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.
It was in Khafji, a Saudi town on the Kuwait border, where Iraq made it's strongest attempt to enter Saudi territory. Brooks Tucker's Marine unit was in the desert nearby, backing up the Saudi National Guard. He was in a deep foxhole when aircraft screamed by low overhead and then there was an explosion. Iraqi planes here?
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.
He was a little busy, trying to manage the war in Iraq from V Corps headquarters, but Ken Preston was told he needed to submit an application packet for the position of Sgt Major of the Army. He ignored the request. Then he got a phone call from the current SMA.
With over 550 combat missions, fighter and test pilot Bob Titus had the experience to take on several important jobs after his Vietnam experience. His last assignment was inspector general at NORAD in Colorado. When he was slated to go to Florida and then the Pentagon, he retired rather than leave the skiing.
The Iron Curtain had fallen, but US units were still positioned on the German border. Tank commander Ken Preston served in the command group in a mobile Tactical Command Post, or TAC. He loved that job and made 1st Sgt while he was there. It was at this time that Saddam Hussein began to become a problem and troops began deploying from Germany.
The Marines were lined up on the Saudi side of the Kuwait border. There were bands of mine fields on the other side and Brooks Tucker had to wait impatiently as the engineers cleared the ordnance. This gave the Iraqis a chance to lob some poorly aimed shells their way. The young platoon leader and his men had to go to chemical warfare posture, including full body suits, after an alarm was sounded.
It was never part of the plan to go into urban areas. Ken Preston describes how American forces wound up occupying and patrolling Iraqi cities once Saddam was ousted. He was in V Corps HQ and found an excellent base of operations to use; one of Saddam's palace compounds near the Baghdad airport.
After the Korean War, fighter pilot Bob Titus had an assignment ferrying planes to Europe for NATO. While he was stuck at a remote air base and bored, he was poking around in the office when he found out about test pilot school. He sent an application right away and he was accepted. Soon he was evaluating new planes and systems.
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 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.
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.
Ken Preston figured that he'd risen as far as he could go in the Army and was looking for property in Texas for his retirement. But, once again, he stayed to move up. He became a Brigade Command Sgt Major and was not in that position for very long when he was asked to interview for the CSM job at 1st Armored Division.
Brooks Tucker's Marine battalion did not continue north into Iraq. It was tasked with security in a Kuwait City suburb. As they took stock of their new surroundings, the air was heavy with smoke from oil well fires set by the fleeing Iraqis.
The aim was to treat Iraqis with dignity and respect so they would respond in kind. V Corps Command Sgt Major Ken Preston helped to make that goal happen while he was the highest ranking enlisted service member in Iraq. While there, he was asked to interview for the position of Sgt Major of the Army, SMA, the highest enlisted position in the Army.
Brooks Tucker sought and received a transfer to a different battalion so he could get a deployment sooner. It was only training in Okinawa, but it was in the field, at least. While the Marine platoon leader was busy there, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and training became preparation for war.
There has been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on ever since Operation Desert Storm was halted after only 100 hours of fighting. Brooks Tucker was a Marine infantry platoon leader during that conflict and he has some definite opinions on it.
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.
It turned out that he had a knack for gunnery, so Ken Preston became a tank master gunner and was promoted to staff sergeant. That was while he was in Cold War Germany. His next stop was the armor school at Fort Knox, instructing in weapons systems. He was doing very well there and that got him a VIP assignment as an exchange instructor in England, where his family could enjoy another scenic location.
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.
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.
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.
As the length of deployments increased, lessons were learned about how service members went through the process of reuniting with their families. Sgt Major of the Army Ken Preston explains how it was a mistake to go immediately on a vacation.
Ken Preston was from the mountains of western Maryland, where the old family farm was a great place to grow up. Without the grades for a scholarship, and not wanting to saddle his parents with the cost of a college education, he decided to join the Army for just long enough to get the GI Bill.