Major Gen. Michael S. Linnington often credits his upbringing in the Villas for military successes won from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan.
The next assignment for the decorated two-star general: Helping put on a presidential inauguration.
Linnington, 54, who still calls the greater Cape May area his home in spite of a military career that keeps his bags always packed, is commander of the joint task force providing military support for President Barack Obama’s inauguration Jan. 21.
The military is a big part of inaugurations and it’s an assignment Linnington takes very seriously. He said the military component began in 1789 when Gen. George Washington took the oath at Federal Hall in New York City. As he traveled from Mount Vernon, Washington picked up militia and Continental Army soldiers along the way who followed him to New York.
As commander of the Joint Task National Capital Region, Linnington will be coordinating 7,500 active duty personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard along with 6,000 National Guard troops.
“We provide all the DOD (Department of Defense) military support for the inauguration. We want to showcase the strength of the military,” Linnington said.
Linnington grew up in Lower Township playing sandlot games on Mulligan Field and pulling in fish from the Delaware Bay waters off Abaniti’s Pier. He worked flipping burgers at Dan’s Luncheonette and pumping gas at the Villas Citgo, all the while studying hard under the strict nuns that ran the former St. Raymond’s Roman Catholic School on Bayshore Road.
Linnington has often credited his upbringing for his later military success, which includes graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1980; commanding 75,000 troops at Fort Benning, Ga.; training cadets as commandant of West Point; and fighting in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
Linnington commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan and served directly under Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq, where he saw plenty of combat action. He is an accomplished Army parachutist who got his first command, 1st Battalion, 503 Infantry, in South Korea in 1997.
He has won many medals, including the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit and Distinguished Service. He has also seen several sides of the war against terrorists. He was serving in the Pentagon under Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki on Sept. 11, 2001, the day an American Airlines plane hijacked by terrorists crashed into the building.
On Wednesday morning, Linnington was fighting a different kind of battle as he used a 40-by-60-foot map placed on the floor of a Washington, D.C,. armory to plan strategic military movements for a peacetime event.
“All the moving pieces walked on the map and talked through the events so there is no confusion on the 21st,” said Linnington.
A full-scale rehearsal is set for 3 a.m. Jan. 20, the day before the event, where Linnington hopes to iron out any kinks.
“No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and the enemy in this case is the weather. We’re hoping for mild weather,” Linnington said.
One of six sons born to Rita and the late Jack Linnington, the Villas postmaster, Linnington followed the family practice of going off to Valley Forge Military Academy after elementary school. He went from there to West Point, where he met his wife, Brenda, a 1981 graduate. Their son Michael Jr. is a 2005 West Point graduate now fighting in Afghanistan.
Linnington was promoted to brigadier general in 2007 and got his second star after another 18-month tour in Afghanistan from Sept. 2009 to April 2011.
“I’m very fortunate. The Army has been very good to me and my family,” Linnington said.
During a phone interview Wednesday, he said he was thinking about home when Hurricane Sandy hit the coast. Much of his family still lives here.
“I saw the storm came right though my hometown. I wish I could have been there,” Linnington said.
But for now he has a bigger task than helping his hometown. Linnington will serve his entire country for the time-honored tradition of swearing in a president.
Contact Richard Degener: