3:39 | 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.
Keywords : Harold Rollie Sterrett Strategic Air Command (SAC) Omaha NE photo-reconnaissance Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) aerial photography National Security Agency (NSA) Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
It was a turbulent time to come of age in the 1960's. Rollie Sterrett majored in political science because of all the history unfolding around him and he was attracted to the military because he craved adventure.
Rollie Sterrett was vaguely aware of the war in Vietnam, which was really just beginning. At the Air Intelligence Training Center, he learned photo interpretation using photos from the Cuban missile crisis. Upon graduation, the entire class was informed they were all going to Vietnam
When Rollie Sterrett got to Vietnam, he initially had to squeeze with seven others into a Saigon hotel room while they waited for assignment. He was assigned to the Directorate of Targets at 7th Air Force HQ, where he learned the intricate inter-service politics at play in the air war. He also soon shared the frustration with the micro-management of the war coming from the White House.
The air war over Vietnam was highly politicized. President Johnson was concerned that China could enter the war, the way they did in Korea. This led to every target requiring approval from the White House itself. Air Force intelligence officer Rollie Sterrett says this led to missed opportunities to easily destroy enemy capabilities.
Bomb damage assessments were important to the generals guiding the war in Vietnam. Photo interpreter Rollie Sterrett was trained to determine if targets had been destroyed and this led to his assignment as the 7th Air Force briefing officer to Gen. William Westmoreland, who was in command of all forces in Vietnam. The other briefers were flag officers, but he was just a lowly 2nd Lieutenant.
Each service was responsible for a certain part of the air war in Vietnam and the inter-service politics caused a lot of stress, recalls Air Force intelligence officer Rollie Sterrett. He was the Air Force's briefing officer for Gen. William Westmoreland's daily briefings. The famous general and the young lieutenant took a liking to each other.
As a young lieutenant, Rollie Sterrett's assignment put him in daily contact with Gen. William Westmoreland. He was overwhelmed by the man, at first, but a friendly, respectful relationship grew over time. He observed that the general was hampered by the extreme political restraints of the war and that he was undeserving of his treatment by the US news media.
If an air unit failed to take out the target in a strike over North Vietnam, the same unit was obligated to return and finish the job. Rollie Sterrett was only a Lieutenant as he elbowed his way through pilots, who were colonels, to get to a table full of photographs. He was a photo interpreter and Gen. Wesmoreland's briefing officer. They gave way. (Warning: strong language.)
The rules of engagement in Vietnam were frustrating, and the fact that it took 36 hours to get a target approved by the White House and precious few of them were approved, meant that we were fighting the war with our arms tied. That is the observation of Rollie Sterrett, who was there trying to get targets approved.
Air Force photo interpreter and briefing officer Rollie Sterrett was fortunate to not experience any of the disrespect that many returning veterans had to face. He attributes this to going straight to an intense military environment right away, Strategic Air Command headquarters.
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.
At the time, Rollie Sterrett thought you had to be a pilot to advance in his specialty in the Air Force intelligence community. That turned out not to be the case, but he had no regrets leaving the service for a successful private life.
Rollie Sterrett describes the daily life in the Strategic Air Command's underground command facility. His job started at midnight, preparing the morning briefing for all strategic matters worldwide.
There is a song that will make Angela Beltz recall her time in the desert, and another that will make her cry. As for the present, she is worried about the military being able to recruit among the existing pool of young people. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
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 the Movie Gung Ho! that instilled the desire to become a Marine in the young mind of Mike Pickrel. In 1995, at age 19, he enlisted and spent four years in the Corps. He was at Headquarters Battalion in Okinawa, then finished up his enlistment at Quantico. He wasn't done, all the knowledge he'd gained came in handy later.
In her quartermaster unit, Angela Beltz had to endure the stereotyping of women in the Army. It was difficult to find any men with much sympathy. But when she got to the Ohio National Guard, she found something she really liked, a new truck. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
After a four year stint in the Marine Corps, Mike Pickrel could get no traction as a civilian. The Marines wouldn't take him back, so he enlisted in the Army. Then came 9/11 and, like so many others, he was anxious to do something about it.
In his Air Force career, he got to fly some incredible aircraft, the most advanced of their time. It wasn't a period of low stress, though, as the threat of nuclear war was looming. Rick Goddard describes Operation Looking Glass and the measures taken to train for the event of a nuclear attack.
Women, too, serve on the front lines. Angela Beltz, a veteran of Desert Storm, speaks of her work with women's veteran groups and their outreach to veterans of all wars. Especially important to her are the women who served in Vietnam. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
You learned the little things that helped you spot IED's. Mike Pickrel tells how he looked for them and how the Surge never really made it to where he was. No more boots on the ground there. He chafed at partnering with former insurgents and was angry when he finally got a chance to engage in a real firefight, but was withdrawn.
Brett Stroney was just a high schooler on the day of the 9/11 attacks. He recalls the sense of duty that led him to consider the United States Military Academy as America entered the Global War on Terror.
Angela Beltz is proud that all water purification and distribution during Desert Storm was handled by National Guard and Reserve units. When she got to her forward base, the first order of business was to secure the perimeter with concertina wire. She was on that detail and a chance encounter would change her life. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
His second tour in Iraq was a waste of time to Mike Pickrel. Just sit in the base, pretty much. He has some observations on the enemies we face in these latest wars, on the men he served with who inspired him and on what servicemen need from their leadership and their government.
It was a surprise when her National Guard unit was activated for Desert Storm. It gave Angela Beltz a new appreciation of the hands on training the water distribution detachment had received in the mountains of California. As she readied for deployment, she had to make a choice regarding her long hair. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
When he landed in Iraq, Mike Pickrel felt like he was in a very unpleasant place. It was hot and it smelled bad. He was in a tight knit Cavalry unit which was immediately poached for manpower, so they would face their assignment shorthanded.
If you are a woman veteran, reach out, find a network of women who have been there. That's the advice of Angela Beltz, a veteran of Desert Storm. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
His first day in the field in Iraq, Mike Pickrel learned some valuable lessons. He learned not to drive up to a visible IED, he learned not to return by the same route and he learned not to talk to the locals or give them anything.
It was a small detachment from the North Dakota National Guard that flew together with their vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Angela Beltz describes the scene as other units waited in the desert for their gear to arrive. Her unit had their own vehicles with them, which was a huge advantage. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
It was her first time on an airplane, and when she got to basic training, Angela Beltz was the youngest one there at seventeen. She was also small of stature, which made the drill instructor wonder if she had what it takes. She did. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/)
The long hours often faced by servicemen and women weren’t just in the field, as Brett remembers a mission to apprehend a high value target that led to a full day’s worth of administrative work.