This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
A Tale of Two Armies Part III
Mike Thiac 7/22/2021 5:01 AM
Army Seal, Image: dod.gov
The end of American ground forces’ direct participation in the Vietnam War in January 1973 left the U.S. Army a much weakened institution...A number of soldiers had become drug addicts in Vietnam, where the supply of heroin was plentiful. Discipline, especially in the rear base camps, had begun breaking down in many units toward the end of the war as it became apparent that America was only interested in leaving Vietnam…Racial tension and even instances of “fragging” (tossing a fragmentation grenade into the sleeping quarters or office of a superior officer or noncommissioned officer [NCO] to injure or “warn”) led to some unit-cohesion problems…
…For those career soldiers and officers who remained in the Army, drug problems, poor leadership (especially at the junior NCO and officer levels), and severe racial problems often split units into hostile camps. Race riots were not uncommon, especially in the understrength kasserns of Germany as the Army tried to rebuild its European units that had been drained to support the Vietnam War. With the expiration of Selective Service induction authority on June 30, 1973, the establishment of a new, all-volunteer Army was under way…
In the first two columns of this series, I discussed the issues the upper leadership of the branches and Department of Defense are now inflicting on the service. I would like to conclude this series on the way issues were better handled in the past. Or to rephrase it, how the Army of the 70s and 80s (all the branches actually) handled legitimate racial issues caused, in large part, by forces outside of the service. To purpose in the years after Vietnam was to eliminate the division caused by these issues. Today, the “leadership” to trying to create problems where they don’t exist.
From the Army History quote above, the service (all branches, not just the Army), had serious problems with discipline, exacerbated by racial issues and drug use. In speaking with multiple veterans of the time, the drug use lead to a complete breakdown in control of units. As one officer said to me, “A staff duty officer (SDO, the officer who is present monitoring the unit while the commander is off duty) didn’t go into the barracks unless he was armed or had an armed escort.” According to this officer, Major “John Smith” (I will use pseudonyms for this article, I have not spoken to him or the others in over 30 years), he had a friend walk into a drug deal in the barracks he was inspecting. The soldier on the floor reached for a pistol, and the SDO shot him dead. In another case, one of his fellow officers was murdered after he walked onto another drug deal. The officer was forced into a wall locker, shot multiple times, and the locker thrown out the window of the third story of the barracks.
The Department of Defense started a urinalysis program towards the end of Vietnam, and toughened it beginning in 1981. A zero tolerance policy was implemented. One positive test, and you were removed from service. As the quality of recruits improved over the years, their desire to continue to serve also increased, and the servicemember would not want to risk their career due to narcotics use.
The Department of Defense also attacked racial issues to improve the service. Establishing the Defense Race Relations Institute (DRRI), who’s mission was instituting and supervising race relations training for all members of the service. The purpose was to eliminate, or at least restrict the effect of the internal bias of humans.
DRRI trained thousands of counselors to conduct group sessions at all levels. The mission was strengthening eliminating bias and focusing on building the team. Speaking with Major “Smith” and others, they called them somewhat clichéd, bringing reminding them of group sessions on TV shows. But they did lead to open communications between soldiers of different races, religions, and sexes. The massive effort created incredible progress in race relations. Again, one goal, strengthen the team.
In speaking with MAJ “Smith,” I recalled something from my college years. I was commissioned through the Army Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) at Tulane University in New Orleans. The senior officer, the Professor of Military Science, was a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) “William Jones.” LTC “Jones” was an Army Special Forces officer who had cut his teeth in Vietnam and the broken army of the 70s.
LTC “Jones” supervised a ROTC program of six universities. Three were historically black college (Xavier, Dillard, and Southern University in New Orleans (SUNO)), one mixed race commuter college (The University of New Orleans (UNO)), and two private majority white universities (Tulane and Loyola). During field problems, the cadets would arrive, and you could see they would hang out with the students they knew from their schools. LTC “Jones” would have none of that.
His ordered his cadre to immediately mix them up as much as possible. Every squad would have at least one student from each of the universities. LTC “Jones” said, “I want blacks mixed with whites, I want Latins mixed with blacks and white, I want females and males mixed. They are joining an army from a very diverse country. You can have a platoon with a female from Los Angels as the platoon leader, and the platoon sergeant is from Nowheresville Alabama.
This was a long time before the terms “multicultural” and “diversity” entered the lexicon, and I did not appreciate (as much) of what he said as I would learn to appreciate it in the future. He, for lack of a better term, intergraded the cadets into a mixed force. LTC “Jones” introduced them to the army they would serve. And to get ready to be more comfortable with the different people in it.
Again, the United States has the armed forces for one purpose, to win our wars. At this moment, the senior leadership of the service, has forgotten that. And even worse, they are implementing policies that will divide and weaken our ranks as we need leadership and teamwork more than ever. Hopefully this can be changed quickly. China, Russia, et all will not be bothered by such tripe.
Michael A. Thiac is a retired Army intelligence officer, with over 23 years experience, including serving in the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the Middle East. He is also a retired police patrol sergeant, with over 22 years’ service, and over ten year’s experience in field training of newly assigned officers. He has been published at The American Thinker, PoliceOne.com, and on his personal blog, A Cop’s Watch.
Opinions expressed are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers.
Michael A. Thiac is a retired Army intelligence officer, with over 23 years experience, including serving in the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the Middle East. He is also a retired police patrol sergeant, with over 22 years service, and over ten years experience in field training of newly assigned officers. He has been published at The American Thinker, PoliceOne.com, and on his personal blog, A Cop's Watch. Opinions expressed are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers.
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