Less than one year ago, Marine Col. Roy A. Arnold was preparing more than 17,000 Marines and sailors with the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar-based 3d Marine Aircraft Wing to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He now oversees one of the nation’s top horse racing operations at Arlington Square Park, Ill.
Arnold, former assistant commander of the 3d MAW and former commanding officer of the Okinawa-based, 2,400-Marine-and-Sailor strong 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, assumed the position of Arlington Park president April 11, 2006, after 30 years of service in the United States Marine Corps.
“I was getting ready to take my Marines back (to Iraq),” said Arnold, in a speech to more than 220 Chicago-based Marine Corps recruiters and guests as the guest of honor for Recruiting Station Chicago's 231st Marine Corps Birthday Ball Nov. 10.
Arnold was slated to take the 3rd MAW back to Iraq earlier this year. However, his mandatory retirement date of 30 years of service was approaching in June 2006.
Arnold said he was conflicted between transitioning out of military service, or starting the process of deploying with the 3rd MAW, retiring, and then possibly being immediately recalled to service.
After consulting with Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, former commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, Arnold decided that it was time to move on from the Corps and into the private sector.
While weighing his post-Corps options, Arnold turned down several lucrative opportunities, wanting to join an organization that was passionate about success and its mission: much like the Corps. He found this in the race track that he leads today.
Home to the world’s first million-dollar race, the Arlington Million, Arlington Square Park features a 1 1/8-mile main track, a 1-mile turf course, and a five-furlong training track.
The 79-year-old park hosted its inaugural meet in 1927 and reopened its doors in 1989 after a devastating fire engulfed the clubhouse four years earlier.
Arlington Park experienced a historic first in 2002 by hosting its first-ever Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
“I’m proud to be a part of this organization,” said the 51-year-old Ithaca, N.Y., native.
Although three decades of Corps leadership helped Arnold in his new role, the transition was not without challenges and controversy.
An unusually high number of racehorses were euthanized due to debilitating injuries during the summer racing season at Arlington Park, causing a local and national media frenzy.
“It’s not something any of us wanted to see,” Arnold said.
The high media visibility and direct interaction with the media was not something to which Arnold was accustomed.
“I was used to having a public affairs officer handle the media. Out here, I’m the one now having to answer all the questions,” said Arnold, who helped coordinate ongoing U.S. operations in Iraq, including a key military engagement in Fallujah, where residents faced constant violence and unrest at the hands of insurgents.
One of the reasons Arnold was highly sought after was his proven leadership experience gained during his time in the Marine Corps.
“Arnold is a strong leader who, throughout his highly decorated military career, demonstrated his ability to identify goals, define and execute strategies to achieve those goals, and deliver exceptional results,” said Richard L. Duchossois, Arlington Park chairman, who served during World War II with the U.S. Army. “Those very same skills are required of racetrack executives as they navigate today’s increasingly competitive landscape.”
“Roy has already invested considerable time and energy learning about the horse racing industry, and understands the opportunities we have and the challenges we face,” Duchossois said.