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NEWS | May 7, 2024

Boyd Assumes Leadership of Illinois National Guard During Change of Command Ceremony

In a ceremony steeped in military tradition, Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, of Springfield, relinquished command of the Illinois National Guard to Maj. Gen. Rodney Boyd, of Naperville, during a change of command May 4 at Glenwood High School in Chatham. Following the change of command ceremony, Neely retired after 40 years of service in the Illinois National Guard.

With Boyd’s assumption of command, he becomes the first Black officer and person of color to lead the 13,000 Soldiers and Airmen in the Illinois National Guard as the Adjutant General. Boyd will also serve on the governor’s cabinet as the Director of the Department of Military Affairs.

“Major General Neely is leaving some very big shoes to fill, but I could not be more confident in Major General Rodney Boyd’s ability to do so,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Today, he will become the first Black officer and person of color to assume command as Adjutant General and Director of Military Affairs. I chose you for this position because you are an outstanding commander and leader. Though the challenges of tomorrow are unknown, it gives me great comfort knowing you will be with us to face them. I look forward to working together with you to promote security, safety, and freedom for the people of Illinois and our nation.”

Boyd is a combat veteran who has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait; and has been the Assistant Adjutant General-Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard since July 2021.

Boyd grew up on the South Side of Chicago.  After graduating from Wendell Phillips High School, he enlisted as a Marine Corps Reservist before transitioning to the Army National Guard and then commissioning through the Guard’s Officer Candidate School on Camp Lincoln, Springfield, in August 1990. He has served honorably in the military for more than 38 years.   

He commanded the Chicago-based 108th Sustainment Brigade before being selected in 2020 as the Assistant Chief of Staff, J4 (Wartime), United States Forces Korea and being promoted to brigadier general. 

Prior to serving as the Assistant Adjutant General – Army, Boyd was a traditional National Guard Soldier holding positions in the private sector after retiring as the Chief of Police in Bellwood, Illinois. Boyd holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Northern Illinois University, a master’s degree in education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a second master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.      

“We’re also here to honor a man who has given so much to our state, our nation, and to the troops under his command over his 40 years of service,” Pritzker said. “General Neely was an outstanding leader of our forces, guiding us through unprecedented times with a poise and decisiveness honed through a storied career in the Armed Forces. From historic floods to civil unrest to a global pandemic, General Neely has helped us face some of our toughest challenges, leading us out to the other side safer, stronger, and more unified.”

As Adjutant General, Neely oversaw the deployment of 4,800 Soldiers and Airmen to 21 countries worldwide, and supported domestic missions made up of 5,600 Guard members, oversaw 220 international partnership activities assisting countries across the world including the Illinois National Guard’s State Partnership Program with Poland.

In 2019, 890 Soldiers assisted communities in Illinois impacted by historic flooding.

In 2020, he directed the largest domestic operation in Illinois National Guard history n response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The true extent of the logistical and operational challenges presented by the pandemic is really impossible to convey,” Pritzker said. “Every day presented a new challenge and there was no instruction manual or modern experience to guide us. But make no mistake, General Neely’s leadership saved lives. His leadership has shaped a new generation of Guard members who are not only exemplary Soldiers and Airmen but model citizens. I have no doubt that you’ll continue to serve others in generous and masterful ways as you retire from this phase of your life.”

Pritzker thanked the families of both generals for their support throughout their careers.

“You are the rocks of Gibraltar standing tall, sometimes facing fierce storms,” he said. “You are wonderful examples, and sometimes the hidden strengths. You, and all the other families of our service members are the support systems for those who keep us safe.”

“You forget how many people you interact with across a 40-year career,” Neely said. “As I transition, I am extremely encouraged that my leadership had some impact to the organization.”

Neely said that when becoming Adjutant General, for he and his wife, Tammy, it was about giving back.

“When I became The Adjutant General, I was at the pinnacle of my career and it was all about giving back as much as possible, taking care of our Soldiers, Airmen and fulltime civilian employees, as well as their families,” he said. “I’ve been blessed throughout my career with opportunities, direction, and guidance. Very few can start at the very bottom in the Army and end up in the Air Force as a two-star after a 40-year career serving in the National Guard, Reserves, and on Active Duty.”

Neely said he and his brother joined the Army Reserves together to pay for college.

“We got a postcard in the mail. It was like oh they’ll pay for our college. This is great,” he said. “That’s how we started. Pretty dumb kids that joined in high school that were like, hey this looks like a great opportunity and here we are 40 years later. I was never going to stay past six years. I was never going to become an officer. I was never going to become fulltime. So much for good fortune and planning.”

Neely thanked his family for their support throughout his career.

“My family has put up with many many things,” he said. “They’ve endured multiple deployments, many schools, lots of deployments, and the kids never complained. It was my wife, Tammy, who sacrificed the most. It was my second deployment – she was left at home with four teenagers and a seven-year-old, managing a business. I think my deployment to Iraq was easier than her time at home.

“She’s been an amazing partner,” he said. “I sought out her approval before accepting this position because I knew she would be thrust into an even more challenging position.”

Neely said it has been a great honor to lead the Illinois National Guard.

“It has been my greatest honor to lead this amazing organization of 13,000 Soldiers and Airmen, plus our full-time civilian employees,” he said. “Often when I talk about the Illinois National Guard, people do not realize the significance of this organization’s service. You heard the governor talk about during my tenure we deployed 4,800 Soldiers and Airmen throughout the world. These service members stop their daily lives, put everything aside, families and work, to deploy sometimes into harm’s way, for sometimes up to a year. Outside of this community, so few really understand their sacrifice.”

Neely also thanked Boyd for his support of Neely as Adjutant General.

“As I prepare to pass the flag to Major General Boyd, I’d like to thank Rodney for his many years of outstanding support to me as Adjutant General,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier the governor selected you. Major General Boyd is a phenomenal leader. I am confident he will continue to move this great organization even further forward.”

Boyd said it feels like he’s been preparing for this role his entire life.

“Thank you, Governor Pritzker, for offering me the opportunity to command this great organization,” he said. “I feel like I have been preparing for this my entire life.”

Boyd also thanked the Neely family for their support.

“We can’t do what we do without the support of our spouses, significant others, and our family,” Boyd said. “We have the easy job. We put on the uniform, and we go. Without you all, we can’t do that.”

Boyd called Neely “an incredible person to work for.”

“You know it’s not easy breaking the glass ceiling,” he said. “You know you can break that glass ceiling, get into that position, and meet resistance. Never, ever did I feel that way because of General Neely. He told me he was going to train me to replace him. He meant that and stood by that. What a welcoming feeling to come to work every day and know you have the support of your boss like General Neely.”

Boyd said he looks forward to continuing the Illinois National Guard’s strong relationship with Poland.

“Thank you for coming today,” he said. “I was just in Chicago last week for the flag raising ceremony. I look forward to continuing our strong relationships.”

Boyd also expressed his appreciation to his family – including his siblings, two sons, Rodney, Jr., and Randy, and most importantly, his wife Darlene.

“My wife Darlene and I have been together 34 years this August,” he said. “We have a lot more work to do, so hang in there.”

Boyd laid out his plans as the Adjutant General.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure we have a force that’s manned, equipped and trained, to do the business of the governor for Illinois and this nation,” he said. “That will not change. That will be my focus – to make sure we have a premier fighting force ready to work for this state and this country.”

Boyd said it’ll take a little work but he’s ready.

“When it comes to manning, everything starts with the Soldiers and Airmen,” he said. “We must bring the Soldiers and Airmen into the formation. We must make sure they have the right equipment to do their jobs. I will continue to do that. We made some amazing advances under General Neely, and I’ll continue those advances. The last piece is training. We have the Soldiers and Airmen, they have the equipment, we must have solid training plans so they can ultimately do their jobs on their missions.”

Boyd also had a personal message for young people.

“Some of you know I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago by a single parent in public housing and on public assistance. Some of you young folks out there may find yourself in a similar situation where you feel that you’ve been given lemons and the world is crashing around you,” he said. “I want to encourage you to take those lemons, squeeze them, and surround yourself with good people. Use education, the greatest equalizer, to get you through those tough times. And one day, like me, you’ll be drinking lemonade.”

During Neely’s retirement ceremony, Pritzker presented the Distinguished Service Medal for “exceptionally meritorious service in duties of great responsibility” as the Adjutant General for Illinois.