Wilson High grad helps protect the president

November 11, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. -- Wilson High School graduate JoQuan McNeil is one of a group of people tasked with guarding President Donald Trump.

A member of the United States Air Force, McNeil is assigned to the presidential security detail. Think of presidential security as a circle surrounded by rings. McNeil is in the second ring. The Secret Service is the only ring closer to the president.

McNeil has traveled on Air Force One, which he called a different experience. He added that the care taken on the plane is amazing.

After his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio ended, he was given a dream sheet and allowed to apply wherever he wanted to go.

“No. 1 was Maryland, and up in Maryland is Andrews Air Force Base, where we do presidential security,” McNeil said.

McNeil had no intention of guarding the president when he went to Maryland.

“I just went up there because it was close to home but still far away,” he said.

McNeil said he isn’t allowed to personally interact with the president but added that he has worked with the president’s security detail. He has interacted with first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

“It’s amazing,” McNeil said. “I just can’t help but admire it. I can never say I’ve met someone who grew up in the same situation I did. A lot of people that I have met there, their families came from an established household. They didn’t know the experience of poverty or going without lights or water or things like that.”

McNeil said he grew up in Darlington and graduated from Wilson High School, where he participated in the JROTC program. He said he grew up in a home that wasn’t the most stable place, and he wanted to have a functioning system around him.

The structure of the military and knowing what to expect every day attracted him. Several of his mentors, including former Wilson JROTC instructor Col. Johnny Guest, had served in the military, and they told him it would help him to become a better person and a better man.

McNeil added that he had a game plan whether he wanted to stay for six or 20 years. He wants to come out a better person.

“For me to go from what most people consider to be nothing to guarding the president is mind-blowing,” McNeil said. ’It’s beautiful.”

Occasionally, McNeil and the others assigned to guard the president will interact with someone who wants to deliver a message or speak to the president. Usually, they help the person understand that interactions with the president aren’t likely, but they occasionally will let the Secret Service handle such a request.

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