Lee Van Arsdale was born to lead Special Operations Soldiers in unconventional warfare. Although he loved his Alma Mater, he never needed a West Point ring on his finger or a rank on his collar to lead - and he rarely wore either. The son of a career Army Sergeant Major, he took personal pride in the fact that the NCOs of the military's most elite Special Operations unit often said he led more like an NCO than an officer. He was unorthodox and unconventional and people naturally liked, respected and followed him in everything he did.
The Army nearly lost one its best leaders to the private sector in 1979 when Lee left the Army after serving 5 1/2 years in the Infantry in the 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Special Forces Group - Airborne, because he "loved being a Soldier but often didn't see eye-to-eye with the Army". However, after a brief stint in the private sector he found he missed being a Soldier, and returned to the Army in 1983 to serve in the 172d Light Infantry Brigade in Alaska. From there he went to the First Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta assessment and selection course, was accepted to serve in the Delta Force in 1985, and spent the next 14 years leading some of the most elite Soldiers in the American military.
He was born in 1952 after his father had returned from World War II and Korea. Lee has led a life that has been both contrarian in his actions and in his timing. After growing up as an "Army brat" on bases around the world, Lee entered West Point in July 1970 at a time when joining the military was at its most unpopular, as much of the American public had grown weary of the Vietnam War. He was a tight end on the Army football team his firstie year, after having been denied the medical pass required his first three years. However, not wanting to graduate without having played Army football, he simply went out for the team as a senior, when the coaching staff assumed he had the medical pass. Near graduation the commissioning physician informed him that he could not be commissioned as he dreamed into the Infantry due to knee injuries. After "misappropriating" that paperwork he was commissioned in the Infantry and graduated from Infantry Basic, Airborne and as an Honor Graduate from Ranger School, and then went on to lead Infantry and Special Operations Soldiers for the next twenty-five years.
He and his Soldiers distinguished themselves in actions around the world. Due to the nature of the work most of his time and accomplishments in special operations will be known only to his comrades - but a few moments in American history were too highly visible to be kept secret. During the invasion of Panama in 1989 his SFOD Assault Troop executed over twenty raids en route to apprehending the dictator Manual Noriega, whom Major Van Arsdale personally held while he was handcuffed by SGM Tommy Corbett and Master Sergeant Kevin Connell.
In 1993 during the UN peacekeeping operation in the failed state of Somalia Lee was serving in the Task Force Ranger Joint Operations Center while his former squadron conducted several raids. On 3 October 1993, in what would be later referred to as "Black Hawk Down", Task Force Ranger embarked on a mission to capture two of Mohammad Farrah Adid's lieutenants. Adid was the leader of a clan militia that had killed 22 Pakistani coalition troops the previous June, and Task Force Ranger was deployed to kill or capture Aidid and his leadership. In the battle that ensued that night two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and 17 American soldiers were killed in action. While the mission was accomplished and Aidid's militia was all but eliminated, the American public was unprepared for combat deaths in Somalia, and the Task Force was redeployed two weeks later. Two days after the battle, the squadron commander was injured in a mortar attack, and Lee was selected to return to his old squadron as the commander.
Much of what happened that night, but not all, was chronicled in the book and later the movie "Black Hawk Down" to which Lee was one of the military advisors. After the battle Lee nominated two of his soldiers for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Many of those on the mission believed the Medal of Honor had been earned by another man: LTC Lee Van Arsdale. The families of the returning soldiers heard the stories of the battle and together visited the TF Ranger commander, General Bill Garrison, to request Lee be nominated for the Medal of Honor. Displaying selfless leadership Lee recommended to the General that only his two fallen Soldiers be submitted for the nation's highest award in order that they have a higher likelihood of receiving it. His two Soldiers, SFC Randy Shughart and MSG Gary Gordon both did in fact receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for their actions, which were presented to their families on May 23, 1994 by President Clinton at the White House. For his actions LTC Van Arsdale was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
He was promoted to Colonel and spent his last two years in the Army at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Counterterrorism and Special Projects Branch Chief. He was medically retired in 1999 after twenty-five years, but his impact on America's war fighting was far from over. In 2005 after the war in Iraq had turned to a full blown insurgency the US government began outsourcing security on a large scale. Lee became Chief Executive Officer of Triple Canopy and led that company from 2005-2009, in which time the company quadrupled sales, more than doubled profitability and expanded the number of employees from 1000 to 6000. When he retired in 2009 Triple Canopy was the largest American security company in Iraq and was known for quiet professionalism at a time when competitors were riddled in controversy. After retiring from Triple Canopy Lee became a partner in SunDial Capital Partners and helped successfully launch the first solar powered micro-grids to Special Operations units in Afghanistan.
In 1977 Lee married Marilee and together they raised three sons, Luke, Nathan, and Paul. He received a master's degree from the University of Colorado and was inducted into Mensa. In 2009 they retired to a mountain home west of Colorado Springs, near where he had attended high school prior to entering West Point nearly forty years earlier.