4:19 | Ralph Puckett's favorite tour was the three years he spent in Germany with a Special Forces Group. He had his family there and the Ranger learned a lot from the assignment. It was early on for Vietnam, but he heard stories and began reading up on it. Back in the States in a Pentagon job, he asked to be put on the list to go.
Keywords : Ralph Puckett Fort Benning Ranger prep school West Point Virginia Command and General Staff College Special Forces Germany training B-Team S2 C-Team Vietnam Armed Forces Staff College Virginia Beach VA Pentagon personnel Army War College
After twenty two years of service, Ralph Puckett retired and had a successful private life, but it was inevitable that he would reconnect with his beloved Rangers. His talent at building confidence is put to very good use at the Ranger school.
What do men need in a leader? Ralph Puckett draws on his long experience to answer that and then relate it to today's challenges for the military. He notes that some mistakes are repeated and that perhaps, "What we learned is that we don't learn anything from our wars."
He wanted to be a military aviator, but West Point had no aviation program. Impressed by the infantry leaders he encountered, Ralph Puckett decided there would be no truer test of himself than to become a combat infantry officer.
He was at jump school when he heard about the North Koreans invading the South. Determined to get in the war, young 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Puckett was at a stopover in Japan when he was told to report for possible selection for a special Ranger unit. He found out that the officers were already selected but he made a pitch to get on the team as a rifleman if nothing else. Come back tomorrow, he was told.
We were unprepared for war when we had to fight one in Korea. Ralph Puckett should know because his job was to take a small unit of new Rangers into the country for dangerous missions. They arrived at Pusan where the American forces had just barely avoided being pushed into the sea.
Piano wire? Those Rangers want everything, groused the supply officer. When the volunteer company got into Korea, though, they only had the most basic cold weather gear. The first mission for company commander Ralph Puckett and his men was to rout North Korean stragglers and units left behind when they retreated Northward.
It was called Hill 205. The small Ranger company was told to take and hold the hill. They did that as long as they could but Ralph Puckett and his men had to go through hell to do it. Waves of Chinese attackers had him calling in very close artillery strikes. He lay there, unable to move after three wounds, watching the Chinese bayonet wounded Rangers. Then two figures charged up the hill.
Both feet were severely injured so Ralph Puckett had some serious hospital time coming up. Evacuated from Korea to Japan, then back to Fort Benning, he could, at least, see his family. Then came a knock on the door and two pretty girls walked in. If only they knew what he had just told his father.
He already had a pretty significant career, but Ralph Puckett went to Vietnam as a battalion commander and didn't waste any time getting into the field. His first matter of business was to assure his unit commanders that he had their backs.
Battalion commander Ralph Puckett recounts the story of a night long attack by Viet Cong and NVA Regulars on a position held by one of his companies. He was grateful they had a Forward Observer to coordinate artillery support and helicopters for resupply, things he lacked in Korea. For his leadership during this attack, Puckett was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross.
It was better to put men in the field and leave them there. That was the philosophy of Battalion commander Ralph Puckett in Vietnam, where some commanders inserted and then quickly withdrew their troops. When the operation was over, the reward was beer and steak and ice cream. Being prepared was very important to him and he illustrates that principle with a story about some soldiers who were not.
It was nearly time to go home and Ralph Puckett was trying to rally his successor's spirits while showing him around the battalion's operations. Rely on your experienced men, that was his key point. His homecoming was bittersweet because his father was very ill but he was joyous to be reunited with his wife and children.
Ralph Puckett had two homecomings, from Korea and Vietnam. The first was all joyous, the second bittersweet. Despite the anti-war feelings so prevalent at the time, he experienced gratitude and respect in public.
After suffering severe wounds in Korea, Ralph Puckett spent two years at the Ranger Department in various training assignments. Then he went to a command assignment in Puerto Rico, a "go to war" company. He was given the job of setting up a short orientation school, experience that would help him on his next assignment.
It was an interesting assignment. Help the Columbian Army establish a Ranger training school and get it going. Ralph Puckett built up the program from nothing and he knew it was going to be very good, but he did have one problem, what to call the Columbian Rangers?
Kim Tapia was lucky to be assigned quarters in one of the hardened concrete spaces at the base near Mosul. When the base came under mortar fire, she didn't even wake up. She received plenty of training and briefings on what she would face in the war zone, but she feels the support was lacking for soldiers transitioning back home. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
What are the basic sustainable standards when training an elite force? As GEN Stanley McChrystal's Command Sergeant Major, Michael Hall helped him develop the Big Four; four standards that all Rangers must master. They are marksmanship, physical training, medical training, and small unit battle drills.
It was good training that helped her get through a stressful deployment to Iraq. Kim Tapia worked inside the wire instead of out on the roads, but it was her job to manage and support all those convoys. She remembers the ribbing the support soldiers took from the ones who ventured outside, something that never bothered her. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Retired Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall recalls the strong physicality of the Ranger battalions in his day and relates that to the bond of respect and responsibility that connects all Rangers. His intent was to serve his four year enlistment and go to college, but he kept coming back for one more tour, one more tour.
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.
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.
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.
It was very odd to transition from her tense situation in the war zone of Iraq to the tranquility of the Georgia countryside. The Army had changed Kim Tapia, but it was a good change. It was so good she enthusiastically entered the reserve force for a long run. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Air Force wives are tough. Bob Wolfe was over the ocean looking for Soviet ships when his wife checked herself into the hospital to deliver their first child. She joined him briefly at his next post in Columbia, but she stayed at home while he was in Ethiopia on a mapping mission. While there, he had an odd encounter with some local tribesmen.
Iraq war veteran Kim Tapia describes her work with Bunker Labs, a non-profit that helps veterans become entrepreneurs. Transitioning back to civilian life can be daunting, and she says that communities need to step up with support. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Air Force ROTC was Bob Wolfe's introduction to the military. After navigator training he was flying photo missions for the Army map service when the Cuban missile crisis brought the Cold War to the forefront of national attention. He was sent to Bermuda, where he flew missions looking for Soviet ships bound for Cuba.
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.
She joined the Army to get help with paying for college, but the brotherhood and sisterhood was so strong and so satisfying, that Kim Tapia is still there, 15 years later. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
The Drill Instructor was tough but supportive and the training was specific and repetitive. Kim Tapia didn't understand it at the time, but the Army was preparing the trainees how to react and survive and win in a war fighting environment. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
What do the Big Four training standards enable the Ranger force to do? There are two primary missions, according to Retired Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall. The first is forced entry into a denied country to establish an airhead for follow-on forces and the second is the special operations combined forces raid.
Deploying to Iraq was a wide-eyed experience for a young Kim Tapia. The older soldiers who had been there before were complaining, something that she can look back on, now, in solidarity. The heat of Kuwait was overwhelming, but she soon moved to a forward operating base in Iraq. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
War movies had convinced young Michael Hall that he wanted to be a Marine, but when he visited the recruiting offices, he found something that might be even better, the Army Rangers. After a short stay in the regular infantry, he secured the assignment to the Rangers, where his life was changed the very first day.
Kim Tapia describes working at night in the tactical operations center, managing and directing support for the convoys traveling through Iraq. It was an important job and she gradually realized just how important. She still hangs on to the DVD's she bought in Iraqi shops to watch in her off hours. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
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.
The Iraq war required a huge supply operation to staff and stock the bases scattered around the country. Kim Tapia worked in the tactical operations center at one of these bases, monitoring and managing the patrols on the road. She recalls when a daisy chain IED hit one of the convoys, and the time a vehicle borne device exploded near the front gate. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)