Montana State grad heads coalition of 73 nations in fight against ISIS

U.S Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, left, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, and Iraqi Maj. Gen. Najm Abdullah al-Jibouri, right, commander of Nineveh Liberation Operation, walk through a busy market near the University of Mosul earlier this month. (U.S. Army)

BOZEMAN — A Montana State University graduate who now serves as a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army was recently named commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, an international coalition fighting the Islamic State.

Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, a three-star general who is a 1984 graduate of the College of Letters and Science, commands a coalition of 73 nations and partners. The coalition is tasked with defeating the Islamic State in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and ensuring conditions are favorable for subsequent operations, with a goal of increasing stability in the region.

It’s a role he welcomes, despite the challenges and complexity of the mission, which is unique, he noted, in that the coalition is working by, with and through local partner forces in Iraq and Syria.

“Iraqis are liberating Iraqis, and Syrians are liberating Syrians,” Funk wrote. “The liberation of more than 33,000 square miles and freedom for more than 6.5 million civilians is the result of the power of 73 coalition nations and partners.”

He added that the mission also spans to defeating the Islamic State’s ideology by supporting good governance and security, “preventing the next version of ISIS from developing.”

Funk, 55, was born in Fort Hood, Texas, and attended grade school in Roundup. He also attended Bozeman-area schools for four years.

He graduated from Fort Knox High School in Kentucky, then attended MSU, where he received a bachelor’s degree in speech communications and earned a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commission as an armor officer. Funk also has a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University and is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College. His most recent educational experience was as a War College Fellow at the University of Texas Institute for Advanced Technologies.

Funk and his wife, Beth, have three children and one grandson.

Funk has been deployed numerous times, leading soldiers in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, twice in Operation Iraqi Freedom, once in Operation Enduring Freedom and now twice in Operation Inherent Resolve.

Funk’s family and the desire to serve the nation motivate him in his work, he wrote.

“I learned the value of service to this nation by watching my father, an MSU alum as well, as he served his country for over 32 years,” Funk wrote. “I am indebted to this country for what it has given me and my family and want to give back to a nation that has given us so much.”

Funk’s father, retired Lt. Gen. Paul “Butch” Funk, served in the U.S. Army for more than three decades and, like his son, is also a three-star general. A native of Roundup, the elder Funk has three degrees from MSU, including a doctorate in education and an honorary doctorate in engineering.

Coincidentally, the unit of which Paul E. Funk II took command, the III Armored Corps, is the same unit that his father commanded. Butch Funk said that having a father and son duo command the same corps is rare.

Butch Funk added that he and his wife, Danny – who received a degree in education from MSU – are proud of their son.

“He is really a skilled professional and loves what he’s doing,” Butch Funk said. “Most of all, he cares deeply about the soldiers and their families. That’s really important.”

Paul Funk II said that MSU provided him with fundamental life skills that have guided him throughout his career. He is a proud Bobcat alumnus, he wrote.

“The lessons that I learned, both in and out of the classroom, prepared me for my years in this people business that we call the Army,” he said. “MSU values are Army values; we believe in hard work, dedication and getting things done.

“My MSU speech communications degree gave me the skills needed to not only ensure what I say makes sense to an audience, but more importantly, the skillset needed to tailor remarks to multiple audiences,” he added.

Paul Funk II asked that people support and take pride in the men and women of the U.S. military.

“Their energy and passion is contagious, and they are doing remarkable things in this fight as they work to protect the coalition’s homelands from the threat of ISIS,” he wrote. “They represent what is good and right in our world today, and I am honored to serve alongside them.”