5:44 | Between West Point and Ranger school, mind and body were as well trained as it gets. Doug Heckman valued those experiences as he deployed to Europe when Ronald Reagan faced off with the Soviets.
Doug Heckman had been part of the initial Special Forces leadership in Afghanistan and in 2005 he volunteered for Iraq. He and his men got their combat badges the very first day when an IED hit their convoy. He says the Iraqi people are like people anywhere and were very hospitable to him.
The surge was succeeding but at a price. Doug Heckman liked riding in the lead vehicle but was in the second one the day Captain Shawn English had the lead and took the brunt of the blast from an IED. This altered his view of how high the bar should be set for military commitment.
Doug Heckman returned for a second Iraq tour and chipped a golf ball into Saddam's lake at the Grand Palace on his birthday. This was the wrap up to a great career and he reflects on that and on the relationship between Americans and their warriors.
He rose early to play golf but the sight of the Twin Towers in flames changed his plans. Doug Heckman was a Green Beret in the reserve and he knew what was coming. Soon he was selected by Col. John Mulholland for the Special Forces team leading the mission in Afghanistan.
The logistical problems were monumental, but a few hundred Americans from a range of units and agencies ran the effort in Northern Afghanistan from a former Soviet air base in Uzbekistan. Doug Heckman describes the challenges the team faced in supporting the Northern Alliance and remembers Johnny Spann, the first American to lose his life in the war.
Doug Heckman's Green Beret A Team was a group of highly trained and experienced specialists. Their primary mission area was North Africa. He got to see Rommel's caves in the Sahara but felt the lure of a business career and pursued an MBA while staying active in reserve.
Walt Richardson was in the last all black training flight in the Air Force. His aim was to serve his three year obligation and then return to college, but he saw a musical revue put on by members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. They were holding open auditions and he went to showcase his fine singing voice.
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.
They had prepared for the wrong war. Geoff Farrell's armored cavalry unit was going to the desert to confront Saddam Hussein, but their vehicles and uniforms were green and all their training was for fighting in European forests. Once they got to the staging area in Saudi Arabia, they adapted well.
On the spur of the moment, Bob Ratonyi sent a transcript to MIT. He'd never heard of it but one of his professors said it was one of the best engineering schools in the world. As a Hungarian refugee in Canada, he was unaware of it's reputation and he surely could not afford it. When he was accepted, he faced a hard choice. (Caution: coarse language.)
After the battle, the men of the 2nd Armored Cavalry did humanitarian work for the Iraqi civilians, then it was time to return to Germany. For Geoff Farrell, a feeling of unreality set in on the flight home. How do you decompress from combat? At least those who fought in this war were not going to experience the humiliation that Vietnam veterans had faced.
The student led march to the parliament building had been exhilarating for Bob Ratonyi and he got up the next morning to go to his classes but there were no streetcars running. Then he saw two dead Russian soldiers in their vehicle. The peaceful march had turned into the bloody Hungarian Uprising. Part 2 of 4.
He was free. Bob Ratonyi had made it out of communist Hungary into Austria. His first stop was a refugee camp, which was overcrowded. He made it to Vienna with the help of a Catholic charity and, once there, he made straight for the American embassy. Unfortunately, the quota for refugees had been met. He had three choices, Australia, Sweden and Canada.
For Geoff Farrell, who fought in Desert Storm with the armored cavalry, it was obvious. It was technology and training that ensured victory. We had a lot of it and the Iraqis had very little. Our weapons had a longer range and, when a sandstorm came up in the middle of a battle, we had GPS and thermal imaging.
Thermal imaging had been around for a while and Geoff Farrell was very familiar with it. GPS, however, was new and expensive, and no one was familiar with it. Both were integral to the swift victory in Desert Storm. Before his deployment he declined a dose of an experimental drug that was supposed to protect against chemical weapons and he wonders if that drug contributed to Gulf War Syndrome.
He considered it the finest education available. Geoff Farrell went to West Point, where he soaked up all the history and knowledge available there. He was assigned to Europe, where he patrolled the German border as Soviet Communism was dying. There was a brief period of jubilation when the wall came down, then they heard about Saddam Hussein.
It began as a simple student march in Budapest permitted by the communist government. Overnight, it became a bloody uprising. Bob Ratonyi was an eighteen year old freshman who was swept up in the moment. It began a course of events that would lead to a brutal crackdown and to his eventual escape to the West. Part 1 of 4.
When the cease fire was declared, American units had not yet reached Baghdad. In his command track, Geoff Farrell had the graphics on his screen to guide him right in, but it was decided we would not go. Looking back to that critical moment, he reflects on the decision.
Once Bill Greinke was made the intelligence officer of a battalion in Berlin, he began to have a lot of fun playing cat and mouse with the Russians and East Germans. They would pelt the cars driving around to gather intelligence with snowballs and the occasional bottle.
It was a shakedown. Bob Ratonyi saw that he had to go off the trail and around the soldier collecting the money. Along with six others, he was making an attempt to escape communist Hungary after the brutal putdown of the Hungarian Uprising. He stumbled through the dark and found a group of peasants, but they were part of the operation, too. Part 4 of 4
His time with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood was the best time of his Army career. Bill Greinke bested a well known commander in a war game and he went on splendid maneuvers in Europe at the Fulda Gap. Then he moved on to specialized training in media and information.
Lt. Geoff Farrell was sleeping in the command track when he heard it on the radio. We were at war with Iraq. His armored cavalry unit crossed from Saudi Arabia into Iraq where they were greeted by friendly children in the middle of nowhere.
As a Navy pilot, Wes Ruth had a number of assignments related to photo-reconnaissance during the Cold War, including the research and development of Navy technology. He also studied the progress of our Allies in that crucial area. He then took command of a patrol squadron. His last stop before retiring was in Naval Intelligence.
It was near anarchy in Budapest following the fall of the Nazis. Many were starving surrounded by rubble. Bob Ratonyi was overjoyed when his mother returned from a labor camp but then he watched as communists turned Hungary into a Stalinist dictatorship.
During the Cold War, Navy pilot Wes Ruth flew many photographic and mapping missions, including a memorable one to Central and South America. He then had his first shipboard experience on board a support ship for patrol planes. For a time, this vessel was stationed near China to keep tabs on the activities of the Chinese Communists.
The rumor was that the Iraqi's Soviet made tanks were superior to ours. Geoff Farrell had this on his mind while rolling across the desert to engage them. Just as they got near, a sandstorm came up. Then the Iraqi artillery began to fall. Then the first Iraqi tank was destroyed, shattering the myth.
It was all propaganda, everything on the radio and in the newspapers. That was life in communist Hungary as Bob Ratonyi was coming of age. He urged his mother to take an offered post as the party representative at her factory so she could take advantage of it.
His aim was to help put his sister through college. Walt Richardson scored so well on the tests that he was inducted into the Air Force. Perhaps it was the schooling he received at the school run by the mother of Chappie James, who became the first black Air Force 4-star General.
When Bob Ratonyi heard that a good friend had fled the country after the Hungarian Uprising, he decided to do the same. He recruited another friend and they began to plan their escape. Their group of two expanded to seven and they naively set out for the Austrian border. Part 3 of 4.