FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- I met retired Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Anderson at an Association of the United States Army meeting. Like many of the other veterans I have spoken with, Anderson shared with me his unique journey.

After a long, hard day working in a warehouse in Memphis, Tenn., he stepped outside to see a beautiful blanket of snow. He realized he had been working so hard he didn't even know it had been snowing. He decided at that moment to join the Army so he could see the country. He reported for basic training at the now-closed Fort Chaffee, Ark., July 1, 1958.

In 1967, Anderson was called to serve in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, and then with HHC 199th Infantry Brigade (light). He served during the Tet Offensive in and around Bien Hoa and Saigon. After Vietnam, he was assigned as a senior drill sergeant at Fort Jackson and Fort Campbell, Ky. In 1970, he returned to Vietnam as an adviser to the Army Republic of Vietnam.

On Nov. 14, 1970, Anderson found himself patrolling in U Minh Forest as the only American among 600 ARVN soldiers. Though called a forest, the area is covered with water. In a fight that lasted 14 hours, the enemy was so close he could hear them talking.

Thinking that he would not get out of the situation alive, he called for air support to bomb his location.

His commander would not honor his request. Then something hit him in the back, knocking him unconscious. ARVN soldiers held his head above the water to keep him from drowning.

Later, he remembered his commander picking him up in a helicopter. After spending some time in an aid station, he returned to the fight. He spent the last six months of his tour teaching ARVN Marksmanship Training.

His career continued at Fort Gordon, Ga., where he served as a senior drill sergeant. He was promoted to first sergeant in early 1972, and put the first 21 female Soldiers through Military Police training. In 1975, he attended the Sergeants Major Academy (Class 5) at Fort Bliss, Texas.

After graduating, he went to Germany as a first sergeant with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment to provide security for a Pershing Missile Battalion. He later became command sergeant major of the 3rd Battalion, 84th Field Artillery (Pershing).
He moved to Fort Benning, Ga., and became command sergeant major of the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment and later served 18 months as the commander of the Noncommissioned Officer School of Infantry, which was a battalion-sized unit.

Anderson returned to Germany in 1981 and served with the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. From 1986-89, he was assigned to what was then the 2nd Basic Training Brigade at Fort Jackson. In 1989, he became the Fort Jackson command sergeant major, where he served until his retirement in 1993.

During his 34 years in the Army, he made the rank of master sergeant in just 12 years and served as a command sergeant major for more than 16.
Anderson was 55 when he retired, and was "still having fun."

Wanting to continue his service, he became the Army Junior ROTC instructor at Batesburg-Leesville High School where he taught for more than nine years. From 2006-2009, he served as president of the Fort Jackson - Palmetto State Chapter of AUSA.

His awards include the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star with Valor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Expert Infantryman Badge.

His best advice is: "Do something you enjoy, don't do it just because it is a job."

Page last updated Thu July 23rd, 2009 at 08:09