My memories of Neil Muller
Allow me to share a few words on Neil Gabriel Muller, as friend, mentor and colleague. Neil was already serving as junior officer in Youngsfield when I reported there for my National Service and I only got to know him when I became a CO. Army people will understand that he was “senior” and I was a “blougat KO”, so we didn’t really get together all that often. But by then, we all knew that Neil had the reputation of being a fair, but not to be trifled with, officer – as he was “short of fuse”.
During my formative years, as young officer, our paths didn’t often cross either, as we were on different journeys most of the time. We shared common interests though, as Neil was a sport loving person and because he was also very good at managing people. He took a keen interest in coaching and managing rugby (a sport that he had to give up early in his life due to a knee injury) and he helped many youngsters achieve their dream of playing rugby on a higher level. Like most officers in Youngsfield at the time, we supported Province, so we had a lot in common, besides work and we spent many hours (after work) discussing rugby and the players (of which many of them were in Youngsfield).
In 1986, I was appointed as Battery Commander of 102 Bty and Pierre Walters was Battery Commander of 101 Bty – with Lt Col (then Kommandant) N.G. Muller as OC, 10 AA Regiment. This was when I really started knowing and working with Neil as fellow officer, commander and friend. We had a great innings and to this day, I consider that period as one of the highlights of my career as Air Defence officer. Neil guided and coached us to be competitive, but not envious, committed but not fanatical, hardworking, but not at all cost. Neil was a great mentor and friend to me as a “young” battery commander. With his guidance and leadership, the Regiment performed well and I reckon Col (at the time) Jeff Ormond was very pleased with what he had in all of us.
Life moved on and we went our ways, until 1996, when I met up with Neil again in Kimberley, where I took over the command of ADA School/10 AA Regiment from him. Neil was transferred to Group 22 as OC and we spend the next five years as “equals” serving the Northern Cape Command. This was a great period – as we had two ADA Gunners, serving on the NC Command group and we could support each other and do things together, be it sport or work. As one of the three Group commanders in the Northern Cape, he was still “senior” to us, but that never stopped him from being a great friend and the mentor that he was for many soldiers and their families. He was active in everything, he contributed and supported where he could and he shared and celebrated with us, the success that we as a unit achieved, when we finally beat 8 SAI Bn in the race to win the NC Command Grand Prix trophy!
Around 2001 I was transferred to Pretoria and Neil left the Army to chase his own goals back in the Cape. We stayed in touch and I followed him in his (and Marlene’s) journey in studying and visiting many of the Light Houses on our coast – something that he always wanted to do. I also followed him on his journey in 2012, when he started in Cape Town and walked/cycled/travelled around 7,000km along the railway lines going to the north of our country (Op Spore Tussen Stasies) – all on his own! This was Neil at his best, doing things that one else would even consider doing! Being himself, being special and ticking off his bucket lists.
I followed the success that his sons had in their lives, as Neil was immensely proud of Derick and Pierre and he often mentioned their progress to me (over the years) when we shared a phone call. During all the years, Neil had a hand in many things, ie guest houses, restaurants and so many other interesting ventures that he undertook and shared with Marlene. They were a team and there will be many stories to be told of their time in Ceres and other places where they lived.
Our next meeting (the first since 2001) was on 30 August 2019, at Dubai Airport – when Neil and Marlene returned from Spain (or Portugal) after yet another long walk and we were on our way out of the UAE. It was pure coincidence, as those that know DXB Airport Terminal 3 will tell you – but what a joyful reunion! The two of them always impressed me with the love, friendship and camaraderie that was so visible when they were together – I always thought that besides being married, they were friends for life – and that too was something every special to witness over the years.
Late last year I picked up that Neil went for some medical procedure and on reaching out, he informed me (through WhatsApp) that he has had a few medical issues. Being Neil, he still (on paper) sounded like the man that I haven’t seen for two years, ie strong and on the move. On 18 January 2022, I called Neil, like I’ve done every year on his birthday, but this year, it was different, as I could hear the strain in his voice and I realised that he wasn’t well. He sounded tired, but still positive and we spoke about his son that came from the Netherlands to visit, amongst other things. I still told my wife that we need to pray for Neil, as I got the feeling that he was very ill.
Today I heard the news that Neil has passed away – the ADA Gunner family has lost someone that meant so much for so many, spanning over many years. The same goes for all the other postings that Neil had during his career – he made friends and he demanded respect. He will be missed!
Rest in Peace my old friend – thank you for all the good times and for all that you have done in support of developing me as young officer.
Thinking of Marlene, their sons and other family too – our prayers accompany you in these difficult times.
You will not be forgotten.