12:32 | Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
Keywords : Bill Pearson Western Kentucky University Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Pershing Rifles Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah advisor Isfahan martial law Iranian embassy Revolutionary Guard roadblocks whiskey hostages political asylum
Anyone who's in the Army for an extended period can point to mentors who helped them or inspired them along the way. Bill Pearson remembers several, including Norman Schwarzkopf.
He wanted to fly. Three times Bill Pearson applied to the Air Force Academy and three times he was first alternate. He finally said to heck with it and finished college with ROTC and took an Army commission. He also joined the local Army Reserve unit. At Fort Benning, he was hardened with the infantry officer's basic course, Ranger school and jump school.
The 199th Light Infantry Brigade was forming up at Fort Benning to deploy to Vietnam. Bill Pearson was with them as a platoon leader. They went to Vietnam as a unit, which was not the norm. Once there, they spent weeks just acclimating and their first combat experience was against the local wildlife.
After a month guarding an ammo dump, the men of Bill Pearson's platoon were anxious to see some action. Their first real assignment was in the delta south of Saigon and it wasn't long before those same men missed the boredom of that guard duty.
After the war, Bill Pearson served as a JROTC instructor and he always got the question, "Did you ever kill anybody?" He would then relate a story about a dead Viet Cong, who had a letter from his fiance in his pocket.
Bill Pearson was walking along the top of a flooded rice paddy dike when the man in front of him stepped on a booby trap. The explosion wounded that man and the man behind him, but he was untouched. When his radioman was hit, he had to carry the litter through the deep muck.
Bill Pearson's platoon was on call as part of a rapid reaction force. Their base of operations was in the delta south of Saigon. They did not get into any hairy situations from that arrangement but they did have some dangerous moments jumping into the water from hovering choppers during their own operations.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
Near the end of his first tour in Vietnam, Bill Pearson was appointed Executive Officer of the unit. As XO, one of the things he had to manage was the daily helicopter flights to men in the field to deliver rations and supplies. On one of these trips, he had to make a decision about an overloaded aircraft that still haunts him.
After his first tour of Vietnam, Bill Pearson was assigned to a training unit which was preparing soldiers for deployment there. He was ready to return to private life and had submitted the paperwork when he got a call. How can we convince you to stay? Well, I always wanted to go to flight school.
He had been an infantry officer during his first tour, but now Bill Pearson was back as a Cobra gunship pilot. He literally climbed into a Cobra the moment he arrived and was immediately in a huge firefight. Thankfully, this pace did not continue.
After the war on terror brought US forces into Afghanistan, the focus changed from the 9/11 attacks to weapons of mass destruction believed to be in the hands of Saddam Hussein. At V Corps, Command Sgt Major Ken Preston started preparing for a possible invasion in the summer of 2002. The following March, US soldiers rolled into Iraq covered in chemical warfare suits.
Lawson Magruder, who commanded troops in the Somali deployment, was disturbed by what he discovered after the conflict was over. Partisan distrust following a change of administrations had sidelined the most experienced diplomat in the area. This contributed to an already bad situation.
On September 11, 2001, there were 130 senior leaders huddled in a town pavilion during a war exercise in Heidelberg. An aide handed a slip of paper to V Corps commander Gen Scott Wallace. He showed it to Command Sgt Major Ken Preston. A plane had hit he World Trade center. Then there was a second slip of paper and the General stood up and addressed the crowd. Everything had changed at that moment.
The attack helicopters, Humvees and other armaments were lined up in the empty desert, poised for attack. To Bob Clark, it seemed like a mini-version of the mighty Normandy armada. Then it was a mad dash into Iraq and the Euphrates River valley.
The 10th Mountain Division deployed to Somalia, where LTG Lawson Magruder worked with his Marine counterpart to secure distribution of humanitarian aid and stop the fighting between rival factions. It was not yet the Information Age, so he and his staff would huddle around a lone satellite phone every evening.
Ken Preston's first duty was at Fort Hood, where he got a plum assignment in the headquarters company as a tank crewman. There were only three tanks in the section, including the battalion commander's tank. The unit spent a lot of time testing and evaluating new tanks to determine which technology the Army should adopt.
After commanding troops in combat as a lieutenant in Vietnam and as a colonel in Iraq, Bob Clark still had a lot of service left in him. He had more commands including the 101st Airborne Division before he finally retired. He reveals some of the insights that he learned during his career.
The army had to plan for operations that were short of total war, stability and security operations. Lawson Magruder worked with a team writing new light infantry doctrine, which was the type of force that would be tasked with these missions. Ironically, he was soon at the 10th Mountain Division, which was destined for Somalia.
Ken Preston began his career as a Command Sgt Major in the deserts of Kuwait. His unit had mobilized in response to some sabre rattling by Saddam Hussein. After four months, he returned to Fort Hood with the 3-8 Cav, what he considered to be a model battalion.
When Bob Clark arrived to assume command of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, Saddam Hussein had just moved into Kuwait and the unit was preparing to deploy. Soon, he was staring across the Saudi desert into Iraq.
Platoon leader Brooks Tucker was in the Saudi Arabian desert, waiting to see what Saddam Hussein would do. The Marines were training in mock ups of Iraqi defenses, mostly at night to avoid the scorching heat. The men were getting impatient just as the air war started. It wouldn't be long, now.
He was back at Fort Knox, where ordinary tank gunners became master gunners. Ken Preston enjoyed passing knowledge on to young NCO's who could go back to their units as a more valuable asset. He had served in Germany and the Middle East and was coming up on a big decision. Make twenty and retire or keep going?
The 1st Armored Division was in Germany and prepping for Kosovo when Ken Preston arrived to take over the Command Sgt Major position. He had only been there a little more than a year when he got a call from US Army Europe headquarters. It was a familiar story, by now. They needed a big list of applicants for an important position.
He was a newly minted rifle platoon leader in the Marine infantry. Brooks Tucker had no experience outside of training, so he worked hard to fit in and get respect in the historic unit, which counted Tarawa and Beirut in it's backstory.
Brooks Tucker was in the suburbs of Kuwait near the famous "Highway of Death," a much photographed road littered with thousands of abandoned vehicles. There was never enough water while they were there, but at least there were no longer any Iraqi Army units either.
Ken Preston describes how a well functioning armored cavalry unit operates in the field. There are a lot of moving pieces and it requires a platoon leader and a platoon sergeant with skills. After his part in Desert Storm was over, a drawdown began in the Army which stymied his promotion. No big deal. He now had experience.
Brooks Tucker nearly came into contact with Iraqi Army units while deployed near Khafji in Saudi Arabia. His infantry platoon was supposed to dig in deep if confronted by Iraqi tanks and then pull a surprise maneuver. Only thing, it depended on them not getting run over by the tanks.
Ken Preston had a very rewarding position as 1st Sgt at BNCOC, the basic NCO course at Fort Knox. Scouts, tank and Bradley crewmen and mechanics all received their instruction there. He was elevated to deputy commandant, which meant that he was now the busiest person in the Army. He was right up on twenty years and he filled out the form for a retirement date, but his boss had something to say about that.
It was a long and interesting career. Ken Preston rose from a tank gunner to become Sgt Major of the Army. But he didn't stop there. After retiring, he became involved with several worthwhile charitable and service organizations, including Homes For Our Troops and the USO.
After receiving his commission, Brooks Tucker started his Marine officer training in earnest. The Basic Officer Course was followed by the Infantry Officer Course and these were used to mold young college graduates into platoon leaders.