Note: This is an old interview I conducted back in roughly 2016 and I passed it on to some of the high school students I was tutoring at the time who were interested in joining the military to give them the perspective of a career army officer. I recorded this on a USB condenser microphone and it was before I really knew anything about audio engineering, so the audio quality isn’t the greatest, but I’ve tried to clean it up and boost the volume. I’ve transcribed the interview almost word-for-word, so there are many grammatical mistakes. I’ve added some corrections in brackets and I’ve edited out the “umms” and “ahhs.” 

One thing I haven’t written or spoken much about is the fact that one of my uncles (who will remain anonymous for privacy reasons) is a retired U.S. Army infantry Lieutenant Colonel, and one of the units he served with was the 101st Airborne as a paratrooper. On the rare occasions that he comes out my way (he lives across the country), I enjoy having long chats with him on military topics and we enjoy watching war movies together and picking them apart…or laughing at the ridiculous way that Hollywood depicts the military.

An important caveat here is that my uncle’s military experience is from the late Cold War. He got commissioned just as the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was winding down in the ’70s, and to my knowledge, he never saw combat in any conflict, either in Vietnam or subsequent to that. (That doesn’t invalidate his experiences since he went through a lot of training and had a long career in the infantry. Just because he never saw combat doesn’t mean he’s a failure.) He retired just as the Cold War ended in the early 1990s. Also bear in mind that his perspective is that of a commissioned officer, not an enlisted person (or the rare warrant officer), and much of what he talks about is based on his experiences which are more than 30 years old at this point. There are some inaccuracies and broad generalizations in his responses. Remember that it’s just one man’s opinion, so take what he says with a grain of salt.

This interview is one time where I took the opportunity to pick his brain about his experiences in the Army and the following is a transcript of the interview. Enjoy! 


Could you briefly describe what your motivations were for entering the Army and how you became an infantry officer?

For some strange reason, when I was young, I used to hate watching war movies and things and, all of a sudden, one day, something clicked, and everything changed. And joining the United States Army is a major challenge, because you’re put in a position where you’re defending your country, and the survival of your country is paramount. And you have to be prepared to do all sorts of sometimes wild and crazy things to make something happen, especially when you’re given a mission, and you have to accomplish it. And hopefully, you have a few casualties in doing so. That’s an ultimate challenge because the challenge is to survive in a hostile environment, lead people and make something happen. And one thing about the infantry is you have to understand the other parts of the military in order to accomplish a mission sometimes. To me, that’s the ultimate [challenge].

Did you get your commission through…was it ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps]?

Yes, ROTC at Oregon State [University].

Okay. And were you in the infantry for your entire career? 


Did you always want to be in the infantry?

Yes. I could always have been a cannon cocker in the field artillery. The only problem is you don’t have any hearing left after you’re done. In the armor, you’re stuck in this sardine can. That’s noisy, and it’s not as safe as some people think; they have a lot of anti-tank weapons out there and you can’t kill what you can’t see. And they see you and they hear you. That’s the one thing about an infantryman. You have at least a chance to hide. There’s always this concern that somebody’s going to come at you with a lot of tanks and you’re armed with infantry weapons. Well, tanks are noisy, you can see them, you can hear them, and there are all sorts of nasty little things infantrymen do. If you look at the history of the Battle of Bastogne, the 101st [Airborne] were stopping German armor constantly. Using whatever they had at hand, they were very good at it. One thing about light infantry people, we don’t run from tanks, we tend to go looking for them. To us, they’re easy targets.

What are some of the challenges you initially faced as a junior officer?

It generally centers around getting to know the people that you’re in charge of. As a Platoon Leader, you have a small platoon of around 40 men, you have a senior NCO, a platoon sergeant, and he sort of, as a senior NCO, he kind of guides you around initially. At just about every level, you have a sergeant that kind of looks after you. When you become a Company Commander, you have a First Sergeant, and then you start going up to the battalion level and higher, you have a Sergeant Major that looks after you and acts as an advisor. And he’s the person that sort of has a pulse on how the junior people feel. Now, when we had the draft active, that was a real challenge because you had a lot of people who didn’t want to be there to begin with. In today’s professional army, it’s not a problem. You get to know your men, you’ve got to find out what their weaknesses and strengths are. Then you have to know how to employ them in a coming mission. Now when you start getting into special operations, you’re really tight. You’re a real tight unit. Rank is there more as a control. You function as a team. You get to know each other so well. You can tell who it is in the dark by their breathing patterns or by their footfalls. That’s just the way it becomes; that’s how tight you are. And you watch each other back. You don’t see that in civilian life. People are out for themselves, usually. In the military, it’s everybody looks after each other. And despite what some people think women can function in that same environment, as well.

Okay, and could you describe some of the units that you were in?

When I first started out, I was stationed at the Pentagon, which is kind of strange as a Second Lieutenant. You’re around everybody from the rank of Colonel on up to four-star General. There’s a point where I knew all the four-star Generals in the United States Army and some of the other services as well, not to mention the Chiefs of Staff. I knew all the Sergeant Majors, Chief Petty Officers, and Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force, they lived in quarters right next to the building I was working in. I got to look at the inner workings of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army. That’s something a Lieutenant doesn’t get to do very much. And I got a full appreciation of how it’s organized. The military has since reorganized itself and there are a lot of departments and agencies that no longer exist. But I’ve kept up with that as is. So it’s not much of a problem. One thing I like to see, I’ve wanted to see, and has happened is that the services started cooperating with each other, and they work as a group, as a team. Whereas in the past, there was this rivalry all the time, and you get to appreciate what your limitations are as an infantry, or as an Army unit. We’re tied to the ground. Whereas the Navy, while they have three-quarters of the planet operate on. The oceans. The Air Force. They can’t hold any ground, they can fly over it, and I think they learned to realize that they can’t win wars by themselves. They can bomb people into the Stone Age, but that doesn’t accomplish too much. If you have to fight a war you got to go in and seize, hold, and maintain, and make the other side surrender. And that’s something that we seem to have lost on the civilian side. The military knows how to make the enemy surrender, it’s just that nobody seems to want to win a war anymore.

And around what time period were you in the Pentagon? When this was happening?

From 1972 to 74. Then I went through various units like the 104th [Infantry] Division in the Pacific Northwest, it was a training unit actually. That was my reserve time. I was going to college at the time, pharmacy school, and so forth. Then went to graduate school at the University of Kentucky to get my doctorate, and at that time, I linked up with the 101st Airborne Division, Air Assault. And I got to work with a live active combat unit. Something that up till that point, I didn’t really have a chance to do [work with] an organized division, brigade, battalion. [My apologies for the TV noise in the background.] A lot of what I did prior to that was training for special operations and things like that which is a small unit, but it’s kind of outside the normal loop of things.

What made you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? 

It was a challenge. A real challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it. When I was going through the Officer Basic Course (AKA Basic Officer Leaders Course, BOLC) they usually try to get you to go through all your specialized training; Airborne, Ranger, mortar platoon leader, all that sort of good stuff, before you get your first assignment. And all this was done before my assignment to Washington and the Pentagon. I found that I could jump out of an airplane [with] no problem. I had a lot of buddies that were skydivers, so they were just having fun. The only thing they didn’t like is that you have a static line and it automatically opens your chute. You don’t get to do a freefall, but then from 1,250 feet that is not too far to the ground. So they make you do a minimum of five jobs to get qualified; get your little “mosquito wings,” and so forth. For me, it was just part of my job. I had to be able to be prepared to go in. When you’re special ops, you got to go in by parachute sometimes. It’s not something you necessarily want to have to do, but there are some areas you just can’t land airplanes in, and coming in with helicopters is not exactly a quiet entry. You have to sneak into places, and you got to remember you got to sneak back out without them knowing you’re ever there.

Could you describe some of the physical training that would be involved for something like that?

Well, you just do a general string of calisthenics. There are about eight to 12 exercises you do from push-ups, you know, sit-ups and things like that. Then you go on a long run. That’s actually not so much [for] strength, but to build your endurance. In terms of endurance, one thing for young women is…they can do it. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that within the last decade, we’ve had women in our Delta Force. There are about a half dozen there at any time. I had a student at the Patterson School, who was asked to join because she had some special talents that they were looking for, and she was definitely in good shape. We just had two women pass the Ranger School. The Ranger School, from a physical standpoint, is not challenging to anybody, male or female, who is in good shape. The challenge there is being able to handle stress, going long periods of time with very little sleep, very little food, and then at the other end of whatever mission you’re given, engage in a combat mission. You know, get you in a firefight. The disadvantage that women have had, up until about the 1990s, is that they weren’t trained in small unit tactics and battle drill. Lately, the ROTC, in particular, has changed that. Women are taught to be squad leaders, Platoon Leaders, Company Commanders of infantry units, and they’re doing infantry tactics. That was something women weren’t taught and that put them at a disadvantage in the Ranger Program. And the Rangers are there to go in, knock down doors, shoot up everybody, and blow things up. And women just weren’t taught that, now they are.

So what would you say, and if there is such a thing, what does an average paradrop look like?

Well, if you want to look at a large-scale airborne insertion, you should look at the operation “Market Garden” which took place in World War II in 1944. It was about 90% successful. The only problem was they couldn’t take that last bridge and hold it. We have a small infantry battalion holding off hundreds of tanks with infantry equipment, and they’re stuck there. They’re stuck in place. That’s rather daunting. Most of the drops recently have been of battalion size and they’re mostly staged. Usually, you have people on the ground who have already secured the drop zone. Dropping into a hot LZ is not exactly a lot of fun. You’ve got crazy people shooting at you, and by Geneva Hague Convention, they’re not supposed to shoot at you while you’re in the air, but the minute you hit the ground, you’re fair game. And so it’s a very risky thing. It’s good for inserting small groups. They used to insert Jedburgh teams during World War II, the forerunners of the OSS, and then the CIA. You can insert, you know, a handful of people; a dozen or so by parachute, and you can resupply by parachute. But [the] chances of you seeing large division or brigade-sized air drops anymore [are] going to be very remote. In fact, the Army is now reviewing whether or not they really need airborne. We have what we call the Air Assault. We just come in in helicopters. We have helicopters that can come in and you can’t hear them. And that’s something a lot of people don’t know.

Doctrinally, what was the purpose of the airborne, and what sort of objectives would they be tasked with?

The general idea there is to jump behind the enemy lines, seize certain key objectives, disrupt their lines of communication and supply, and just generally wreak havoc. That was something that was achieved in the Normandy invasion, but not by design, necessarily. The pilots that were dropping the paratroopers weren’t trained to do air drops of troops on a large scale, in particular, and frequently the airborne units were dropped miles from where they were supposed to be, or sometimes just completely in the wrong place. A good example is you had a lot of people between the 82nd and the 101st Airborne who were actually intermingled with each other because of a problem. They also inserted people using gliders, which were very hazardous, we lost a lot of people due to the crashes. The British were actually some of the best at doing that. They came in in gliders, and in the case of the Pegasus Bridge over a canal in Normandy there, they landed right on top of their target and took it in less than 15 minutes. It’s basically a commando raid that you would use that sort of thing for. Like I say, you get behind the enemy lines, disrupt everything, and that weakens their frontline. And then the troops at the standard front can come forward and you’ll link up with them. It doesn’t always work out the way you planned it. I think there’s only one drop that actually worked out that way, which was one of the last airborne drops in World War II, where they went behind enemy lines, they took their objectives, and in a matter of a couple hours, they linked up with the main force. Usually, you’d be sitting back there, they say, “We’ll link up with you in 48 hours,” and about 10 days later, you’re sitting there down to your last rounds of ammo and the enemy is coming over the hill. And somehow, they save you at the last minute, which is not exactly what you want to do. We’ve gotten a little more sophisticated doing this kind of operation. For example, in Air Assault, an insertion behind enemy lines with helicopters, you’ll land in there, seize, hold your objective, and then link up with the main body, if that’s the general objective. Sometimes you go in and you are the main attack. You’re taking an objective and basically disrupt[ing] the enemy’s ability to make war, in general. 

Warfare isn’t what it used to be where you have front lines all the time. You go into guerrilla warfare [and] they’re all over the place. So you have to take certain key objectives to disrupt their guerrilla warfare tactics. That’s very challenging. 

So we’ve all seen the movies about the airborne in World War Two. Would you say there’s a significant cultural difference between, say, the airborne and the regular infantry units?

Yes, there is. Paratroopers, regardless of what the rank is, they are very mission-oriented. If they land in an area and they’re spread all over the place, what they do is they tend to link up, but they know what their job is supposed to be. And they’ll go and head for whatever the objective is, even if it’s by themselves. Once they reach their objective, they’ll look around to see if there’s others of their kind around them. And if there is, they’ll try and take the objective and complete the mission. Even though it might be a mission for 200 men, and there are only 10 of them, they’ll try. They’re self-driven to accomplish their mission and more than likely they will. They’re very focused and they know how to survive under some very extreme circumstances.

From what I’ve read, kind of in the ’60s, and I guess somewhat the ’70s, the Airborne Divisions were considered sort of the premier units in the U.S. Army. Was that true, or is that still true?

Well, among the infantry, they’re considered elite because these guys are among the toughest infantry people there are. And one of the problems is the regular line units don’t like having their soldiers shifted over to the infantry because it dilutes out the expertise within the frontline unit. That’s always been a problem with a special operations unit because they take the cream of the infantry, and a lot of the units like to keep some veterans, and other people who are very good at certain things, within the ranks mainly to help the unit survive in a hostile environment. And that’s always been a problem and it always will be. Fortunately, because we’re now a professional army, most of the other regular infantry units are taught at least basic survival tactics. In the infantry, you have basically two camps, you have the heavy armor/mech[anized] camp, and then you have the light infantry, and the light infantry tends to be commando-like because you have to move fast, you don’t have a lot of transportation, and people would be amazed at how far a unit can move in less than two hours. Upwards of 20 miles. And that’s not unusual. 

So how would you differentiate between Airborne and other elite units like Rangers, Special Forces, Delta Force, etc.?

Okay. Special Forces is designed primarily to conduct insurgency and counterinsurgency warfare. Where you’re in a guerilla warfare area, and you actually train the guerillas to fight their government. The Rangers are designed to go in and seize objectives, specific objectives like airfields, or some government buildings, or some government installations, and either hold them or destroy them. And then they get extracted out. Delta Force, they go in primarily to look. They rarely operate in uniform. And the reason they have women in there is because sometimes you have to pose as a married couple. And so you’re mingling among the native population, and you have to speak the language fluently. Same thing with the Special Forces, you have to speak the language and communicate with whoever you’re training. They have schools that teach you how to speak various languages. They’re called DLAT, Defense Language Aptitude Test is what you take (now called Defense Language Aptitude Battery, DLAB), and then they send you to a school, either in Monterey at the Presidio or at Bolling Air Force Base on the East Coast. And you become very proficient at whatever you’re doing. That’s one of the things about the Special Forces, you have to learn another language. But Delta Force, you not only have to know the language, but you also have to know the culture. You have to understand where you are. You have to have a good sense of direction. You have to know the country better than the people living there, too, because you may have to escape sometimes. Most of the time you don’t. You’re just going in and having a look. You’re not doing commando raids. 

Now you go into other services like the Navy, they have the SEALs, they’re designed to sneak in, do reconnaissance, and leave. There’s a saying, “You go in unseen, unheard, unfelt, and ‘unsmelt.’” You leave no trace you were ever there. Other times, like with the bin Laden raid, they’re designed to go in and kill somebody. SEAL Team Six, which is known as Naval Development Group, or NAVDEVGRU; they’re the elite of the elite. They’re the ones that conduct hit operations, more than likely. They’re not wasted doing reconnaissance. They go in and take someone out or capture them. They’re seasoned. They’re the best of the SEALs. Marines have Marine Force Recon. They go in and do the same thing. They have a look. But they can also…they’re basically Marine SEALs. They can conduct hit raids, too. Usually along coastal areas within 20 miles of the shoreline. Usually, the Army defers to the Navy, when doing things like that because the function[ing environment] of the SEALs and the Marine Force Recon is the water. That’s their hiding place. Air Force has what we call PJs. They go in and rescue downed flyers. These guys are air commandos. And they also have special gunships, Spectre gunships, and things like that, and they do all kinds of nasty things to bad guys. They also handle drones.

So what kind of person does it take to be in these types of elite special operations units?

You have to be intelligent. You had to have a good knowledge of history and geography. You have to know how to focus. You have to be able to improvise, adapt, and as they say in the Marines, overcome. You have a generation right now, millennials, that are used to dealing with electronic devices to communicate and do all this stuff. You have to be able to do that. Plus, you have to be able to do it the hard way. You have to be able to know how to use various materials at hand in order to get by. Anything that’s electronic has a bad tendency of going down at the wrong time. So you have to learn, again, how to improvise, adapt and overcome, and you have to think quick. Sometimes you have to know how to be an actor or performer, in order to get by. If you ever look at some of the old movies and TV serials, like Mission: Impossible, you have people who are acting as civilian special ops types, in this case, probably for the State Department, and they run into unexpected situations, but they react quickly without skipping a beat. You have to be able to do that. That’s a major challenge for most people. If somebody wants to be challenged, this is where you go.

So it’s probably safe to say that these are very motivated, Type-A personality, kind of people?

Yes, they don’t have to be a totally A-type personality. You have to be calm, and you have to be quick thinking, and you have to be very level-headed, and you have to be focused, always on a mission, whatever that mission is. Sometimes the missions are sort of loosely defined, but you have to be able to, again, pick up on opportunities as they present themselves. You’ll be going along, doing something as part of a mission, all of a sudden, you see something occur, and you realize it’s an opportunity to even improve what you’re doing. And you have to be able to recognize that. That’s why you have to be very well-educated and understand human behavior and cultural behaviors because you’re not going to be operating just within the United States, but you’re operating in strange, faraway places, many of which most people don’t visit.

So we all hear about the tales of high adventure in the infantry. It’s very romanticized. But I’ve read that it’s a very Spartan lifestyle. Could you describe some of the realities of that kind of job?

Well when you’re on the front line, you’re fighting a standard linear battle, you got people dropping artillery and mortar rounds on you, firing machine guns at you, and you’re running patrols. You’re never sure when you’re going to get your next meal, and you’re eating MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat). Back when I got involved it was C-Rations. Canned rations. They’re kind of heavy. The MREs are a little bit better. You also have LRP (Long Range Patrol) rations, which are freeze-dried material, but that takes a lot of water. It depends on the environment you’re in. All your environments will be changing. You’re outdoors. You’re always looking for a nice dry place to sleep for the night, but more than likely to be sitting in a foxhole, and the rain will be coming down, or it will be snowing, and the wind is blowing. Hopefully, you’re going to be dressed in the right uniform for the different climates. The Army is very good at supplying you with the right kind of uniform. If you’re somebody who likes to go out hunting outdoors, you can imagine what it’s like, you know, just living or camping out for a day or two, but imagine doing that for weeks on end. At the same time, the people on the other side are shooting at you, or you’re going on a patrol and trying to find where they are. That in itself is a big challenge. Find out where is the enemy. That’s called maintaining contact. You don’t ever want to lose contact with your “friendly opposition.” Of course, they’re doing the same thing. And the first thing you’ll learn is that no matter how well you plan things, no matter how ready you are, the enemy always has a vote in the matter, and they may do something fair or unfair to screw you up. That’s what the challenge is. It’s a chess game, but the pieces can move any way they want, rather than in fixed patterns. They can do whatever they want, and if people want a challenge [then] you join the infantry.

What would you say are some of the most important things that an infantryman needs to know? Preferably to not get killed.

Well, basically survive. How to survive under extreme circumstances. Looking after your colleagues around you because you are an extended family and you’re usually very very close; you know each others’ families. That’s a challenge for an officer because you know who’s married, who isn’t, all their kids, their aspirations, and so forth. You’ll have, say, a unit picnic, or something like that. And basically, as a senior officer, a battalion commander, those are your kids out there, and it gets very personal when one of them gets hurt. It’s hard on you because you’ll see, uh, occasionally some of these war movies involving World War II, you’ll find officers who get too close to their men, and all of a sudden, you know, they’re given a mission and it’s an extremely dangerous one, and they’re at odds with their conscience as to who to send out to take care of the job because they know everybody. Usually, the attitude is you go into an area for any long period of time, you go in with the people you know (you don’t have any choice with that), but you don’t start making any new friends. This is generally when you have a war situation that’s been going on for years and you’re in the same place constantly. That doesn’t happen anymore. 

[He goes on a long sidenote here about military versus civilian agency logistics. It’s only tangentially related to the question I asked, but it’s insightful because infantry units are often deployed into disaster-stricken areas to assist in humanitarian efforts and maintain order. They won’t be doing much fighting, but the manpower in an infantry unit is substantial.]

Most of us are trained at the War College level to plan, execute, and complete a war in less than six months. You don’t want to be around any longer than you have to. Our only problem is: once we go in and win, the civilian side of the house isn’t ready to go in and start rebuilding whatever you blew up and destroyed. And part of it’s not their fault, it’s that they don’t have what we call “lift capacity.” They can’t move things; men, materiel, and supplies to where they’re needed because a lot of these civilian agencies don’t have any transportation capability, but the military does. You see that in disasters all the time, particularly islands, and things like that, or places that have a coastline. The Navy’s always in there bringing supplies. They have hospitals aboard some of those ships that have up to a thousand-bed capacity to handle casualties, and they’re sent in to help evacuate people out of, say, a tsunami area or an earthquake area. The Army’s in there, sometimes helping to rebuild, because their engineers are very good at building things, as well as blowing them up. You have to clear mines and things, so children don’t go off running down the road and end up getting blown up. It’s a big challenge, and that’s the problem. Normally in the military, we’re taught to accomplish a mission, but usually at the end of our mission statement, there’s one sentence that’s always there that says, “On order, be prepared to…” Civilians don’t have anything equivalent to that. They have no follow-up. They accomplish what they perceive to be their mission, which is to rebuild somebody up to a certain level, but then they leave and there’s no follow-on. The military does have units designed for that called civil affairs units. They’re part of the special ops. They go in and they figure out what’s needed, then they hand it over to the civilian side once everything’s established, but frequently, they’re not followed up by the civilians, and that tends to be a problem. For those people who don’t want to get into the infantry or go into the military, they can always go into the State Department, for example, and become an Area Expert. Learn the language and everything, just like Special Forces, Delta [Force], and other groups. And figure out what’s needed. The only problem is getting the help there in a timely fashion. Like I said, these civilian agencies do not have a lot of lift capacity. The Red Cross is a good example. The Red Cross has a limited amount, but not enough to really make a difference in a major disaster anymore. 

On patrol, what is generally the standard operating procedure for close contact [with the enemy]?      

You usually have what we call a “movement to contact” where, all of a sudden, you get into a firefight. Now a typical firefight only lasts a couple of minutes. If it lasts fifteen minutes or longer, you’re in a major conflict. What you do is you break contact with the enemy. You send a lot of lead and steel in their general direction, and you high-tail it out of there. You know they’re there, and that’s all you really wanted to know. You can tell by the volume of their fire roughly how many there are; whether it’s a squad size or a platoon size formation. If it’s a bigger formation then you get out of there real quick. Sometimes you can go up and make contact without firing a shot. In other words, you spotted them before they found out you were there, and you let ‘em go by, and you start counting heads, and you take another route away from them and go back to your starting point and report what you found at a given place. Other patrols are out there. Not just your patrol, but there are usually dozens of patrols out along the battle line, and you’re trying to find out who’s there and how many there are. Occasionally, you’re asked to take a prisoner, [so you] try to capture prisoners. You bushwhack ‘em and get ‘em to surrender…hopefully. In guerilla warfare, that doesn’t work too well. You’re in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t know how many there are, and you might bump into a small group, but right behind them is a group that’s about fifty times the size of what you bumped into, and they’re just looking for you. That happened in Vietnam a lot. That isn’t something you want. Insurgencies: those are some of the most challenging because the “friendly opposition” is in civilian attire, and they’re actually in the population itself. You got to figure out who’s friendly and who isn’t. And some of them are pretty good actors; they can act very friendly. [laughing] Especially if they see you’re armed. 

Are there any particular difficulties you encountered as your career continued?

Most of the difficulties come from budgetary cuts and things of that nature where you’re trying to train your troops to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. I know the 101st, we had something called an 18-hour sequence where you’re given an order to be prepared to move out, and you start going through this step-by-step sequence over an 18-hour period to be prepared to move. At the 18th hour, we had what was known as “wheels up” where the Initial Readiness Company is in the air and heading somewhere, and right behind them, within less than 30 minutes, is the rest of the battalion. The Division Readiness Group, the DRG. The 82nd [Airborne] is set up the same way. I remember, one time I was at Fort Campbell, we were on basically Division Readiness Force status for over a month. And so what happened was, we were ready to go in less than 30 minutes. Just like the Rangers. Everything was set up, and all we had to do was get the order to go and get the airplanes down there on the Campbell Army Airfield, hand out the ammunition and MREs. And we could actually, instead of an Initial Readiness Company, the whole battalion could have gone in one big lift. You never know where you’re going. They don’t tell you until you’re aboard the aircraft.

They say, “Oh, we’re going to Riki Tiki Tonga and we’re supposed to do this.”


Usually, if you’re in special ops, though, you know ahead of time before you leave. And you rehearse. You always rehearse whatever you’re gonna do. If it’s a village, they make a mock-up village and you actually hit it about four or five times a day for a couple of days, just to make sure you got all the contingencies down. Maybe some contingencies might come up, but you’ll be able to react to them, even though you weren’t prepared. That’s something a lot of people don’t learn. You got to rehearse. Just like if you were giving a theater performance. You got to rehearse. Remember your role, your lines, and everything. Same thing in a combat unit. You got to do the same thing as they do in the performing arts. You have to rehearse and get it right. There is no second chance. 

How would you sum up your career?

I think it was fairly successful, I retired a Lieutenant Colonel, which is not unusual, actually. Most officers retire at that age. You’re either a Colonel or a Lieutenant Colonel. I have at least two junior officers I worked with; one’s now the Commanding General of U.S. Army, Europe. The USEUR. Another one’s the post commander of Fort Bliss, Texas. Both of them served in Iraq. I’ve known them…oh geez, 20 years. Run into them several times in my civilian life. Sort of like a reunion. Like I said, it’s like an extended family, and you recognize and remember each other, and there’s a comradeship. There’s a little movie out called “Band of Brothers.” Well, that does exist in the 101, at least. 

Any further words of wisdom you can give for people out there or anything further you’d like to address?

Well, they used to have a saying that “freedom isn’t free” and that’s right. It isn’t. You can’t be constantly going around with your head buried in an electronic device. Texting each other. You have to occasionally look up and see what’s going on around you. It’s called situational awareness. Not just in your immediate vicinity but what’s going on in the world because there are things happening in other parts of the world where the young people aren’t sitting there texting each other, but they’re trying to figure out how to get you…for whatever reason. Maybe they don’t like your hairstyle, or maybe they don’t like the way you talk. Maybe they don’t like having all these graphic sex movies shoved in their face all the time from Hollywood. But you have to learn and understand that you live in a big world, and that not necessarily everybody thinks like you or wants to be like you. That’s your challenge, and there will come a time when you may have to defend your way of life or stick it all on the line.

Well, great! That’s all I have. Thank you.

So there you have it! I want to commentate on a few things from this interview that I thought were interesting. First, the fact that he got commissioned through ROTC, and not through a service academy (in the Army’s case, West Point) or through Officer Candidate School (OCS), is something you don’t hear about too often. Of course, it depends on what college you’re attending and if that school has an ROTC program. Even to this day, both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have Army ROTC programs. So they still exist at those schools, but those are large state universities.

Secondly, he points out that people in special operations need to be well-educated and intelligent. In reality, these aren’t just a bunch of dumb grunts, and the training pipeline for the Special Forces, SEALs, etc. is roughly a year long and involves multiple schools you need to go through to become fully qualified.

Barring any special ops unit, even getting into the military is tough because the services are actually very selective about who they recruit. (Standards are a bit different depending on what service you want to join.) Generally speaking, I’ve heard that only around 20 to 30 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds actually qualify for military service. Of those seeking an officer’s commission, only about 10 percent (or less) get accepted to either a service academy or to OCS. You don’t just walk into a recruiting office, talk with the recruiter for a few minutes, sign some papers, and then they ship you off to Boot Camp in a week. Nope. It’s a fairly drawn-out process that involves studying and taking the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Battery), and a bunch of other stuff, which includes a lovely day at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) where you go through a whole bevy of tests to determine if you’re even physically and psychologically fit enough to serve (plenty of people have washed out at MEPS for one reason or another). This is all before you even get to Boot Camp!

Despite many services recently failing to meet their recruiting quotas and the occasional lowering of recruiting standards, they still don’t just take any warm body. You need at least a high school diploma (or a GED) to enlist, and a Bachelor’s degree if you want to become an officer. Even then, I know of college graduates who went the enlisted route for whatever reason instead of becoming an officer. Maybe they couldn’t get the stellar application package together or do well on the interview to pass the selection board for OCS? Maybe they wanted to do the more hands-on technical work that enlisted people do? Or maybe they didn’t feel like being an officer? Rank has its privileges, but it also has its heavy responsibilities. The truth is that you have a far better chance of getting hired by a minimum-wage employer for a job that requires zero skills. So this whole idea of “Only idiots join the military because they couldn’t get real jobs in the civilian world,” is fallacious. This isn’t to say that everyone in the military is an honor student. There is some percentage of dumb, strange, or flat-out psychotic people in uniform that somehow got past the screening at MEPS and got through Boot Camp, and the infantry isn’t exactly full of eloquent Shakespearean orators, but the idea of the military being a bunch of redneck country hicks with only a third-grade education is a thing of the past.

Similarly, I’ve taught a number of high school students who’ve watched a few too many war movies, played too much Call of Duty, or were so high on their own ego (i.e. perceived brilliance), that they thought joining the military would be easy. Ironically, they were usually the students who were failing in school and on the verge of dropping out. But they had this notion that serving in the military requires no intelligence or self-discipline and that they would just join up, go into special ops, and go on a grand adventure killing bad guys. I usually see them a year or two later working at McDonald’s or some similar job. “Yeah…how’d the whole military thing work out for ya? Weren’t you gonna be in the Navy SEALs or something?” I think they realized that just joining the military is not as easy as they thought and it says more about their ignorance than anything.

Finally, his comments on understanding that there are other people out there in this big world of ours are very sound, as well as his comment about maintaining situational awareness. It’s like, “Oh if you think millennials, my generation, are on our screens a lot…you should see today’s youth! They probably think the internet is a sovereign nation, and they probably don’t even know what a sovereign nation is.” These kids are so addicted to their phones and they seem to think that a screen is a replacement for actually living their lives. The problem is that social media, and those dumb little games they play, only give a quick dopamine hit and impart nothing of self-discipline. The military isn’t about to accommodate all of your addictions and you will learn something about self-discipline in the military, whether you like it or not. Furthermore, you are on a contract to serve for your enlistment, so you can’t just up and quit like any job (unless you enjoy jail time). If you want to be in the service, then you’ll have to be willing to give up some of your freedoms as they mold you into what they want. Personally, I think if we were to take away all of the social media, streaming services, and the convenience of our devices (phones, tablets, computers, TVs, etc.), even if only for a week, then most of these kids would just pout like a bunch of babies. (I’ve taken away some phones in class for a mere hour, and I’ve seen them do this. It’s really pathetic.) They would start shaking like they’re going through withdrawals from their phone addiction. As they say, nobody appreciates their freedom more than those who have had it taken away from them. The question is, as my uncle said, are you willing to fight for that way of life or stick it all on the line one day?

So that was the interview I did with my uncle. Again, it’s just one man’s viewpoint, and some of the information is a bit old or vague, and kind of generalized, but I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps gleaned a different perspective from it.