Lt. Col. Dan Bishop has a broken torsion bar from a tank sitting on a table in his office at East Tennessee State University.
This torsion bar connected two road wheels on each side of his tank, until it snapped one day.
Years ago there was a promotional Army television commercial that depicted a tank jumping over a small hill and landing perfectly in sand.
Bishop, who was in command of a tank crew at the time, wanted to see if tanks could really do that.
“It in fact can be done,” he said. “We took the jump and what I didn’t anticipate is the landing was a little bit harder than what you see in the commercial.”
The tank hit the ground hard and the torsion bar snapped. The crew spent the next four hours hammering out that bar and replacing it. His platoon gave a part of the bar to him as a present.
Bishop is now in charge of ETSU’s Army ROTC program, having assumed command after Lt. Col. Scott Jeffress retired earlier this year and became director of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at ETSU.
“I was a product of ROTC,” Bishop said when asked about how he came to lead the program.
He had always wanted to return to ROTC and now was the time.
His wife, who also was an Army ROTC cadet, picked the available position at ETSU.
“I knew Johnson City was somewhere west of Boone (N.C.) but had never been out in this neck of the woods until I was assigned here,” Bishop said. “God must have guided her decisions there because, you know, we obviously landed in a pretty awesome place. We’re very happy here.”
He is originally from California, where he went to undergraduate school at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
He spent most of his career in Texas or North Carolina, though.
Most recently he was a military intelligence officer, though he began his Army career in armor.
He has two children, ages 11 and 7.
All told, Bishop has been in the Army 16 years. He has done four tours, all of Iraq.
He always wanted to be in the Army. But he knows that his time in the service will end one day and he could likely still be young. The idea of teaching and coaching was appealing, and he has seen the profession at Columbia University, where he got a master’s degree in psychology. So heading up an ROTC program seemed a perfect fit.
“I think we’ve got a responsibility to teach the next generation,” he said. “And so when I really looked at, ‘Hey, what else I can do?’ I had no aspirations to be a general officer. I’m an intelligence officer, so I’m not going to be a division commander. And I thought what an incredible experience it would be to be able to take some of these lessons that I’ve learned, not only as a leader but then you know I’ve got overseas experience and I’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly.”
As ETSU’s ROTC leader, he is responsible for different things. One is providing strategic guidance, which includes managing the budget and recruiting cadets and overseeing training. Bishop also acts as the face of the program at ETSU, so he has duties just as other faculty members do. He also has to report to his boss in the Army.
ETSU’s ROTC program has a satellite program at the University of Virginia at Wise.
Bishop said that program has a lot or potential.
“It’s only a few years old, and, really, Scott (Jeffress) was the one that got it started,” Bishop said. “And, you know, I’m picking up the ball there and I think we’re going to run with it even more.”
Another of Bishop’s goals is to be commissioning 20 cadets as second lieutenants each year. The program commissions around 12 second lieutenants each year now.
ETSU’s ROTC program has been in existence more than 60 years and has produced around 1,400 officers. About a dozen general officers came through the ETSU ROTC program.
“And so again, it is a hidden gem. And part of my goal is to make sure more people really realize just what a great place this is.”
Bishop said that is true for the university as a whole and not just the ROTC program.
“I think we oftentimes are overlooked for our excellence here,” he said. “And if we could all collectively do a better job of really reinforcing just how great of a place this is, I mean it’s pretty awesome.
“It really is interesting how you end up some place. I’m a true believer that God puts you in a place, puts you somewhere for a reason. And I tell you we were truly blessed coming here and it did not take long to realize that. The university’s fantastic. The Johnson City area is incredible. I’ve never been somewhere where folks are so friendly.”