Fort Bliss, Texas - 1969 was the year Richard Nixon was inaugurated as President, Sesame Street debuted on television, "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies was Billboard's number one song and America was at war in Vietnam. That same year an 18 year-old from Oregon enlisted in the U.S. Army.
"I volunteered, there are no draftees in my family, because I couldn't get a decent job," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Rogers, 5th Armored Brigade, who recently retired after serving almost seven years in the brigade as an observer-controller/trainer. "Every time I'd go someplace and apply for a decent job, they'd say 'no, by the time we get you trained, you'd be drafted'."
Rogers enlisted as an 11B, infantryman, and went to Fort Lewis, Wash. for basic and advanced individual training. Then he was off to Vietnam for a one-year tour with the 4th Infantry Division.
After returning from Vietnam, he went back to Fort Lewis and became a drill sergeant.
"I loved it," added Rogers. "I thought it was great, but then they closed that training center, so I became the colonel's driver until I got out."
He got out of the Army in 1972 as a result of the war ending and the ensuing drawdown. He opened his own business back home in Oregon, an auto repair shop, but he got bored with that and re-joined the National Guard in 1997.
"I saw an opportunity in the paper that said 'prior service welcome,' " he added, "so I grabbed my briefcase and walked into the recruiter's office. He looked at me and said 'Can I help you'' I said 'yea, I'd like to join, but I don't want to go back to basic training. I'm 46 and I'm not going to compete with 18 and 19 year olds.' He looked at my paper work and said, 'no more 'basic' for you, let's put you in boots,' and here I am."
As a military policeman in 2003, he was part of the initial push into Baghdad; his platoon followed the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. As he flew to Iraq in 2003 with the Colorado National Guard, when worried junior Soldiers approached him on the flight and asked what war would be like, he told them that when the bullets start flying, you are going to rely on the training you receive and go from there.
"As a drill sergeant in '71, it was your responsibility to get [Soldiers] to the training site and turn them over to the trainers," said Rogers. "The caliber of training today is a lot better than it was, because people are paying attention. They're more concerned about getting the Soldier back alive [today] than getting the Soldier over there [then]."
Even though Vietnam and our current conflicts are over thirty years apart, lessons learned from that era can be applied today.
"I knew what these Soldiers needed, I knew what training they needed, what was important and I made them focus on that," he said. "Some [missions] they can get away with sending 95 percent [of required headcount], other [missions] you had better send 100 percent because this is going to keep you alive."
As he trained to go to Vietnam; the training he received was the same Soldiers received in World War II and Korea; but it's different today, with rapidly evolving training plans.
"Now they're training you for this war, to [go to] a desert environment; that's where you are going," he added, comparing training environments now to preparation for Viet Nam. "Fort Lewis is not a jungle environment and everybody should have gone to Fort Polk [then]."
During Vietnam, it could take up to three weeks for enemy tactics and techniques reports to get back to the states, and not until six months to a year later would the Army change training methods, according to Rogers.
Rogers applauded the methods used to carry current combat knowledge and enemy techniques back from theater to the training lanes here at the 5th Armored Brigade.
"The Operation Warrior Trainer program is great, because these guys just came out of country and then they're in training," he said. "They know what is going on, they've seen it, know how to deal with it on a daily basis and they are willing to teach it to Soldiers going over there for the first time."
He went on to say the training today is far superior than it was in 1969.
Reflecting back on his personal military career over the past 42 years, he would not have changed one thing.
"No, I would have done it all again, I've got no regrets. I would have stayed in or figured out how to stay in when I was 22. No, no regrets," he said.
His father, a 30 year Soldier, inspired him to enlist and the Rogers family will keep serving our country as his grandson looks to enlist in the Marine Corps.

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16