2:41 | 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.
Keywords : Ralph Puckett Ranger Outward Bound Columbus GA
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?
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.
He extended in Iraq to help a green unit get on it's feet, agreeing to two months. Robert Walton ended up staying for a year. He had a job to do. When he returned home, it was only a few months before he decided to volunteer yet again. The civilian world did not have the structure and discipline he craved.
Why would you volunteer for a fourth combat tour? For Robert Walton, one reason was the illogical world of civilian hiring. He possessed many qualifications and certifications, but they weren't good enough because they were in a military setting.
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.
He was a troubled youth, but Robert Walton thought his life might turn around in the Army. His GED wouldn't get him on active duty, but the National Guard was an ideal starting point. He was a talented mechanic, so he came in as a heavy equipment mechanic with an engineering company.
During his first deployment to Iraq, Robert Walton saw a gradual change in the populace. The people became less hostile and more welcoming, sharing meals and information on insurgents. It was still very dangerous, with convoys being hit with IED's every day.
He put his mechanical expertise to work in Afghanistan for Halliburton KBR, but Robert Walton returned to the Army with the Georgia National Guard and prepared to deploy to Iraq. He had grueling desert training in California, and then encountered an NCO who set his mind straight.
Being home after a year and a half in Iraq was good, at first. But Robert Walton wasn't ready to deal with civilian life, so he secured a place in a different National Guard outfit and did an individual mobilization from home, joining the unit in Iraq.
Richard Jackson was enjoying football games at Camp Lejeune. His battalion was on alert when the word went out to deploy. Thinking it was another exercise, he was astonished to find himself on a plane to Cuba. Unknown to him, the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full swing. He made a fateful decision on that flight.
During Robert Walton's first deployment to Iraq, the soldiers' hands were not yet tied by the government. They were freely able to eliminate threats. He lost his first friend in a Bradley rollover accident. He was in the vehicle and it was his first big scare.
His first three year hitch was up and he was going to leave the Marine Corps, but he was offered an assignment in Hawaii. Not wanting to pass up a post in paradise, Richard Jackson accepted. After attending an elite jungle warfare school, he decided to advance his career, he needed some combat experience, so he put his name in for Vietnam.
Going from the National Guard to active duty was difficult for Robert Walton. First, they wouldn't count his Guard experience toward promotion. Then, there was an abusive NCO. He had some good training experiences in Egypt, but, when his term was up, he went to work for Halliburton KBR.
During his second deployment to Iraq, there was the same danger from IED's, but Robert Walton had to deal with a new problem. His own military leadership had decided that there would be strict rules of engagement going forward. Not only that, but a financial shakedown of Iraqi vendors was creating more terrorists.
His second tour was coming to a close when Robert Walton was approached by a sergeant major from a California National Guard unit that was coming over to Iraq. Would he be interested in extending with them? His knowledge of the Iraqi roads and his combat experience were highly valued.
In Robert Walton's unit, there was a soldier who was held back from deploying to Iraq for medical reasons. He appealed and was able to join the rest of the outfit in Iraq. He wasn't even there a week when tragedy struck. For Walton, the war just got personal. (Caution: Graphic Descriptions)
The power plant was supposed to be clear, but when Robert Walton was walking through, he heard voices nearby and they weren't speaking English. It turned out to be not much of a threat. What was a real threat in Iraq was the huge amount of munitions stockpiled by the insurgents to use in IED's.
When running convoys in Iraq, Robert Walton was a gunner on a Humvee. On his first mission, a local civilian in a Mazda took off at high speed and the commander gave chase. He tapped Walton on the leg and said, "Stop him!" The training kicked in.