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.
The Sgt Major of the Army position was created in 1966 by Gen Harold Johnson, the Chief of Staff of the Army, who wanted a senior enlisted advisor on hand. The 13th SMA was Ken Preston, who immediately sought out and befriended all the previous holders of the position that he could. One of the messages he carried to leadership from the ranks was that there was an unacceptable level of stress on service members and their families because of long deployments.
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.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
His sister units had deployed from Germany into Kuwait. Ken Preston's group was held in Germany to set up a program to train tank and Bradley gunners heading to the conflict. Of course it was the middle of winter. After the quick resolution to the war, the training program ended and it was his turn to deploy to provide security for the pullout.
Looking back on Iraq, Ken Preston recalls how limited the communications were, with very few satellite units to go around. There was internet for the troops, which was not the case in the previous war. Daily communication with home has it down side, though.
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?
Whether to stay in the service or move on is a question that is well known to service members. For LC Johnson, it was an easy choice. It was a down economy, he had limited options at the time because of his race, and, most importantly, his mother said it was a good idea.
A lot of technology has changed, but to an old tank master gunner like Ken Preston, it still comes down to that last hundred yards on the ground, force to force. Getting to that point has been aided greatly by GPS technology, something that helped tremendously in Iraq.
The bomber jacket worn by a hometown character caught LC Johnson's young eye, so he always had the Air Force on his mind, not the Army. He was stationed at isolated radar sites in the Southwest, at first. Then he got his first taste of a real Air Force base in Japan, where he worked in supply and at the clubs on base.
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.
After the war in Iraq shifted from a conventional war to an insurgency, intelligence became very important. That and up-armoring vehicles to protect them from the enemy's favorite weapon; the Improvised Explosive Device or IED. Compounding the problem was a lack of disposal teams. For V Corps Command Sgt Major Ken Preston, it was a difficult fight with a steep learning curve.
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.
Ken Preston's armored cavalry unit deployed to the Kuwait/Iraq border to provide security for the pullout following the swift resolution of Operation Desert Storm. He has vivid memories of the oil well fires and the wreckage covering the battlefield.
As he progressed in the Air Force at a number of bases, logistics expert LC Johnson enjoyed the environs of places like Los Angeles and England. When he got to Korea, he had a role to play in the Pueblo incident as the man who knew the nuts and bolts of that area of operation.
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.
Operation Desert Storm was so brief that Brooks Tucker, a Marine veteran of that conflict, believes that it may be a forgotten war. He speaks of the lessons learned, including operating in desert terrain and adjusting expectations for possible outcomes.
A big priority for Ken Preston, the 13th Sgt Major of the Army, was helping the families of service members who were being pressed into longer and longer deployments. The armed forces were being stretched thin. In 2009, he was asked to come to the White House to brief the President from the enlisted perspective and he was able to voice his concerns at the highest level.
His dream was to be an architect, but now he was in the Army for a few years. The recruiter tried to help Ken Preston by putting him on an engineering and surveying path, but he found out about a $2500 bonus for committing to an armored unit. That was a lot of money in 1975.
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.
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.
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.
It was still his plan to get out, take the GI Bill and go to college, but his unit was moving to Germany so he had to make a decision. Should I reenlist and take the family to see the sights of Europe? Affirmative. He reported there and found lodging and a car and the family followed. Right away, his wife was on her own while he went to the basic noncom course.