By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
When Brad McNeilly-Anta's children ask him what he did in the wars of his time in the U.S. Army, his best answer might be, "It's complicated."
Actually, the United States' involvement in the war in Bosnia had just ended when McNeilly-Anta graduated from West Point in 1996. The war in Somalia was already in our rear-view mirror, having ended in 1994, paving the way for hostilities to break out in Bosnia in 1995.
But peace is never simple, as evidenced by McNeilly-Anta's role in the post-war years in Bosnia.
"I assisted a French division, part of NATO, as a platoon leader for U.S. troops, supporting a multi-national division that the French ran," McNeilly-Anta, a 1992 graduate of Pymatuning Valley High School, said of his initial duties after graduation. "It was about enforcing the peace accords. My platoon provided technical support to the French divisions."
McNeilly-Anta's platoon's main responsibility was monitoring weapons inspections to make sure the Bosnians were living up to their end of the bargain.
"We would help (the French) understand what they were looking at — tanks, rockets, small arms, grenades. We would advise them if components were missing. Some of them were American, but most of them were Russian."
Life was a lot simpler for McNeilly (he added his wife's surname when they married) as he grew up as an athlete in the Pymatuning Valley school system.
He started playing basketball in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades in Dave Roberts' basketball program. McNeilly played basketball and football in junior high, but dropped football after the eighth grade.
Roberts took the PV teams to basketball tournaments in Kinsman and Champion, playing against local teams. In junior high, the Lakers played schools like Jefferson and Grand Valley. Among McNeilly-Anta's teammates then were some of the ones he would go through his high school career with — Matt Spellman, Rick King and Craig Martin.
When he became a freshman, McNeilly-Anta played mostly junior varsity, but saw some action on the varsity team late in the year and during the tournament, playing with upperclassmen like Sean Freeman, Bill Bates, Craig Nemeth and Gordy HItchcock. Doug Hitchcock, the son of PV coach Bob Hitchcock and Gordy's cousin, had graduated a year earlier. At the time, McNeilly-Anta stood just 5-11 and played guard.
"I was real small and skinny then," he said.
His sophomore year the Lakers were still a member of the old Grand River Conference, with Grand Valley, Ledgemont and Fairport. They "probably won 16 or 17 games," according to McNeilly-Anta.
For the rest of his career, Pymatuning Valley played in the East Suburban Conference, against foes like Berkshire, Cardinal and Kirtland. Meanwhile, McNeilly-Anta had sprouted to 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3. Playing with Freeman, Andy Brown, Rod Brown, Paul Hochran, Neil Britton and Mark Pittsinger, McNeilly-Anta enjoyed a very productive year.
"We ran a lot of motion and had good ball movement," he said. "We were taking good shots."
When the seniors graduated after McNeilly-Anta's sophomore season, the experience, talent and victories fell off. Hitchcock, the coach, compensated by emphasizing ball control more.
"My sophomore and senior years we worked the ball, but if you got a good shot, you'd take it," McNeilly-Anta said.
"Any success the program had came from (HItchcock). He set the conditions so the players could be successful. I have nothing but positive memories of him."
That led to McNeilly's senior year and a rise in the Lakers' fortunes.
"The year before our record wasn't that hot, but we felt we were competitive," he said. "We had some decent summer camps. We had a lot of confidence. At the start of the summer the papers were predicting us for fifth or sixth in the league. That motivated us to prove everybody wrong."
With McNeilly-Anta, Spellman, Martin, King and Bates starting, the Lakers went 19-3 and won the GRC championship.
"Our whole starting five was 6-foot to 6-3," McNeilly-Anta said.
At PV McNeilly-Anta scored was a three-year letter-winner, scored 1,150 points, averaging 22.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game as a senior, while shooting .454 from the field and .737 from the foul line.
As a junior, McNeilly-Anta was first-team All-ESC and all-county and was Division III All-Ohio Honorable Mention. His senior year he was selected as the league's, county's and All-Northeastern Lakes Division III Player of the Year and All-Ohio first team.
In addition to basketball, McNeilly-Anta competed in cross-country and track for Pymatuning Valley. He qualified for the state meet in cross-country his junior year and ran the distance events in track, making it to regionals.
He had been in correspondence with West Point and an Army assistant coach had seen him play at camps. After a fall visit his senior year, he was told if he could get an appointment to West Point (requiring a recommendation from Ohio congressmen) he would be accepted into West Point and play basketball there. Both senators (Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn) recommended him.
His freshman and sophomore years at Army he played both guards and small forward as sixth or seventh man on West Point's team.
"I was a role player who played when someone was injured or people fell out of favor with the coaches. I got spot starts," he said.
As a freshman at West Point, he averaged 2.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists, seeing action in 14 games with four starts. Over the last four games of that season, he averaged 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds a game. His statistics were similar his sophomore season.
But he wasn't doing as well academically as he'd like and decided to quit the basketball team and focus on his schooling.
"At West Point there is a core curriculum of 80 credits," he said. "You don't work on a major as a freshman and sophomore. Everyone takes the same courses, proscribed courses. Chemistry was always a tough course for me."
Giving up basketball improved his grades tremendously. From a 2.5 to 2.7 GPA, he jumped to a 3.5 when he graduated. He majored in foreign language, specializing in Portugese, with a systems engineering disclipine.
When he graduated in 1996, he faced a six-year commitment in the U.S. Army. As previously indicated, he was assigned to Bosnia.
He spent two tours in Bosnia. Between 2001 and 2002 he spent part of a year in Kosovo with the 10th Mountain Division as a staff intelligence operations officer for the U.S. task force there, providing near-term analysis and recommendations.
In 2002 he came back to America, to Fort Drum in upstate New York, serving as Brigade Intelligence Officer. He left the service in January, 2003.
Meanwhile, in 1998, he had married Maria Teresa San Pedro Anta, whom he had met while he was at West Point and she at Vassar. The two both took the surname McNeilly-Anta.
After his discharge from the army, McNeilly-Anta took a job with DHL as an operations manager, working in northern New Jersey and New York City. In 2005, he hooked up with a friend to become a federal contractor (BM Consulting) , supporting the U.S. Army. They've been working together for 11 years now.
"For the past year and a half we've been working on future technology and products for the army on projects (including robotics and drones)," McNeilly-Anta said. "We've done computer systems and developed mission command software."
The McNeilly-Antas have three children in New Jersey schools — Kennedy, 14; Isabela, 10; and Sebastian, 8.
"I work out and try to stay in shape," Brad said. "A month ago I started playing going to a pick-up basketball game with a team of old guys. I hadn't played in 10 years or so. I do coach. My older son is playing for the recreation team in the township and I coach him. I also coach my kids' soccer teams."
In addition to HItchcock, McNeilly-Anta credits his parents for his success.
"My parents were big supporters," he said. "They went everywhere. I used to play pick-up games against my dad in the driveway. I used to play in my driveway with my younger brother (Jared).He turned out to be a pretty good basketball player, too, scored more than 1,000 points and played for Allegheny."