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Butler native promoted to U.S. Army colonel

Katie Neigh, 12, changes the pin on Col. Jeff Neigh's beret during her father's promotion ceremony. His parents, Joe and Judy Neigh of Butler, attended the Washington, D.C., ceremony with their daughter-in-law Jessica, their granddaughter Katie, their older son Steve and Joe Neigh's sister Eileen. Neigh's parents, wife and daughter participated by changing the pins on his uniform.

With the Lincoln Memorial in the background, Butler native Col. Jeff Neigh stepped up in rank in a promotion ceremony last week in Washington, D.C. He is now the deputy pharmacy consultant to the U.S. Army surgeon general.

“My boss and I work to develop pharmacy policy for the Army,” Neigh said.

In October, military health services for the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force will operate under the Defense Health Agency. That means Neigh now works on policy for the entire military health care system, too.

Colonel is the highest rank he can achieve as a pharmacist in the Army.

“In pharmacy there are only 11 colonels in the whole Army. So we're very small, but mighty,” Neigh said. “There are about 150 pharmacists total on active duty in the Army.”

Neigh, a Butler Catholic School graduate, graduated from Butler High School in 1994. Three years of high school ROTC led to an ROTC scholarship for college that covered his first five years of six in the doctor of pharmacy program at Duquesne University. After graduation, he began four years of mandatory service in the Army.

He intended to return to Western Pennsylvania to open a small pharmacy but he changed his mind. As an Army pharmacist, he has had broader authority than pharmacists in civilian practice. He said the Army allows medical specialists to do what they do best within the health care team.

“Everybody constantly works to see how we can collaborate better and communicate better,” Neigh said. “It's not about who gets the credit. It's about how can we make this better for the soldier.”

He holds master's degrees in business administration and in health care administration and completed a one-year fellowship at the American Pharmacists Association.

Through the fellowship he gained in-depth experience with pharmacy policy development. He drafted statements on how new bills in Congress would affect the profession and how the profession should respond to proposed legislation. Neigh reviewed potential regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Every job I've done has been new and different,” Neigh said.

The majority of Neigh's service has been in the southern states.

“I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Fort Hood in Texas. That was my first assignment,” Neigh said.

He served at four other Army bases as well. Just after 9/11, he was deployed to set up pharmacy services in the Army's combat support hospital in Kuwait. He and the two pharmacy technicians had to work within Kuwaiti armed forces hospitals.

“We were dependent on the Kuwaitis for lab and radiology and they don't work weekends. It wasn't conducive to taking care of service members,” Neigh said.

Now pharmacists usually deploy to existing American semi-permanent facilities in established theaters.

Neigh said he especially liked his three years as pharmacy director for Blanchfield Army Community Hospital supporting Fort Campbell, Ky. Setting the direction for the department was demanding but fulfilling.

“Success in the military comes down to two things. One is to do well in whatever job you're doing,” Neigh said, “And the second thing is take care of your people. Your success is built on how well your people perform.”

He tries to treat people with respect.

“Every patient I get to take care of is a hero. Everybody I get to treat is a soldier or family of a soldier,” Neigh said. “It's an honor to take care of these folks ... We do our job so they can do their job.”

Stacia Spridgen, director of federal pharmacy programs at the American Pharmacists Association in Washington, D.C., said Neigh has innate leadership skills.

“He's able to bring people together as a team and move forward as the face of military medicine and pharmacy,” Spridgen said.

She expects Neigh to address top issues in military health care.

“One of the hot buttons currently is the opioid crisis and management of the medicines people need for pain and reducing the misuse of them,” Spridgen said.

“I've just known him for many years and just his directness, his compassion, his ability to bring people together is just remarkable,” Spridgen said. “I'm proud to know him.”

Col. Neigh's parents, Joe and Judy Neigh of Butler, said that during the ceremony, U.S. Army Brigadier General Telita Crosland told of a time when Neigh prevented her from making a significant mistake. He was strong enough to speak his mind when it counted.

“He's been a very bright child since grade school,” Judy Neigh said.

Col. Neigh said his attitudes about people came from his parents.

“Butler people have good work ethics,” said Joe Neigh who served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1964.

Judy Neigh recently was named the county's 2017 Distinguished Service Award winner for her volunteer service throughout the area. She taught the importance of helping others by her example and word.

“I always told my kids, 'Take time to care,'” Judy Neigh said.

Col. Neigh considers himself a lifelong learner.

“As long as I'm doing something new and different, I'll continue to serve,” Neigh said.

After his military career, he expects to continue in a civilian role where he can collaborate and solve problems to help people.