Chapter 6: Internalizing the Ethos
Refocusing on Rapid Deployment
During my flight home from Vietnam, I was reunited with Edna and the family in Hawaii. What a great decision it was to move there, in the first place. I tried to obtain an intra-theater transfer to Hawaii for my next assignment. Unfortunately, it did not work out. Still, we were pleased to learn that we would be returning to the United States mainland, to live and work at a post that we were already very familiar with, that is, the Home of the Airborne and Special Operations at Fort Bragg. My job there would be as a G3 operations officer on the XVIII Airborne Corps staff.
Returning home from my second tour in Vietnam turned out to be full of surprises. Obviously, I was very proud of my service with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). It was an honor to be associated with so many outstanding young soldiers and the superb leadership that I was privileged to interact with from the bottom to the top of the Division. However, during our travels from Hawaii, and upon arriving at Fort Bragg, it was a shock to see the level of public distrust that was being expressed by the American people toward the entire U.S. military, and the lack of gratitude and appreciation to those who served the Nation in combat with such courage and distinction. It was obvious that the Vietnam War had become exceedingly unpopular with the American people. This had an obvious impact on the moral and discipline of Army soldiers, especially with respect to enlisted men and junior, non-career officers. Additionally, the continuing call for more manpower over the years had caused the Army to lower its standards for the recruiting of young men to serve. To make matters worse, there was drug use, racial tension and incidents of “fragging” that were causing major problems among many Army units, not only in Vietnam, but also in the continental United States, in Europe and elsewhere around the world where the American military was stationed. To be clear, I never saw any of this during my time with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), not in my battalion and not on the division staff. Nevertheless, in retrospect, this was the time in my 33-year career where I believe the Army was at its absolute lowest point, especially, in terms of morale, discipline and battle-worthiness. This reality helped lead to the creation of an all-volunteer military force and the elimination of the draft, beginning in 1973.
To be honest, the Vietnam War also called into question the Army’s strategic and operational doctrine, including, how-to-train and how-to-fight at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. Furthermore, throughout the war, there was dishonesty and corruption being linked to the policy of counting bodies, as a primary measure of success or failure on the battlefield. This challenged the professional integrity of every member of the chain of command. As a result, the Army had a lot of institutional work to do, to reestablish a solid professional military ethic for officers and noncommissioned officers. Fortunately, there were enough senior Army leaders remaining after the war who were willing to stay around and fix what was broken, and they did! This process was driven by leaders who were not afraid to dig into every corner of the institution and find what was good and needed to be retained, and what was rotten and needed to be discarded. The result of this process was the U.S. Army that saw the successful completion of the Cold War and several impressive operational victories through the end of the 20th century.
Meanwhile, joining the G3 staff of XVIII Airborne Corps, during the post-war transition to regular order, turned out to be a terrific opportunity for me to learn and continue to develop professionally. The Corps was no longer focused primarily on providing resources in support of the war in Vietnam. Now, it was rebuilding its operational effectiveness and its capacity to serve as the Army’s premier contingency corps, designed for the rapid deployment of forces, anywhere in the world. To accomplish this mission, the corps was organized with two combat divisions – the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg and the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Major support units available at Fort Bragg included the corps artillery, a corps support command, a signal brigade, an engineer brigade, a military intelligence brigade, a military police brigade and a medical brigade.