During the summer of 1968, Tom Cunningham was like every Green Beret at FOB 1; he had volunteered to join Special Forces, volunteered to go to South Vietnam, and after arriving in Southeast Asia, volunteered for the secret war conducted Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, run under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group, or simply SOG. Cunningham’s route to SF and SOG, however, was unique.

While attending advanced infantry training at Ft. Ord, California, his orders to proceed to Officer Candidate School upon graduation changed. The Army told the OCS candidates that they had to re-qualify for OCS based on new criteria. To Cunningham, it appeared as though the Army had changed those rules in order to get more men to go to South Vietnam. When the rule changes were announced, Cunningham was among approximately 200 men who went to the SF recruiter, volunteering to join the Green Berets. He was one of seven men selected from that group.

After completing the first phase of training, he went on to Phase II, as he was preparing to become a communications specialist. It was there Cunningham found that commo drove him nuts, so he switched to demolitions.

During Phase II, he met John T. Walton, an SF medic from Bentonville, Arkansas. Walton shipped out to Vietnam while Cunningham wrapped up his SF training in Phase III.