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Parker Interview – Part 1

2LT James E. Parker Jr. Aka “Mule” is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman 


John Thomas Wiseman: How do you define National Security?

James E. Parker: Well certainly any dictionary will have an answer for that, but my definition would be something more personal…. it would be not only efforts to keep us safe, but situational awareness of the things out there in the world (and here at home) that might put our life style in some danger, and then doing something to take away that danger. And I’m speaking of US National Security ’cause I don’t know what they think about security in Brazil, or in Uganda. You know ol’ George, Senior used to talk about how our country is a thousand shards of light, and I’m thinking he meant our geography, our history, our public utilities, our sense of justice, UNC bar-b-q, Hollywood, the Super Bowl, the freedom to go anywhere or say anything, that your home is your castle, your weapons a symbol of your freedoms, the interstate highway system, the Mississippi, and the Rockies, good hospitals and a 4th of July hot dog. That’s America.

And those things ain’t free. You gotta protect them. ‘Cause if you’re born in Timbuktu to a family that ain’t never had anything, they might not understand how we take it all we got for granted. How being American is also about being a little cocky, that we got it good. We are lucky in that we got all that Pacific and Atlantic water out there protecting our flanks. And a northern neighbor that’s part and parcel of the American culture. That shares our interest in protecting what we got…

So there.

National Security starts with an understanding of what we mean by national – and to my way of thinking that’s Bush Sr.’s thousands and thousands rays of light.

And Security is the means we have to use to protect our nation from those who wish us harm.

JTW: Which organization did you enjoy the most in your career?

JEP: Probably that would be the current Mule enterprises. I am at my core a story- teller. All my travels and adventures and utterances and thoughts and actions seem on some level to be just fodder for stories. And that’s the level I’m at now. Looking back, remembering, and often comparing this time with that to see how my perspective has changed… and my vantage on… life its ownself. Like today at the movies, it’s all about animation of dragons and talking animals and the incredibly stories of daring do… bases of which are not taken from anything I’ve known.

And the ads on TV show people of all persuasions enjoying this and that, as long as they buy this or do that. Venal appeal… buy this and life as you know it will be better.  And the actors presenting this message are not like anyone I can identify with.

And the shows are just a waste of time. The news reports are so programmed and narrow in focus as to be nothing that seems relevant to my life. Headlines are always the presidential elections; as if that’s the most important “news” of the day… well I don’t think so. Not in the world I live in… not in what I know about life.

Values are transient, often created by same-age airheads, not learned or taught by adults who fought life’s wars. Celebrity trumps peace of mind. Money often man’s raison d’etre.  And so many people out there. On the roads, in Africa, at the grocery store. There is no solitude anywhere close… except here at my desk, alone with my thoughts.

Aw, and to think back in the way of a story teller… there was purpose, and some real danger, and exciting places to see and smell and touch before the Discovery Channel, with the testosterone surging through my body 24/7. Demanding this course of action or that.

I think this is the best time of my life. My best “organization.”

JTW: What was your favorite assignment in your long career?

JEP: Well let’s see here… favorite?

If you were to ask my wife what was her favorite assignment, I think she’d say, all of them. But hell, she’s easy to please. Look who she married. She wakes up in the morning with a good attitude. Positive. She sees that glass half full. There was a story I used to tell about us meeting this woman in a Wal-Mart years ago…. in the 90s when we were still living in NC. She was big, wore a Wal-Mart mu-mu dress, round flat face. I have honestly forgot what it was that caused our meeting… but as we were walking away and I was looking for the right words about this woman was really in her element, and Brenda said, “Didn’t she have a nice smile.”

Brenda had a stroke in 2010, paralyzed the left side of her body. She’s done remarkably well since. Gets around mostly with a cane, and although she hasn’t regained the movement of her left arm and hand, she types her email.

And she has never complained. Not once that I can remember.

Now I’m goin’ to answer your question, but let me finish this thought. We used to live in a big ol’ sprawling house here in the SW of Las Vegas, but after Brenda’s stroke it was just too much to keep up – plus we were under water what with the real estate crash here in Vegas town, so we moved to the condominium we live in now… and in making the move, Brenda almost helpless, this Mexican woman pitched upon our doorstep saying she heard we might need some help.

Best I can figure it was God who talked her… because she’s still with us, three years later. Illegal as all hell, ain’t got paper one, but she’s an angel and has given Brenda back her pre-stroke freedom. They go shopping together, just to go shopping. Go to the grocery store, cook meals. Alma is here a lot… and she always talking, always asking Brenda’s advice, and always laughing. I don’t mean to say everything’s perfect, but damn it’s nice.

So what was the question?

Favorite assignment.

Got another story that you may have read in my Rants and Yarns… about my great Aunt Wilma, taught in NC classrooms for more than 70 years. Let me say that again, she taught in schools for more than 70 years. In her 90s she was driving around picking up relatives of migrant workers in Johnston County, NC, taking them to the local CC, teaching them English as a second language and then taking them back to their homes. I remember speaking with her once and said something like, “Boy you been teaching forever. Bet you’ve had some pretty smart students, huh?” And she said she had, “And I’ll bet you’ve really had some idiots too, huh?” And she, “No, every single one of my students was special. Every single one was smart.”

So I reckon to be true to heritage and my wife, on the favorite assignment thing, I have to say I have not had a favorite assignment, I’ve liked them all.

Some stand out, or come first to my memory.  But favorites, nope. Here are some that I remember.

My number 1 assignment was growing up rowdy in the mid-south, with a father that let me roam, telling me to “go out there and make something of yourself.” I got a lot from my youth. The “getting” part was not always appreciated by fathers of some of the girls I dated. If we carried a laugh-meter like health nuts carry around a step-meter on their belt… I laughed more than most of my peers growing up, did more stuff and certainly said more, “Holy s**t, what am I goin’ to do now?”

But here again, there’s a side story… that sort of explains my DNA…. it’s one of my early Rants and Yarns titled something like Travelling man… an interview my cousin Alan did back a couple of years ago.

Number 2 as well remembered events go, would be my year spent as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I’ve been blessed in this life… and one of my earliest conspicuous blessings was Staff Sergeant Cecil Bratcher who was my 1st Squad leader… until I made him my platoon sergeant. And we developed a great division of labor in running the platoon… I was just out of OCS and without his knowing hand, Jesus, what would have happened? You know so often in Vietnam, a young 2nd LT, especially a replacement, was merely the platoon mascot. The network of sergeants – from platoon sergeant down to fire team leaders really ran the show. There was zero room for error for replacement Lts. They mess up once in the field, some men get hurt, and the sergeants would take over. Or the sergeants would take over from the start, telling the new looey to just keep the Captain informed of what was goin’ on…. and they’d do the war fighting.

But there was never the case with Bratcher. We did it together. And he even came to my defense – supported me – when I picked a jive talking black I think from Detroit – a guy named Spencer – to be my radio operators. This was in 1965. Remember, for many of the good ol’ white boys in my platoon, this was their first chance up close and personal with American Blacks. It was when they were called Negroes, which the white grunts in my platoon would just spit out, rather than articulate. But here’s the thing, the majority of my Sergeants were black. So there was tension there, not that it was disruptive, but it was there… plus there was the sense that the black sergeants in my platoon were disenfranchised. But when Spencer started carrying my radio, things changed. Most notably was that the black NCO felt more involved, because the job of the RTO in the field is that he speaks for the unit commander, or figures what the commander wants and passes that on to Company or Battalion who were always on the horn when the shit hit the fan. And in free time Spencer would hang out with black buddies, and we were friends, Spencer and I, and that word got passed around in the platoon, and we were a better fighting unit as a results.

Bratcher and Spencer made a difference. Plus despite the great emotional horror that goes with war fighting, I enjoyed combat. The risk taking, the camaraderie, the job leading men on a battlefield.

Number 3 would be my first CIA assignment, upcountry Laos. To work with Hmong hills tribesmen fighting invading North Vietnamese. Just great on several different levels. One was the opportunity to work with American Ravens and Air America pilots and the collection of case officers the CIA hired to do this job… one of the biggest jobs in the history of the CIA. Who staffed it was no small matter. Now some of the CIA people up country looked as rough as cobs, but god almighty they were good, with great depth of character. Check out Kayak and Hog and Shep. Dick Johnson. Moose. All mentioned in my Rants and Yarns.  Well for sure check out Shep and Hog.

And we won our fight. Beat the hell out of tens of thousands of attacking North Vietnamese… commanded by some of the NVA’s best field Generals.

And the wonderful balance between war fighting with these great men, and then coming down to Vientiane every two or three weeks to that warm family of Brenda and the kids. Goin’ from Here to Eternity to a chic flick.

And also, or maybe first, was my contact and day-to-day emergence into the Hmong culture. The Hmong warlord we worked with, Vang Pao’s, first CIA case officer was a guy named Vint Lawrence. He told me once that it took him a year living in Long Tieng, working every day with VP and the Hmong, for him to get to the point where he could ask a good question.

They were humans, for sure, but they had had no contact with the western culture, these Hmong we worked with, and just went about life differently. There is so much we assume when we meet new people, but when those people are unlike any people that have ever dealt with Westerners, you gotta expect some newness, you know what I mean? Newness that it would take a year to really understand, and really come to grips with.

My first Hmong unit was GM 22, at the time out camped near Ban Na, north of Long Tieng… completely surrounded by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. And I would go out to their positions every day, by first convincing one of them mean sumbitch who flew Air America that it was safe, or safe enough, and then in arriving out with my people, having overflown enemy AA on the way, to do that terrible work most morning of sending wounded and dead collected from the night before, back to Long Tieng on the helicopter. Now here your mind’ll mess with you, ’cause it seemed this happened a lot, but probably not so much, it just seems that way because it was so poignant. Morning of just goin out to the position so uneventful.

The Hmong would, if you applied enough pressure, dig bunkers… though mostly they liked to hide behind rocks and scamper when the enemy came in force. But since we occupied this space out near Ban Na, they would send one of the littlest kid in their unit down the front side of the mountain where they were, send him down with a box full of grenades… and if the bad guys did come up to checky-check in the night this little guy’s job was to throw those grenades down the hill at the sounds he heard below and then beat feet back up to the top of the mountain.  Well often one of those grenades would have a short fuse and go off in the little guy’s hand or it would hit something and bounce back, or the bad guys would pick it up and throw it back at the little guy. Or the little guy would be shot trying to get back to the top of the hill.

What I remember so many mornings was these young, small and dirty soldiers laying there on blankets used as stretchers for the wounded or dead in the catastrophic way young men or killed or wounded by grenades. Loading them up on the helicopter and send them back to Long Tieng.

And then standing at the site watching that helicopter flying high over the enemy, and away from me. First losing the sound, and then watching it got as small as a dot in the early morning haze and then disappearing behind some distant mountain… and I would realize how quiet it was… and how particularly I was alone… except for these rock age Hmong.

And then over the course of months and months, coming to know them.

How innocent, how un-greedy, how smart, how interested they were in the US, like travel to the Moon for Christ sake, how they did math, what was important to them. And in all that, going about getting out there to find out where the bad guys were and killing them. And then later directing their attacks on North Vietnamese as they moved in force back the PDJ.

The enormous depth to that experience. How it made me understand how the life I knew from my mid-south upbringing was different, not better or worse than the experiences of these good men, just different. How I had no right to be critical – maybe judgmental of their lives, their hopes and dreams.

How their religion was so similar to mine in that it provided for a larger omnipotence, different in the detail but so absolutely the same human longing for understanding of this life we lived in…. No not absolutely the same…. they were more fatalistic… like no matter what you do, you still goin’ die.

And then later the evacuation from Vietnam… I mean there was a whole lot of interesting stuff goin’ on with that. No movie I have ever seen had as much drama as that evacuation… and I had a leading role.

And later that tour in Africa and my friendship with John Sherman. Here again you’ll have to read my Rants and Yarns on that guy – surely the most interesting man I ever knew.

I was a chief of station and had two posting that are still very classified… but they don’t compete with the others as memorable. Chief of Station was full of personnel problems. If not with my case officers, it was with night people that my case officers hung around with, rather than their wives, who complained to me that it was all my fault.

And then now, like I was saying above. I enjoy my life now. Every single day. I read three papers, but don’t watch the evening news. I read a book or two a week. Got a great man cave in which I write almost without distraction… like this email. Alma brought in my lunch of noodles around noon, but other than that, no pressure to go mow the lawn, or whatever it is that other 73-year-old men do with their mid-day Fridays. And I like to write. Like to tell the stories.

This has been fun… writing about not having just one favorite time.

Fulton Interview – Part 2

Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.

  1. What is one of the more memorable or impactful experiences during your National Security Career?

The answer would have to be found in the years I spent in the reserve components of the United States Army, especially the Infantry experiences. I was a student at Pittsburg State University, following two enlistments in the Air Force. A friend knew I missed military life, and encouraged me to join the local Kansas Army National Guard unit. It was Company A, 3d of the 137th Infantry, 69th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Kansas Army National Guard. Because of prior military service and a number of years spent in USAF Security Police, I joined the ranks as a sergeant (E-5) and was assigned as a fire team leader in the company’s third platoon.

The Vietnam War was still going on and few people wanted to serve, so the company was at about sixty percent strength. About half had joined the Guard for less than patriotic reasons, yet some of them were very good soldiers. The other fifty percent were mostly Vietnam veterans, and the Kansas National Guard took good care of us, allowing us to grow. We did a lot of training in the strip pit lands of southeast Kansas, training mostly oriented towards squad and platoon tactics, We drilled one weekend a month, plus two weeks in the summer at regular Army posts, I went from fire team leader to squad leader, attended NCO Academy in Iola, Kansas (the hometown of General Fredrick Funston, a famous soldier at the turn of the century), and had free access to an impressive library of military manuals and regulations. As a university student the Guard became, as much as anything, a hobby, though one which paid, and which also had a unique purpose.

As a result of the Guard experience, I decided to try and become a commissioned officer. The university ROTC offered a one-year compression program. Students did MS-III and MS-IV together, two separate classes, each semester, plus the regular coursework of other classes, and also had to attend a summer camp. I became an ROTC cadet second lieutenant, and it was a paid USAR service. I missed my friends in the local unit, but enjoyed my classmates, even though I was older than them. One of those folks went on to become a three star general. Another was a colonel and dentist. Yet another was a JAG lawyer, all this on down the road, of course. The war mostly ended for America. Infantry lieutenants were no longer needed.

The Army said I was to become an AG officer. I had a choice so I completed the coursework, but resigned the program, enrolled in graduate studies, and returned to the National Guard. The company commander assigned me as acting platoon sergeant, and then a month later, as acting platoon leader. In terms of rank, I was a staff sergeant, but I did enjoy the year of commanding third platoon. Until 1975 we trained to the standard of being called to active duty and deployed back across the Pacific. What happened in 1975 ended that, of course, but we continued to train to a harsh standard under the command of officers who were Vietnam veterans. They taught us well. In 1976, because of our manpower problem, the Kansas NG decided to change us from an Infantry battalion into a combat engineer battalion. Officers started arriving in the units. I was given the task of being the company training NCO. Being in a combat engineer company was neat because we were trained in a lot of different skill areas, including demolitions. That was especially fun. My PMOS remained 11B30, though I had been given and had passed the 11B40 testing. The duty MOS was now 12B.

By 1977, I had finished a master’s degree in History and had been hired as a civilian employee at Fort Leavenworth. My job as a GS-7 was to be the editor of the LAMP weekly post newspaper. It was too far to drive for weekend drills, so I asked for discharge from the Guard, to join a new USAR company that was forming in Kansas City. That was the 308th PSYOP. I became an HC team leader, then company training NCO, then acting field first, then acting first sergeant. I always forgot the word “acting” and just did the job at hand. In 1979, following a Department of Defense Information School course, the Army offered me a GS-9 position at Fort Hood. I became the managing editor of the metro-sized four section weekly newspaper, the Fort Hood SENTINEL. As a civilian employee I supervised military journalists from three different headquarters companies within a separate brigade and two divisions. We all worked at the post Public Affairs building. The command information officer was a captain, Charley Schill, and the NCOIC was also our cartoonist, Sergeant First Class S. J. Stout, a really great soldier (and former Marine). The captain knew of my reserve activity, so he told me to handle daily operations with the mindset of a soldier, rather than of a GS-9 civilian employee. I did, and we had a great newspaper in those years, with most excellent soldiers doing most of the heavy lifting. It was a very unique organization, and the people were just plain fun to be with.

On the weekends I still wanted to soldier some, myself, so I initially joined the 100th PAD at state headquarters in Austin. Yet I missed the grit of a combat unit so when the year in the public affairs detachment was up, I went to A Troop, 1-124th CAV and became an E-6 in the Infantry squad of the Temple-based troop. You can trust me on this. There are no finer people to be in the field with than Texas National Guard troops. Every weekend we went to north Fort Hood’s brush, and it was fine training, especially when troop worked against troop. I always came home happy after those weekends, and had the extra-added benefit of learning about the same training areas, which regular soldiers used. Being able to walk the walk and talk the talk is just vitally important in any National Security activity. The Army again sent me back to DINFOS at Fort Benjamin Harrison and this time I took the Public Affairs Officer course. When I returned to Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned to be the III Corps public information officer.

One day at work I looked up and there were three officers from the Texas Army National Guard. They knew I was one of their staff sergeants so we a yes sir kind of conversation, which as it turned out was a question from the Texas AG, MG Willie Scott, asking if I would consider becoming a direct commission captain and spending weekends back in Austin as a Public Affairs officer. My internal SSG heart leaped, I passed the physical, and then it was time for summer camp. Two sets of orders arrived, one with the cav troop as a SSG, and one with a brigade to be the PAO as a captain. I called state headquarters and asked what to do. I was told to do what I wanted, and of course captain pay was higher…but I was initially somewhat in a pickle about how to properly act. I knew the work. I knew Fort Hood, which was hosting the annual training, but suddenly becoming “one of them” was a mindset not easily achieved. Fortunately, the Texas NG officers took me in hand and quickly–well, over the course of a year– got me squared away.

The Army then asked me to go to Korea to be the speechwriter for General John Wickham who were the UNC/ROK-US CFC/USFK CinC, and EUSA CG. In Korea I spent a year as a USAR Civil Affairs officer, until reserve duty interfered with regular DAC responsibilities and I resigned at about the 18-year point. My plan was to return to the states after the Korea tour and to finish out my -20 or -30 as an NCO, but life did not allow that plan to happen. I never did get to work for General Wickham and think that to be sad. I have great admiration for his style of leadership. Instead, I learned how to be a four-star’s speechwriter during the time General Robert Sennewald was the CINC. I am very grateful for all he taught me about application of words to the mission. The next two CINCs had been battalion commanders of Infantry in the Vietnam War, General Bill Livsey and General Lou Menetrey. They were great people to work for, and to assist in various ways during those stressful times. Initially General Livsey thought I was just a DAC and our initial meeting was tense. He asked if I knew what it meant to be a soldier. I told him of my background, and we just seemed to click. I did understand things he said to me, that I doubt other DACs lacking military experience would have, It was the same with General Menetrey. My job was to listen, sometimes as the hair was let down, and to keep my mouth shut about various conversations. It was also to think about things from a 4-star viewpoint, as words were selected, but not to try and be a four-star myself, nor to be some sort of mind reader.

I had two tours as speechwriter in Korea, and was directly invited back by General Livsey to have the second tour. All elements of the military world are important, air, land, and sea, and joint and combined activity is a must in our modern world. I was able to grow into a speechwriter position because of the time I had spent in the reserve components, learning the daily business of soldiering or of being an airman. To anyone considering a National Security career—and now I am talking directly to people who want to be federal civilian employees– never forget that people are the most important resource. The best way to understand that fact is to invest some personal time in being a reserve member. To walk the walk and to talk the talk gives you linkage and credibility with colleagues of all types and with the people you serve. In all cases, whatever the task or the position, always adhere completely and wholeheartedly to proper military standards because they are the foundation stones of National Security.

  1.  What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from your NS time?

My answer would be found in an exploration of the armed forces, and why they are needed.

My wife and I are both from frontier stock, in my case going –it is alleged in family records–back perhaps to a sailor who made a voyage to Jamestown, and more provable, family to family to family, through New England, New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky, back to the Pilgrims and the landing in 1620. The great great great (whatever) grandparents back then were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. My wife’s people were latecomers and did not come to North America until the Civil War, that is the English Civil War. In both cases, they were in North America at least a couple, and more likely more, of generations before the American Revolution.

I am a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the organization traced my lineage on my mother’s side to a colonel named Emerson, though I really wanted to get in on the organization based on the memory of a soldier and his son who both died the harsh winter at Valley Forge. My dad was born in 1904, and did not marry until he was 40. He only had one arm, so in World War II he served in the Illinois State Guard. His father, my grandfather, was born right after the Civil War, but had a brother (my great uncle) who was in Mr. Grant’s Army at Vicksburg. In that same war we had a distant relative who was a Confederate general officer, a man named Rodes. My great grandfather had moved from Kentucky up into Illinois just before the Black Hawk War, and served in that fight in company with a member of the force named Lincoln.

We had people in the Mexican War and the War of 1812, struggles out along the frontier, and then, as I mentioned, in the Revolution. Before that time, family members served in colonial militia, and in the struggles clear back to King Phillip’s War, as well as many skirmishes on the frontier. We had family with Daniel Boone’s company, down on the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky. One of the family members from New Hampshire, earlier, was a woman who was kidnapped by Canadian Indians and repeatedly raped as she was being taken north. One night all the Indians, six or seven, went to sleep without posting a guard. She laid hands on a tomahawk and killed them all, then made her way south. Another family member back in colonial times was a man who shot a sheriff. They branded him on his thumb for doing so, but he survived. Tough times and tough people.

Those are the folks I come from, and the tradition continued through the times of the 20th century. I had a great uncle with General Pershing’s AEF in France in World War I. Another uncle, my mother’s half brother, was a sailor in the war, and also made it to France. In World War Two I had a cousin who was a Marine in the islands and then immediately after the war was a China Marine, who was recalled for Korea. He carried a BAR, a weapon I also became familiar with myself in Libya in 1962. Another cousin was one of the Merrill Force Marauders in Burma. Our folks were always out on the edge in the westward movement. When I was three my grandfather Fulton gave me a rusted shut revolver he had carried many years before. My mother had a freak about that, but I was fascinated—and hooked. My own grandchildren are going to inherit a raft of firearms. My great grandparents are buried in Havre, Montana. All mentioned because it was a constant struggle for us Americans as we went west, and built a Nation that then was filled in by a lot of Johnny Come Latelys.

So what?

Well, information mentioned because every event in our own nation building was done by ancestors of people alive today. We all come from tough and hearty stock, though some earlier than others, and we all have a shared History that had, at bedrock, a foundation based on courage. It wasn’t just the Indians and the British and the French and the Mexicans that had to be faced. It was also disease, wild game, wilder rivers, outlaws, harsh weather, unknown terrain that required the achievement of knowledge about, to then overcome. After we became a Nation, our local and colonial militias became a national Army and a national Navy, with a Marine Corps. Later we also had a Coast Guard and we had an Air Force, too. Why did we need these things, especially in times that were allegedly peaceful (though peace was always questionable out on the frontier).

Take the Army. What good was it for us to waste a lot of tax dollars on such a structure, long thought to be a warehouse for drunks and vermin. Wellllllll, my take on that – and keep in mind I wore a uniform some – is that people having such opinion are just ignorant, and are people who lacked the fortitude to serve themselves.

Let me tell you what an Army is all about, besides being a structured fighting force with a proud winning heritage, especially in Vietnam.

An Army is a place for a young citizen to make a personal contribution to society and to the Nation. Years spent in service are times to mature and to gain awareness of the importance of discipline and of service.

The United States Military, especially the Army, was a force that provided protection, and in a lot of different ways. It trained and educated much needed engineers. These were the map drawers, the cartographers, who surveyed the west and laid out the networks of roads and railroads.

It was the Army, which brought education to remote western settlements, as well as healthcare, law and order.

It was the Army—Zebulon Pike, Lewis and Clark– who went “out there” and then came back and told all of us of the vast potential of the frontier.

It was the Army that ran the Military Road, which linked a fort near St Paul, Minnesota with posts or cantonments in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This road was patrolled by soldiers, with plains tribes on one side and settlers on the other. It was the army that defended the Santa Fe Trail and had posts out along the Oregon Trail. It was the Army that first patrolled Yellowstone Park, and which handled issues of safety and security in Alaska.

It was the Army which learned, applied and taught the importance of science and technology to National Defense – communications, medicine, dental care, flight– all things having national applications. It was the Army, which laid out and built the network of roads and highways, by applications in which so many ways motorized the Nation, investigated and applied microwaves and use of the chip now so common in so many gadgets and computers. It was the military, indeed, that first used computers, and which also led the way into outer space.

So why have an Army? Do we need one? You bet.

  1.  What was one of the most difficult experiences you faced during your NS time?

The citation is the way Colonel Al Lynn, 7th Air Force Director of Information saw my duty performance, he and other supervisors. To properly answer your question, I believe I need to tell you how I remembered that same period, especially those months of February, March, April and May 1968, the time the decoration was all about.

I had been trying to get a Vietnam assignment since 1963, but it did not happen until October 1 of 1967. I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, actually Kimpo airfield to Tan Son Nhut air base, and was assigned to 7th Air Force DXI, headquartered at Tan Son Nhut, a sprawling military location that hosted MACV plus the 7th Air Force, headquarters, a large number of many types of aircraft (RF-101s, F-4s, C-130s, C-123s, C-124s, C-133s, AE-1s, O-1s, indeed, at one time or another, every different kind of plane that flew in the theater, at one time or another), and was also the Republic of Vietnam’s largest civilian airfield. The place was so large it took a battalion strength of USAF cops, plus twice as many RVN police and VNAF cops to secure it during each 8-hour shift. The RVN Vice President lived at Tan Son Nhut, and there was a large Air America (CIA) aviation operation located there.

Every day many soldiers rotated through the installation, some going R and R, others home in body bags shipped by the war’s largest mortuary. Tan Son Nhut is where the war was run from, and was the home of General William Westmoreland during his time in Vietnam. There were tremendous support facilities, miles of parking spaces, miles of runway, and many different encampments and housing spaces, some in three story concrete barracks, others in squad-sized a-frame huts that were surrounded by chest high walls of sandbags. The perimeter had left over fortifications from the French days, plus miles of minefields and wire entanglements. Inside the base there were crisscrosses of fortifications, plus homes for VNAF families, lots of clubs, a massive base exchange facility. If it flew or was connected to the war, it was on Tan Son Nhut, and that includes the large helicopter field that was also inside the perimeter, in fact quite close to where I worked.

When I first got to Vietnam I was assigned to the in-country airlift commanded headed by a one star general. It was an interesting organization, with lots of planes coming in from overseas but then lots of flights going out to places in Southeast Asian locations. The general flew a lot of C-123 missions himself and took along his Public Affairs troops to write stories about what we saw. I would have been happy doing that the entire tour but the stories written went through the 7AF DFXI and MACV clearance and distribution mechanism and I soon found myself with a sort of promotion, I was sent to the 7AF DXI Internal Information and Special Projects unit, given the job of writing reports about Air War North, the Rolling Thunder missions in North Vietnam.

I got up about 0230 each morning, went to the intelligence facility and was given unclassified information about the previous days strikes, the crews and their home towns, unit of assignment (usually at an air base in Thailand), and results of the strike. This series of paragraphs was then added to similar work done about in-country air missions. The editor reviewed the work, and then forwarded it to MACV for review and clearance. It came back to us with corrections, which were done, then was retyped into a document having a letterhead. Several hundred copies were made to be released that evening at the Joint US Public Affairs Office daily briefing about all phases of the war for the past 24 hours, and given to the civilian media present. This was the infamous Five O’Clock Follies. I did this work until Rolling Thunder ended, then having a new staff sergeant stripe, was put in charge of in-country distribution of the 7th Air Force NEWS, a weekly metro sized newspaper printed in Tokyo at the Stars and Stripes facility in Raponggi.

It was my job to gather cleared stories and features, as well as photos, and to send them to a pair of USAF Msgts in Tokyo who put the newspaper together, and then ship large pallets of papers back to Tan Son Nhut that I and assistants broke down and sent around to the various air bases. I also had some special projects to do, one of which was a collection of weekly clips about the war from magazines and newspapers both in the states and elsewhere, given to the generals.

In January 1968, 12 of us NCOs had been moved from a three story concrete barracks to a hut in the camp near the entrance to the heliport. The end of the month there were rumors that the enemy was going to attack Tan Son Nhut. Several of us had walked to the BX and, coming back, had stopped to chat with Army guards on the entrance of the heliport. They knew we had no weapons so told us that, if anything happened, to try and get to their position for cover. We said we would. That night none of us took off our clothes or our boots, but we did try and sleep. I remember waking up about 0300 and seeing a stream of heavy machine gun tracer fire ripping over the top of the hooch about 12 feet up. Most went for the bunkers in the immediate area. Some men from other duty sections and myself ran to the heliport. Flares and tracer streams were popping all over the place. To get to work we had to cross the helicopter landing field, go over a perimeter fence, down in a ditch, cross a road and then climb a board fence into the 7AF Headquarters area, the place where the HQ was, the O Club, the NCO Club, the Airman’s Club, the library, the headquarters squadron office, the buildings of the DXI, the buildings of various other staff functions, and a large clump of trailers where senior staff lived. Down in the shadows of the ditch, there was a security police gun jeep and they almost shot us but we were hollering. They covered us as we climbed the board fence. There were VC snipers throughout the area, and exchanges of fire were heard from near and far.

I arrived at the colonel’s office right after Master Sergeant Bob Need, NCOIC of the combat news branch, and Tsgt Dave Lardy who was a 600 Photo Squadron photographer who had been assigned to DXI for his tour. Our officers all lived in villas downtown and were trapped by street fighting. Bob and Dave were scrounging revolvers from the desks of our colonels and were also loaded up with helmets and flak jackets plus a couple cameras each. They were headed for the end of the runways where several regiments of Viet Cong were attempting to enter the base and were being held off by USAF Security Policemen. I wanted to go with them but Msgt Need ordered me to stay and to get the directorate up and running. I was to try and contact our officers, especially Colonel Lynn, and report status, plus to keep in touch with the base command post. They left and I started working the phones. This was inside a plywood building. A gunfight erupted just outside between a couple of cops and a couple of VC. I took my phone with me and worked from under the deputy DXI’s desk. Desk. It was not until 1600 hours that one of our officers finally found a way to get in. We had sent out one short news feature by Teletype to MACV for clearance. It was approved and we teletyped it on down to JUSPAO downtown. Lots of photos were taken by Need and Lardy, but several of their cameras were severely damaged during the fighting, as they fell on them.

The next few days were very tense. That first night there was a major company sized fight just outside the fence from the base exchange. We saw tracers go in many directions; tracers of various colors, plus a red flare went up at one point, which signaled a breakthrough. The only weapon I had was a sheath knife. Soon though a green flare popped which meant the enemy had been stopped. I think the soldiers involved were ARVN. We also had a lot of Army support, a cav squadron raced in and heavily engaged. Army helicopters, including Snakes (AH-1s) fired rockets and 40mm grenades plus machine guns. It went on all day. I saw two men shot off the top of water towers. We had rounds hit around us as we tried to gather stories in the daytime. I did a story about Ssgt Clarence Stokes who was NCOIC of the armored cars and the ammunition resupply trucks for the security police. He had been my flight commander in Libya in 1963 and 1964.

By the second day all the troops were in, and regular work was under way. At night we started receiving 122mm rockets. We had several wounded and two killed in the directorate, SGT Rick Ramsey and Airman John Kopfer, both now listed on Panel 40-E of the Vietnam Wall. They died in mid-February. Rick had been my first friend in country. One night Charlie hit Tan Son Nhut with a barrage of about 80 rockets. Afterwards only three aircraft on the base had not been hit.

In the end of February the combat news organization needed to be reestablished. Rick was dead, Bob Need was wounded so badly that he had to be medically discharged, all the rest were in field hospitals in Saigon or else had been shipped to Cam Ranh Bay. Up-country manning was very bad too. The colonel re-assigned me to Combat News Branch as a military journalist and sent me to the Information Office at DaNang to write stories about Air Force activities in I Corps in support of Marine and Army units.

I went to Hue several times, and also to Dong Ha and the end of March made it to Khe Sanh. The siege was still going on. We went in on a Marine helicopter because no fixed wings were landing and shot a lot of film of Marines defending the base camp, and of USAF air attacks in the vicinity. Once our film was gone we were able to go out on the first fixed wing that actually landed. There was a lot of incoming fire, some mortars, and some small arms. I saw a Marine shot in the head and others wrapped in ponchos. The night we were there we acted as spotters for a team of Marines using a .50 HMG loaded with tracer to mark enemy shooters firing at the camp, that were then engaged by Marine riflemen. From DaNang we flew several missions aboard C-47 Spooky aircraft operating in I Corps. On one of the flights, near Hue, we fired at a sampan believed to be carrying rockets. It exploded. I also went with civil affairs personnel to take supplies to refugee camps in Hue. That mission was aboard a C-7A cargo plane of the USAF, and was the first fixed wing to land at the Hue city strip. I also flew aboard PSYOP O-2 aircraft that was working a section north of the DMZ. The area came under fire from an offshore destroyer while we were there. That mission got me a Yankee Air Pirate Patch for my flight suit.

I sent out a lot of stories that 59 days and then was sent back to Tan Son Nhut. We landed right in the time of the mini-Tet fighting. My boss in I Corps sent Colonel Lynn a nice letter for my records, and I think that was part of the decision to award me the Bronze Star. He was Lt Col Al Cochrane, a fine man to work for. I was talking about Khe Sanh and used the pronoun “we” because we did a lot of work as a small team, which included a sound and radio man, a motion picture photographer, and a still photographer in addition to the cameras I also used. In all that time of those four months anything accomplished was always done as a team effort.

Later in 1968 I also did field team work in II Corps and in III Corps, twice in company with 8th Aerial Port Combat Controllers Tsgt Morty Freeman and Sgt Jim Lundy. They were the two Lt Col Joe Jackson earned the Medal of Honor picking up from Kham Duc Special Forces Camp when it was over run. We also worked with 25th ID soldiers and with 5th SF soldiers at Trang Sup and Thien Hnong SF camps. Personnel of combat news were on non-crew member flying status and we flew a lot of different kinds of missions, always writing accounts of them.

In early 1969 I was given the job of working for a captain and setting up an installation Office of Information for Tan Son Nhut, I had this job until my time in Vietnam ended (23 months) the first of September of 1969. I was also awarded a USAF Commendation Medal. (See picture below)

  1. What advice would you give new personnel thinking about starting a career in National Security? (See picture below)

Fulton Interview – Part 1

Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.


  1.  How would you define National Security and in what capacity have you been involved with United States National Security.  How did you get involved? (Approximate dates and job titles if possible).

My federal career started with enlistment in the USAF in 1962. When the Cuban Missile Crisis hit, I was in Air Police School at Lackland. In December that year I arrived at Wheelus Air Base in Libya for an 18-month assignment.  This was followed by time at a SAC base in Arkansas, then assignment to Korea for 13 months, and to Vietnam for 23 months.

I left the service as a SSgt holding the Bronze Star and the USAF Commendation Medal for work in the information career field during my second enlistment.  My work had been in public affairs and included duty as a wing historian and also an assistant to the 7th AF historian.  My first enlistment I had been an Air Police sentry dog handler.  I went to the university world and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in History. During this time I was active with reserve components of the US Army.  In 1977 I was hired to be a GS-7 Army civilian and to serve as managing editor of the Fort Leavenworth LAMP. I then worked in Public Affairs at Fort Hood, in Korea, in St. Louis, at Dugway Proving Ground, back in Korea, in Chicago and at Fort Jackson.  I am a graduate of the Department of Defense Information Specialist Course, the DINFOS Public Affairs Officer course, and the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course.  I reached GS-12/Step 8, was cut back by Army downsizing to GS-11/Step 10 due to downsizing, and wound up as a USACE YA-02 when recalled for Katrina duties. Along the way I met some great people, and really liked my job.  The Army awarded me the civilian equivalent medal to the Legion of Merit, for duty as a speechwriter in Korea.  As a retiree I am most interested in helping to inform concerning our Nation’s involvement in Libya for the 20 years after World War II.

As one who spent decades in the world of Military Public Affairs, the way I have come to think about a definition of National Security is the same manner in which I think about responsibilities with regard to command information, public information and community relations. In Public Affairs, we old timers came to think about the process as akin to safety and security, meaning it is everyone’s task, everyone’s responsibility. In a much greater sense, National Security is the same way. In and out of government service, every citizen has the personal obligation and the personal responsibility to be aware of, to be involved with, and to in all ways promote National Security. That is because the bedrock of our society is the United States Constitution.

Everything about us as a Nation depends upon this document, in terms of interpretation, and in terms of application. As a person reads the document, and sees the task of application by the executive branch and the legislative branch, and in terms of safeguarding proper applications of authority, the judicial branch, it is crystal clear that Freedom cannot endure without the sanctions, protections and the authorities of government at large. To be Free, Americans must always be made aware of, and understand, the costs. They must also comprehend the challenges, and then, in a variety of ways, provide the wherewithal to meet them.

To somewhat narrow the focus of this discussion, please permit a consideration of all who serve; civilians employed in all offices of government, uniformed personnel in the various entities, including the Department of Defense, but also some other departments in peacetime, in which abide coastal defense, and operations of health and transportation. These are not singular tasks and groups. Instead, it is all part of a large and very complicated circle, the outer perimeter of which constitutes the entity called National Security, a complex and intricate interlinked network, which has so many different kinds of ways and means to constitute the whole.

Differences aside, there is a commonality—the oath taken by all of the Federal Government to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now, most of what follows involves words and paragraphs devoted to personal military experiences; but the foundation of such discussion for me—and for every veteran of government, especially the military—is that the act of discharge and retirement does not mean release from the oath. We who served followed unique and courageous traditions; we took that oath clearly and distinctly, and in lifetime it always remains with us. Without a Constitution there is no United States; a Nation rests on the sum of the parts of its Constitution, and not on this or that interpretation or debate of individual points.  This is what I have come to understand in a lifetime spent with various attachments and relationships of service.

I was raised in a single parent childhood by an employee of a TB hospital operated by the Administration of Veterans Affairs. My mother worked in house cleaning and as I grew up, would hear stories told to her by patients—men who had fought in the Spanish American War, World War One, World War Two and Korea. When I was 16, an explorer scout, the Air Force Reserve gave us aerial navigation course, along the way telling many stories about life in the service. I was hooked, and shortly after turning 17 visited the local Air Force recruiter. He told me I first had to finish high school (which I hated and didn’t do all that well in) before I could go to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Six days after graduation I made that journey. From the very first day I liked being in the Air Force, which decided I should become an Air Policeman. That is the technical school I was sent to, and in the Air Force I began to grow up. Aside from training, the first real world event to surface which made me do some intensive thinking about who I was and what I was doing was the Cold War Cuban Missile Crisis. My flight was pulled from the classroom and we took over as the Lackland Base Police while those having the duty were forward deployed to bases in Florida. When they came home, they assumed the base police role and we returned to the classroom, only now with a much more precise knowledge about what it meant to be a cop and to protect an installation.

My first duty assignment was at Wheelus Air Base, about six miles east of Tripoli, Libya. I spent 18 months at Wheelus, in the 7272nd Air Police Squadron, first in regular law enforcement flight operations for a few months, serving as a BAR gunner in base alerts, and then mostly as a sentry dog handler, guarding remote locations. North Africa is always a cauldron, as true in the early 1960s as it is today. What I gained in Libya provided a crisp foundation for the stresses faced in later Asian locations; all a cumulative process. In Libya I spent a week on a bodyguard detail for the Monarch and his wife, when they came to the base hospital for some medical treatment. That was King Idris. I was handed an M-2 carbine and locked into an open bay, right next to the King’s suite. He honored me by insisting I was the youngest present during the first night of the annual Ramadan, and should be fed first. Other Libyan experiences I remember include spending the night on the beach with dog and M-2 (normally we carried side arms and occasionally shotguns) right after President Kennedy was killed; going to Cyrenia, landing at the Bennina Air Port at Benghazi, and going as part of a field hospital up the escarpment to the earthquake destroyed town of Barce (Al Marj); being at the bomb dump with three other handlers and a regular Air Policeman in the spring of 1964 when a group of Libyans flooded across the stone wall into the five square mile facility. In that early morning hour experience we were ordered to release all four dogs and then to fall back to the strong point in the middle where we set us an M-1919A6 .30 caliber machine gun and spent a long night until relieved at daylight. It was a long night. A lot was then going on throughout Tripoli. All of our dogs were bloody but unhurt.

In June of 1964 I returned to the United States and was assigned to a Strategic Air Command Base in Arkansas, where I served the rest of the enlistment as a sentry dog handler. The Vietnam War was building so I decided to re-enlist, but I cross-trained into the Information field, today called Public Affairs. As I trained I served as the sports reporter, an assistant in public information, and learned photojournalism. After I passed the necessary tests to be rated a five level, I was given the necessary security level and assigned for nine months as the wing historian. I volunteered for Vietnam but was sent to Korea in the early fall of 1966. Instead of being a military journalist I was put back to work in the Air Police. I was offered a dog but declined, so was assigned to Air Police Investigations for a few months, then when the pipeline produced an access of cops was sent to the Air Forces Korea newspaper, The DEFENDER, to be a features writer. It was an interesting job that let me see all of the Republic of Korea as it was 13 years after the signing of the armistice (very different than what it now is).

In 1967 I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, specifically Kimpo Airfield to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and was assigned as a photojournalist within 7th Air Force Directorate of Information Combat News Branch. There were several different kinds of jobs in that 23 months before the 1969 discharge, but primarily I wrote features and did the necessary photography, mostly on bases but sometimes in the field. I was also put on non-crew member flying status to do the required coverage, and flew a variety of mission types aboard cargo planes and helicopters, and also aboard Shadow and Spooky gunships. I returned to the USA in early fall 1969 to honorable discharge and to enrollment in the Kansas State College of Pittsburg, later renamed Pittsburg State University. When I came home from Vietnam I was a staff sergeant who had a Bronze Star (M) for work during Tet, and a USAF Commendation Medal for having helped establish a base level Office of Information at Tan Son Nhut in 1969. I was the NCOIC of that operation, experience that would be very valuable in the years ahead.

To help pay for college I tried some jobs in civilian journalism but eventually went back to law enforcement, as a Campus cop. I also paid for college expenses by membership in US Army reserve components, the Kansas National Guard for several years where I was an Infantryman, and then in the compression program of USAR ROTC at the university. As a reserve soldier I eventually worked my way to captain. I did both undergraduate and graduate level studies at PSU. In 1977, the US Army offered me a GS-7 level job as post newspaper editor at Fort Leavenworth. My goal had been to become a community college instructor so I took the Leavenworth job, thinking it would be income while I searched for an opening. It wasn’t long though before I realized I really liked Public Affairs management, so I quit my teaching job hunt and applied myself to the DAC job.

My civilian career gave me a lot of opportunity; I attended and graduated from the Department of Defense Information School’s Information Specialist Course and the Public Affairs Officer Course, a PME course in Korea, and the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course at the College of Journalism University of South Carolina. It was all great training, with some wonderful colleagues as fellow students and PA practitioners. What I had learned as an NCO in the USAF and in the Army reserve components directly applied to the earliest jobs at Forts Leavenworth and Hood, being accountable for young troops and for senior folks as well in the various daily tasks of Public Affairs.

At Fort Hood as a GS-9 I provided daily leadership for a platoon strength of military journalists. In my mind I just remembered what some great NCOs – SMSgt Marcus Grant, SSgt Clarence Stokes, MSgt Harvey Inouye, and TSgt Joe Covolo – had taught me about duty performance and accountability. It worked like a charm, yet the higher up the ladder I climbed, fewer and fewer came the opportunities for daily contact with the people who were really making the Public Affairs process work. I missed that contact, and highly valued it when it briefly happened. At Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned as III Corps Public Information Officer, a job that allowed a lot of daily contact with some truly excellent Soldiers.

As an Army civilian, I served twice in the Republic of Korea as a speechwriter for the generals and others of senior leadership, simultaneously as a writer in the US Army Aviation Systems Command and in the US Army Troop Support Command in St. Louis, as the installation Public Affairs Officer for Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, as deputy PAO in North Central Division US Army Corps of Engineers then at the Fort Jackson PAO. I reached GS-12, Step 8, and had extra duties that were interesting such as being the career program manager on the side for the -22 program at the MACOM in Korea, and was also given additional tasking of command interest.

We returned to the United States in 1990 and almost immediately heard about Army Downsizing and Corps of Engineers consolidation. My job in Chicago was eliminated, and I was offered a GS-12 job with HUD. My life had been spent in the Department of Defense so I looked around a bit, talked to some folks, and was then offered a GS-11 deputy PAO slot that was open in TRADOC at Fort Jackson. It was GS-11, Step 10, a pay cut of several thousand dollars, but I took it, thinking I could find a GS-12 job on down the road. Instead, Fort Jackson experienced another round of downsizing and my position was eliminated. I was offered a GS-7 job in supply but decided instead to take early retirement, something I really hated to do.

We moved back to Kansas and I found a job in television news, and then a job working as an adjunct instructor at a community college. When Katrina came in, the US Army Corps of Engineers offered me a job in Mississippi as a rehired annuitant. I went to southern Mississippi expecting to be assigned way out on the fringe of the operation, but instead, within a month, I was the USACE Recovery Field Office PAO at Keesler Air Force Base, with responsibility for four field offices. The reason for the selection was previous disaster experience (the Underground Flood Fight in Chicago). At that time most of the USACE PA resources were assigned overseas and manpower was at a premium. I was in Mississippi for a total of five months, and then was kept on stand-by, unpaid another year and a half in case another major hurricane came in.

In retirement I have worked as a volunteer with the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War. It is a very special program. Information about this congressionally funded DOD program can be found at www.vietnamwar50th.com.  These days I am again retired, read a lot (as I have always done) and continue to be as knowledgeable as possible about world affairs and US National Security affairs and events. In that regard, the Internet is a wonderful device!

The last point in response to this question concerns a philosophy that was branded in my heart and mind and soul by a SAC colonel named Paul Handy. Early in the assignment of being a bomb wing historian, he saw the job was weighing heavily on my then E-4 Airman First Class shoulders. The officer was known as a typical gruff SAC leader, but he took the time to sit down with me and talk about the situation. My first enlistment had mostly involved time spent in the enlisted community. Now, all of a sudden, I was around a lot of officers and even some colonels. It was scary. What Colonel Handy did was to point to a model of a B-52 aircraft and to explain how every nut and bolt was important in order for the aircraft to fly and protect peace. We talked some about the SAC motto, “Peace is our profession,” and then he gave me a linkage of a few words – his own motto– which have been with me ever since. The colonel taught me to believe in PRIDE as an acronym with each letter standing for this: Professional Results In Daily Effort.

In all the days and years since that talk, I have always used the colonel’s words as an anchor point, and it has always worked, regardless of circumstances, even directly working for four-star generals!

  1.  Was there a particularly funny or comedic experience?

Ahhhh, Libya, and life in the barracks. It was towards the end of the month, our dog flight was on break, and none of us had any money—not even the quarter necessary to buy a movie ticket. It was a Saturday. We lived two blocks from the Med but had spent month after month of going to the beach. We were tired of shooting pool with broom handles, and of playing hand after hand of penny ante poker—there had to be something to do. Somebody spoke up. The base service club (a place we all religiously avoided, for some unknown reason) had a bus trip set up to go to Leptus Magna, the ruins of an ancient Roman city located roughly in the same area that ISIS now controls.

We decided to go and collected our water bottles. “I do have a new kind of pop”, Troy said, “I bought it payday but haven’t tried it yet; I’ll stick it in my camera bag”. So off we all trooped to the service club, boarded the primitive and shaky GI bus (think “old school bus”) and set off for an hour and a half or so trip to Magnus. There were a bunch of us doing this 1963 trip—Ted Baldwin, Russ Clark, Terry Seats, Ken Ward, Troy Lyons and myself. We drank our canteens dry, and then discovered there was no water supply on the bus, nor was their water available at the site.

Well, we trooped the city, walked the old tile roads, explored the coliseum, checked out all the eight-foot tall headless statues that someone over the ages had vandalized, and we stripped to our undies and went for a swim, trying to see what lay under the water. It was a neat day, except for the fact we had no water. Most of us had seen this city before, in a 1950s movie with John Wayne and Sophia Loren. We all took many photos, then trooped off to the bus to start the long ride home, back to Wheelus Air Base. The wheels were moving and we were on the Homs Road headed west. “Troy”, someone said, break out the pop, “We’ll share. We’re thirsty”. So our non-drinking friend did. He had bought a six-pack—of quinine water, to make gin and tonics with. It was a long thirsty trip home, and Troy couldn’t understand why we threw the empty cans at him.

Ahhhhh, Korea, and life in the Namsan Foreigners Village, a complex of two large concrete towers near the Hyatt Hotel, up on Namsan Mountain. This was home for international families, and once counted as representing over 40 separate Nations. A few service members lived there but most of the Americans were civilian employees down at Yongsan Garrison, at the bottom of the mountain. Most of the American families were long-term residents. We lived there during both of the speechwriter assignments. We even drew the same apartment, 1212-A Dong. On that second tour, my neighbor across the hall was a retired US Army chaplain (Major) who now worked at 8th Army’s recreation services. Bob had spent a lot of time in Vietnam and then in VA hospitals, before retirement. He taught himself a lot of magic tricks, involving playing cards, and making animals out of long tubular balloons. Bob was bored, so he started a clown troop of himself as the boss clown and the rest of us, five or six others, as his minions.

We all went whole hog with clown suits, face paint, floppy shoes, even red noses. We went to many organizational events and unit parties, and became—in a Yongsan sort of way—quite famous. It was the time of high school graduation, and the US Ambassador and his wife threw a yard party at the residence for the graduates. Bob was contacted and asked to provide a clown troupe. Now at the time there were a lot of street demonstrations going on, and the ROK riot police had their Black Maria paddy wagons out, along with many stick carrying troops, and a lot of pepper fog.

I didn’t hide fast enough, so Bob picked me to go with him, primarily because my son was one of the graduates and was taken to the residence in an escorted bus. Bob and I donned our makeup, dressed up, put on our noses, and called for a PX taxi. When it showed up, and the driver learned where we wanted to go, he didn’t want to take us. We paid double and off we went, down through a lot of clouds, horns honking, people yelling, and then we got caught in a traffic jam, right next to city bus full of students who were all scowling and carrying signs. Uh-oh. Bob thought fast and told me to start blowing up balloons. He made weenie dawgs and started handing them up through the window to the young people on the bus. Then he started doing card tricks. We sat there about half an hour, and finally decided to walk because it was only about six blocks. One of the students spoke English. We told him why we out and about, and where we needed to go. He got off the bus with about 15 or so friends, and they escorted us to our gig. I will never forget the Marine’s face when we showed up at the residence, dressed as clowns. It took some persuading to get in, but once inside we went on with the program—although most of the balloons were now gone. I thought that was the end of it, the ambassador didn’t seem mad, and I did have all that face paint on. How could anyone really tell who I was? Well, it was interesting who all said something to us the following week, and I am not telling who. Looking back, no harm, no fowl or foul or whatever, yet in retrospect we both should have known better. Just a couple of old Vietnam vets, having fun.

I grew up in a steel town in western Pennsylvania. Many of the workmen were from West Virginia and Kentucky. They were very opinionated about issues of race. My uncle was of those ranks, so when I enlisted in the Air Force I took with me a prejudice against people of other cultures and skin color. Eight years in the barracks mostly cured me of such foolishness, but what did the job the best was a friend I had in Vietnam. He was older than me and had been in close to twenty years, but I was an NCO and he was an airman so it took a bit for the walls to come down. Carl was a photographer, one of the best I have ever met. Now and then there would be things happening away from the air bases, out in what was called in Vietnam simply “the field.” This was a place you carried weapons and wore helmets and flak jackets. The 7AF Director of Information would ask for coverage of air force support activities, and off a small group of us would go. Our band usually included motion picture and still photography folks from the 600 Photo Squadron, and writers and radio tape folk from our combat news organization. We worked together. We helped each other carry tripods and so forth. We went to nasty places and learned what it was like to get shot at and to be mortared. Once my friend and I were on a Huey that had a mortar round explode right underneath us. That was an attention getter. Once we landed in what was supposedly a secure location, and started talking about what had just happened, doing this on a tape recorder, we looked way off into the distance and saw a man waving at us. We waved back. He waved again. We waved back. Then he stopped. We kept talking. When we got back to Tan Son Nhut and put the tape on a reel-to-reel machine with an amplifier, you could hear bullets snapping past us. We couldn’t hear them because we were wearing helmets.

So it is towards the end of Carl’s Vietnam tour. I had convinced his boss to assign him to the Office of Information at the base level, the same place I had been assigned to. Life was good. We were both short as was said and kicking back. Then the phone rang. It was a Vietnamese Air Force NCO we both knew, and had a good friendship with. He was in a panic. The Republic of Vietnam Vice President Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, a resident of the air base, needed a box of 8 x 10 portraits to be used as press handouts at the Paris Peace Talks. Our friend did not trust his photographers with such an assignment. Being young (or youngish) GIs I looked at Carl, who nodded, I grinned, and we said yes. Our captain was never around, so he didn’t know that an hour later a VNAF blue painted jeep showed up at the office door, we climbed in, and went downtown to the Presidential Palace where the Vice President had his office. As Vietnam’s top airman, he was a hard worker. His desk was a mess, papers all over the place. The Air Marshal came into the room, stood to his desk, sat down and fiercely scowled at our tripod-mounted camera. Carl asked that some of the piles of paper be moved a bit. There was a scowl but the papers were moved. Then Carl said, “Mr. Vice President, would you please smile?” Ky snapped “NO”! And Carl’s eyes got big. He looked at me, and being Mr. Cool, I said “Sorry sir”. Then Ky laughed. He had been toying with us. He did everything we asked, and Carl shot some wonderful portraits. We popped to attention but Ky was not done with us, and told us to come around to the other side of his desk where he showed us his submachine gun, laying on the shelf of a credenza behind him. And yes, he had on his revolver.

Now for the rest of the story. We went back to Tan Son Nhut and Carl went to the lab where he souped the film and started making prints. Some master sergeant wandered by, saw the pictures and went and got a lieutenant, who went to get a captain, who went to get some colonels—yes, more than one. “What’s this all about”, they asked. Carl had them call me. I explained how we were supporting VNAF. Very soon, Information Colonels were also involved. Our captain was still out there somewhere. Carl and I stood quiet and said “yes sir” a lot. However, one of the colonels had a sense of humor and he also liked Carl’s work, so we slid…but were told the next time the Vice President wanted something to be sure and mention it.

Well, that was Vietnam; to this very day I miss my friend. We lost track of one another. I think Carl moved back to Baltimore but I’m just not sure. I do know this. As skilled as he was with a camera I bet he made a fortune taking pictures at weddings! More weddings than Vice Presidents! Air Marshal Ky became American citizen Ky, and lived in Orange, California after the war. I still have a fond memory of the time he shared with us. A really neat gent!!

The first autumn I was an Army civilian employee, I was a GS-7 at Fort Leavenworth, a place where most people were majors. Second lieutenants were scarcer than hen’s teeth, and the one I found had just months before been a staff sergeant, the same stripes I wore on weekends in a Kansas National Guard unit. My wife and I became good friends with this couple. Mac was the officer in charge of a shop in a wing of the same building where the Public Affairs was located. He worked for a full colonel who decided to throw a Halloween Costume Party in his quarters. We were all invited. My wife sewed costumes for us that were supposed to be gray bats. When we got to the party we found Mac in Klu Klux Klan regalia, complete with mask and pointed hood. His wife was dressed in regular clothing, and told us, unlike her husband; she was dressed as a human being.

Mac and I immediately found the bar and did some drinking. Then the colonel announced that the fun and games of the evening would be a scavenger hunt. Most folks at the party were majors and formed teams together. Our wives ignored us, so we took the list, which included such things as a bloody Band-Aid and a B-B and a plastic clothespin and started wandering around in the late October evening of what was field grade housing. The routine was this. Go up to the door, knock, ask for an item, and then held out a shot glass. House after house. In the darkness, our costumes began to look alike.

Somebody called the M-Ps. It was a little old lady who told the desk that the Klan had invaded Fort Leavenworth. A young troop showed up and asked what we were doing. We told him. He started laughing, but then said to watch out for his NCOIC who was also headed in to take the call. Just then, another MP car showed up. This no nonsense NCO asked what we were doing. We showed him our list. He said, “Well, I must check this out, you two get in the back of the car”, and he drove to the senior colonel’s quarters where the party was located. He got out and started into the quarters. Our wives got big eyes when they saw us—still in costume—in the back of the patrol car. Some shrill voices erupted. The MP had everyone go into the quarters. Mac and I were left in the patrol car back seat. He had not taken our ID information. I looked at Mac. Mac looked at me. Staff sergeant-like smiles came out of nowhere. The sergeant had not locked the car. Quietly we escaped, I guess you could say, went around the quarters to the back door, shed our costumes, and then tiptoed into the back of the crowd to listen to the stern NCO trying to be stern with the crowd, most of whom had been in the sauce. We mixed in well. The NCO went back out to the car to get his prize subjects – and the car was open! The back door was open! Well, he left…and Mac and I did not win the costume contest nor the scavenger hunt, but we did make an impression, perhaps of the type no GS-7 or second lieutenant should ever do.

And about the KKK outfit, did I mention my friend was Black?

We had another adventure together, later. There was a community carnival my friend was in charge of. It was in November I think, and chilly. The boss of the carnival had ridden with Pancho Villa a long, long time back. Mac and I helped him empty a rum bottle and we learned a lot about the Texas border, back in the day. Being around Mac was always quite an education—and I loved every minute of it. My Army brother and his family moved on to a Pacific assignment and my wife, son and I went south to Fort Hood. After a few years of exchanging Christmas Cards, as in the military world only close friends do, we just lost track, but I have never forgotten him.

Oh, I should also say both the military police gents were Black also, but because we left our masks on, I don’t think he ever figured it out. Being a former military cop myself, the next day I did feel a little bit bad, but he really should have asked for our ID cards.

An Interview with Gene Discipio

The Lint Center’s John Thomas Wiseman interviews Gene Discipio.

John Thomas Wiseman: How would you define National Security and in what capacity have you been involved with United States National Security? How did you get involved?
Gene Discipio: National Security is the concept and the primary responsibility of the Federal Government to protect our physical state and people usually against foreign problems by whatever means possible, including military action, diplomacy and economic sanctions. I’ve been involved with National Security through my work as a Government employee in the Intelligence Community and now as a systems engineer with the MITRE Corporation working with various US Government agencies. I was hired by the CIA as an imagery analyst (now called a geospatial analyst). I held this position from November 1996 to January 2008. I’ve been at the MITRE Corporation since January 2008.

JTW: What is one of the more memorable or impactful experiences during your National Security Career?
GD: I authored several reports that were read by the Vice-President and Secretary of Defense.

JTW: Was there a particularly funny or comedic experience?
GD: There were no specific events that I would consider particularly funny, but I along with my co-workers, would always try to have fun at our jobs in the course of a normal workday.

JTW: What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from your NS time?
GD: Be patient and verify everything. The answer to the problem you are working may take longer to find than you anticipated. Along with the quality assurance mechanisms that are in place, always coordinate your work with as many people as possible and solicit feedback.

JTW: What was one of the most difficult experiences you faced during your NS time?
GD: The only thing that I would say was difficult would be working nights, weekends and holidays at various times throughout my career.

JTW: What advice would you give new personnel thinking about starting a career in National Security?
GD: Research the agency that you would like to work for and study the area that they would be most interested in.

Lint Center Announces Virtual Archive for National Security (LC-VANS)

Lint Center Announces Virtual Archive for National Security (LC-VANS)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE         7/29/2016

The Lint Center for National Security Studies, a non-profit organization focused on supporting

the next generation of America’s National Security professionals through scholarship and

mentoring opportunities, today is pleased to announce the launch of its new Virtual Archive for

National Security.

 

It was only nine years after the devastation at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and no one believed that a

surprise attack could happen to U.S. forces ever again. But it did,” observed James R. Lint,

Founder and CEO of the Lint Center for National Security Studies. “The surprise attack by

communist forces from the North in Korea, sparking the Korean War, changed American

national security assessments, as it helped to crystalize the implications of strategic surprise in

geopolitics as well as to American security interests globally.”

 

The Lint Center Virtual Archive for National Security (LC-VANS) strives to voice, catalog, and

document the experiences of veterans, contractors, and civilian workers involved in major

pivotal points in U.S. national security and international affairs. By providing a resource to

students, historians and observers alike the Lint Center seeks to provide the information and

historical record necessary to ensure that pivotal mistakes are not repeated and so that America

does not see the vulnerability of biases enabling strategic surprises perpetuated.

 

The Lint Center for National Security Studies desires to preserve the histories of individuals who

actively shaped and developed the history of the National Security of the United States as it

presently stands.

 

Your experience as a veteran, contractor, or civil service member is essential to help others

understand how enemies can see the possibility to advance due to recent drawbacks, especially in

an early period of an emerging war.

 

“Being in the national security career field is not an easy profession,” Lint adds. “No one hears

about the minor successes, but everyone knows mistakes can be costly. We can now learn from

our mistakes, in order to confront similar situations where enemies may see a window of

vulnerability.”

 

LC-VANS allows you to submit your story in two ways as we collect and receive content in

these primary ways.

Submissions from the community about an interesting topic via the Contact Form.

Personal story submissions or interviews via Submit Your Story Form.

This press release was prepared by Lint Center volunteer, Stephanie Balepogi.

 

About the Lint Center:

The Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc., founded in 2007, is a non-profit IRS 501 (c)

(3) organization awards award merit-based scholarships and mentoring programs for students

pursuing careers in national service with a particular focus on counterintelligence, military

intelligence, national security and cross-cultural studies. The Center is Veteran and minority

operated and managed. It awards scholarships semi-annually in both January and July. For more

information, please visit http://www.lintcenter.org/.

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