting our National Defense Strategy to face near-peer adversaries like Russia and China. Like I said, my career has gone full circle.”
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Michael Zerbonia, the former commander of the Illinois Army National Guard, called Reichen “an exceptional leader who gets Soldiers behind him and makes sure the Soldiers have what they need to excel.”
“He’s no one-trick pony,” Zerbonia said. “He had a skillset that could move around to many different positions, and he was able to adjust and excel to where he was placed.” Reichen served as the officer-in-charge of an Air Defense Battalion, the Logistics Officer for the 108th Sustainment Brigade, G-35 Force Integration Officer, the Recruiting and Retention Battalion Commander, an intelligence analyst for the Multi-National Division in Iraq, the Deputy Plans Operations and Training Officer, Deputy Brigade Commander, The Personnel Officer (G-1), the state Director of Human Resources, and the Commander of the 129thRegiment (Regional Training Institute).
Reichen would always say what’s on his mind and would often use humor to disarm people. “He had a way of being brutally honest and not stepping on toes,” Zerbonia said. “He’s just an overall quality individual who dedicated his life to the Illinois National Guard. He made the organization better.”
The secret to his success was having outstanding noncommissioned officers and warrant officers behind him, Reichen said. “You can’t have a successful career without learning from your subordinates, your peers, your superior officers and, of course, your mentors.”
“Col. Reichen is a people person,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mary Dixon, the Commandant of the 129th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) and Reichen’s senior enlisted leader for the last two years. Dixon said she has seen Reichen help Soldiers work through difficult personal challenges while still accomplishing the unit’s mission.
“It is easy to be hard-line,” Dixon said. “Col. Reichen was able to see the shades of grey and manages the staff to meet everyone’s needs and to accomplish the mission. He was able to navigate through the desires of the Soldier and do what is best for the Soldier and what is best for the unit.” That balance between compassion for the Soldier and getting the job done helps build an effective team, Dixon said.
However, Col. Reichen was sometimes kind, because it was right. When he was the Human Resource Director earlier this year and the region was hit by a big snowstorm, the colonel plowed off the driveway and walkways for the family of one of his deployed Soldiers, Schweickert said. While he joked about wanting to try out his new Bronco, Schweickert said he was just being compassionate. “He a nice guy – always asking how people’s families are doing. Even when there were disagreements, he always put it in friendly terms.”
Watson said that Reichen’s easy-going manner and sense of humor sometimes conceals a very competitive nature. “He was not afraid to challenge his staff. He wants to win. He wants to accomplish big things.” Reichen is an avid hunter and sometimes his competitive nature would creep into the stories he told about hunting deer. “He’d get so excited,” Watson said. “He’d describe it in vivid detail.”
“Dan has been successful at all levels of command and staff. His keen intelligence and calm demeanor have been invaluable to the Illinois National Guard, not just when he was on duty, but also through his active involvement and leadership in the National Guard Association of Illinois and the National Guard Association of the United States,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard.
“Most recently as the Director of Human Resources, he helped see the Illinois National Guard through the complex and varied labor issues brought forth by the global COVID-19 pandemic. He also saw the 129th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) through a highly successful accreditation process last year, also working through COVID-19 challenges.”
“His list of accomplishments over nearly 34 years are too numerous to mention. In all his assignments he has improved the organization from logistics, to operations, to personnel. His thoughtful well-informed insights, his expertise, and his occasional dry sense of humor will be greatly missed in leadership and staff meetings. We wish Dan the best as he transitions from the military and spends more time with his spouse, Paula, and their two adult children, Abby and Zach,” Neely added.
Reichen now is working in a human resources job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “I loved working for the Illinois National Guard and serving the citizens of Illinois and the people of America. And now I love serving and giving back to veterans,” he said.