6:59 | Lawrence Snowden had a long and varied career as a Marine officer, but the most important lesson on leadership, he learned as a newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant at Camp Lejeune. His men were not there to serve him. He was there to serve them.
Keywords : Lawrence Snowden Iwo Jima Korea Vietnam WWII reunion Marine Corps servant leadership Camp LeJeune
Lawrence Snowden’s family dentist would regale him with tales of his Marine Corps service and invariably finish by telling him that it would be too tough for him. The young Snowden took this as a challenge.
After a stop at Camp Lejeune, newly commissioned Lieutenant Lawrence Snowden was sent to Camp Pendleton to help put together the new 4th Marine Division. His was the first unit to train at Pendleton.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
On Saipan and Tinian, Lawrence Snowden discovered huge green flies and poor use of artillery. He also had a profoundly moving experience when he heard soft crying coming from a pile of bodies.
Marine Captain Lawrence Snowden learned two things made Iwo Jima a valuable prize for the Allies: its position halfway between B-29 bases in Saipan and Tokyo, and the fact that it was, legally, a part of the Japanese mainland.
During the difficult landing at Iwo Jima, company commander Lawrence Snowden dove into a bomb crater for shelter and found Sgt. Leonard Ash there with a gruesome wound.
Lawrence Snowden was told that the campaign for Iwo Jima would take maybe 5 days. Instead it was 36 long, bloody days and when the flag was raised, no one in his unit stood up and cheered. That Marine would have been a dead Marine.
Iwo Jima was a unique battle in that the victors suffered more casualties than the defeated. Marine Captain Lawrence Snowden says that you came to feel that like it wouldn't happen to you, and that spirit enabled the men to reach their objective.
Lawrence Snowden knew that the machine guns on the wings of the Zero could not be aimed at him, so he stood up in the bomb crater he was using for cover and waved to the pilot of the low flying plane.
Lawrence Snowden was wounded on Iwo Jima and discovered that the policy was to not return any wounded troops to the battle. He wanted to return to his men and persevered because he knew there was always someone around who could change policy.
Aboard a troop ship, Lawrence Snowden found out what it means to be a union chef when he had to finish cooking his own eggs. Then he reveals the reason he loves sardines.
Captain Lawrence Snowden was transferred to the 3rd Marine Division on Guam, where he readied for the expected invasion of Japan. The commander was Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine, who had a reputation as a “tough cookie.”
Lawrence Snowden points out that the lasting effects of WWII go far beyond the fighting. The makeup of America’s labor force was forever changed, as women stepped up, and provincial attitudes were swept away.
Lawrence Snowden was one of only 95,000 active Marines when war broke out in Korea, drawn down from a force of over 500,000. His superiors wanted him to stay in his planning role, but he pushed for a transfer to the action.
During the Korean War, Lawrence Snowden visited postwar Japan for the first time. During a train ride from Kyoto to Tokyo, he became aware of an essential truth regarding wartime enemies.
In Vietnam, Regimental Commander Lawrence Snowden saw the dirty part of the war operating down in the Delta. Later, working at HQ making bombing assessments, he began to realize the aerial assault on the North was not working.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.