8:26 | Mac McCahan knew he wanted a military career. He had a taste of military life as an Air Force dependent and he secured a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy, but a run in with an eye chart derailed that. He settled in at Clemson with Army ROTC but a freak accident cost him a year.
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When communications engineer Mac McCahan arrived in Vietnam, he had to straighten out an Air Force Colonel who was trying to send him to Thailand, where he wouldn't get credit for a combat tour. Then he settled down to improving voice communications and found out that it was so stressful on the switchboards, operators were committing suicide.
"We don't want your equipment!" Communications engineer Mac McCahan was trying to improve military telephone service in Vietnam and he had to repeatedly reassure units that he wasn't tying to take over, just trying to make the system work better.
They wouldn't tell Mac McCahan who the visitor was, but they told him how many voice circuits were required and that the restoration priority on those lines was "1b." That got his attention because that was the code for President of the United States.
Mac McCahan lost two cousins in Vietnam, Lee and Gene McCahan. If that wasn't bad enough, his brother George McCahan died from leukemia due to contact with Agent Orange. His own luck stayed with him, though, and he kept missing enemy ambushes by thirty minutes.
Mac McCahan never cared for the rule that he had to store his weapon in the safe in his office. When the Tet offensive happened, he had to hunker down, unarmed, in his quarters. When he returned to the States, he was armed only with his dignity as he faced rabid protestors.
Mac McCahan felt like he was doing something great on his second tour in Vietnam. As he transferred control of facilities to the Vietnamese, each one meant that soldiers were going home. Then he stopped at the dispensary to find out why he was suddenly soaked in sweat. Part 1 of 3.
While the doctors tried to find out whether he'd had a heart attack or not, alarming telegrams began to go out to Mac McCahan's family, despite the fact that he'd signed a document directing the Army to send such messages only in the event of death. Part 2 of 3.
The doctors still didn't know if he'd had a heart attack or not, but they sent Mac McCahan home from Vietnam, regardless. Then they told him he was on his way out of the Army. "No. I'm not," came the reply. Part 3 of 3.
Mac McCahan's first assignment in the Signal Corps was in Germany, which was just what he wanted. His wife could experience some of what he enjoyed as a military dependent stationed there. When the Berlin Wall crisis came up, it turns out he had the only American cable splicer in Europe.
In the post-Trujillo chaos of the Dominican Republic, Signal Corps officer Mac McCahan began a long run of finding solutions to communications problems. After restoring phone service by adapting old exchanges, he was able to communicate with Washington by whistling the appropriate tones to establish a connection.
As if restoring communications in the restive Dominican Republic wasn't enough to keep him busy, Mac McCahan had to deal with constantly shuttling back to Ft. Bragg for briefings and an acting Signal Officer who wrote him up for spite. Not to mention lacking the counter sign at a crucial time.
After his tour in the Dominican Republic Mac McCahan began the Training With Industry program. He worked with the New York phone company learning the network and installing phones in the field, then applied that knowledge to military telecommunications.
Communications engineer Mac McCahan caught the eye of the White House when he successfully managed two projects for the White House Communications Agency. The first was extending coverage of the first moon landing to Alaska and the second was managing the satellite link for a presidential trip to Asia.
"This is all classified. I recommend it not be broadcast." That's what Mac McCahan had to say about a script for an upcoming CBS news program. Three weeks later, what did he see when he turned on the television?
The signal battalion was ecstatic when they got in any new gear following the Vietnam war, remembers Mac McCahan. Nearly everything had been left there. In order to jump with communications capability at hand, he crammed a Command Post's worth of radio gear onto an Army Mule cargo vehicle. And what do you call a Mule full of radios?
Assigned a command position that was usually occupied by a Lt. Colonel, Major Mac McCahan sought assurances that he would get no interference because of his rank. He got that assurance and soon, the promotion to Lt. Colonel as well. Then he wound up with a distinctive blue beret thanks to the new Air Assault movement.
Reorganization was swirling around Mac McCahan at the 101st Airborne and he was nearly made battalion commander. After a European exercise where he met two Medal of Honor recipients, he found out that a communications plan for a hospital he'd drawn up had achieved some distinction.
Mac McCahan relates the story of a Chinook that mistakenly strayed into the Korean DMZ and was shot down. Closer to home, as North Korean armor was massing across the border, he tells why his wife became suddenly upset and convinced that another war was imminent. It turned out to be a case of Loose Lips.
Leaving Korea with his family and adopted daughter was a struggle. Striking airlines and visas gave him fits but they made it home and he eventually became an advocate for Amerasian adoption, appearing before Congress to support the cause.
Back in the States and commanding a Signal Battalion, engineer Mac McCahan wrote an article on nodal communications systems that was groundbreaking. He used off the shelf gear and existing installations and improved service for all users.
His expertise in satellite communications landed Mac McCahan a position at the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. That expertise was put to good use on an ill fated mission during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
There was no doubt Mac McCahan was a problem solver. He developed a scheme for bit stuffing that made incompatible gear work together. Should have been a patent right there. Then he encountered a problem that was projected to cost one million dollars and take a year to fix. Would he do it in half the time for half the money? Think again.
The Generals kept asking, why do we lose our satellite link during the heavy tropical rain in the Philippines? The answer, according to communications engineer Mac McCahan, is in the true shape of a raindrop, a shape which is not what you might think.
Mac McCahan has a message for all who served in a support role instead of a combat unit. First, consider yourself lucky, and second, your service was just as necessary and contributed just as much as anyone's.
Britney Alexander was born and raised in Louisiana and had a dad who was an Army figure. Because of her great love for her dad, she wanted to enlist in the Army just like him. She talks about where she was on 9/11, her basic training at Fort Jackson, and Fort Lee where she had her training to be a cook.
When a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up at the gate, dental officer Mike Barno hurried to his emergency assignment, triage at the aid station. A truck with wounded men from the Afghan Army pulled up and he jumped into the back, ready to help.
Following the tragic deaths of ten Afghan children, it fell on General David Barno to tell President Karzai about the incident. He describes the effect this had on the rules of engagement going forward and he discusses a document he drew up to give guidelines to the troops that would keep them in the good graces of their hosts.
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.
Leading men in war is a difficult task for many, and leading many men through wars in two countries is not something you can prepare for. Dick Myers reflects on the weight of making decisions at the level at which he served. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
During his time at the Strategic Air Command, Rollie Sterrett had to give private briefings to a Navy Admiral who wasn't allowed in the general briefings due to arcane inter-service politics. The first question from the admiral forced Rollie to make a delicate choice, but he chose well.
With over 30 years of service in the military, Dick Myers was about to be nominated as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but September 11th, 2001 would prove to be a much more eventful day than he anticipated. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
After his Vietnam tour, Air Force photo interpreter Rollie Sterrett was transferred to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to the photo reconnaissance wing. He soon caught the eye of the new SAC commander and became the daily briefing officer for SAC with an emphasis on B-52 operations in Vietnam.
Before heading off to Iraq, Choy took the time he still had in the US and got married. Soon after, he was instructed to first go to Fort Bliss for more training. Having already had skills in construction, that got him placed in an Iraqi Battalion. Once he was in Iraq, he unfortunately saw a few injuries and deaths of different men. The real tragic part of those stories is the majority of them were accidents.
Following the September 11th attacks, the path to war was unclear. Dick Myers describes the weeks following from his position as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
Henry Choy tells about the living conditions he had while constructing buildings in Iraq, as well as a few humorous stories he witnessed while over there. One of the biggest issues they faced was that it was hard to tell which Iraqis were allied with the US and which were not, sometimes to the point where they couldn't trust their own interpreters. At one point he and his brigade were acting as escorts for convoys trying to get from Kuwait to Iraq.
After a long year of training, building, riding, and surviving in Iraq, Choy had finally completed his tour. He came home around the age of retirement, and so he did retire shortly after returning. He gives some reflections about the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and how they compared and contrasted. Specifically, the treatment of soldiers who came home after the war was over.
Dick Myers served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until 2005. In this clip he reflects on what he saw as some of the difficulties and successes from his time serving. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
After the war came to an end in Vietnam, Henry Le made it safely over to the United States, with help from a sponsor. From there he attended flight school again but this time for the Navy, and ended up landing a job in Subic Bay. Later on, he was involved with Operation Desert Shield for a brief period of time. Eventually, he was able to return back to Vietnam to see his family,
Alexander remembers being put on Quick Reaction Force duty, which essentially meant that she aided in one of the first lines of defense of the Shindand Air Base. When she first got there it was in the middle of the Islamic month of Ramadan, a very peaceful time in which there was little to no fighting from the enemy. Once that time ended, however, she was surprised to see that violent mortar attacks started up again.
At long last, Britney Alexander was allowed to fly back home to American soil. When they finally landed in the US, they were met with all kinds of cheering and applause from the people waiting for them. Instead of getting deployed to Afghanistan a second time, she was forced to step down after discovering the effects of a hip injury she had gotten. Soon after, she took a job as a truck driver and decided to go to business school, with plans to start up her own truck company later on down the line.
Unlike wars of the past, Alexander actually had a way to talk to her family back home while she was away at war. She would use Skype and a phone line to talk to her family every so often. During her downtime, she would interact with the Italian Army divisions, go to the gym, and try to enjoy herself with the people around her. There was one mortar attack in particular that she remembers being really close to their base.
LTG Wesley was deployed to Germany at the tail end of the Cold War where he was able to serve with the 1st Armored Division. He would have to sit out Desert Storm, but the experience gained during this time would be very valuable in the future.
In contrast to Fort Lee, at Fort Hood Alexander found that she did little to no cooking whatsoever so she could prepare to go to Afghanistan. Once she had flown overseas, she was stationed at Shindand Air Base and was tasked with all of the mundane jobs no one else wanted to do, in addition to cooking the food, such as being put on Quick Reaction Force duty.