Vietnam draftee looks back on a fulfilling career
February 22, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD, Wash. - The office he works out of is in the state of someone newly-arrived, or someone about to leave. The undecorated walls, and boxes packed with personal items suggest the latter. The shelf previously adorned with coin displays and framed photos telling stories of past experiences is now wiped clean.
First Sgt. David Blow, outgoing deputy commandant for the Henry H. Lind Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has a few of his college textbooks on his desk.
He is studying to transition into the audiology field, following an Army career that began in 1969.
Blow came into an Army that was what he called "primarily a draft Army."
"People were drafted in, but if you had money or influence from people in the right places you could get out of the draft. That meant the ability to go to college, and there were different sorts of draft deferments such as if you were going to college, were married and had kids."
Blow grew up in Wichita, Kan., and before he was drafted, he was going to Wichita State University on a track scholarship. He didn't know he qualified for a draft deferment.
"I really didn't care. I went to college on a full scholarship, but when I was drafted I was ready to take my life somewhere else," Blow said. "My brief college stint was a party; I was a typical 18-year-old."
His father served as a Marine in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Blow said he didn't talk much about his service.
"That generation seldom spoke about what they did. Case in point: my wife of ten years, it was the second time I sat and talked with her dad, within 15 minutes he was talking about his experiences in Korea," said Blow. "He was a part of the 'Frozen Chosin' on the Chosin Reservoir and he survived that. But my wife, his daughter, had no idea what he did during the war. Because of that bond between combat veterans, he opened up to me. My father wouldn't open up to me because I was his kid, not a combat veteran at the time."
Blow said the term of service for most draftees was two years, and many of them became infantrymen.
"I think the ratio back then was seven-to-one; seven support personnel or other combat arms specialty for every infantryman. It's likely a lot higher now since we're more technically advanced; we have more people supporting the infantryman than we did in the past.
"Unless they did very well on their [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test], you went exactly where the Army told you. I was fortunate because I was in college at the time, did very well on the test and was offered anything I wanted."
Blow chose Special Forces.
"At that young, tender age, I wanted to be America's best, and in my opinion the Green Berets were the best."
Basic training led to jump school, followed by Special Forces training. Just before graduation from Special Forces training, Blow's class received orders that read: "Local Assignment, Fort Bragg, N.C."
"My assignment orders didn't say I was going to the 6th [Special Forces] Group or the 7th Group, so nobody knew what a local assignment meant. In the past, people were assigned to some group. Ten of us immediately terminated our status so we could go to Vietnam. I was able to go."
As it turned out, Blow's class "local assignment Fort Bragg," was the class the Army was holding to train for the Son Tay Raid on the prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam to repatriate prisoners of war.
Once his unit left Vietnam, Blow went back to Special Forces and served on an Operational Detachment Alpha, or "A" team, which are usually small 12-man units. He extended six months and spent the rest of his time in Vietnam with 1st Special Forces group doing cross-border operations into Laos and Cambodia.
He and another American soldier led a 10-man hunter-killer team of Montagnard tribesman, working out of Kontum in the Central Highlands. Their team caused problems for the North Vietnamese regular army along the Ho Chi Minh trail. The team operated as "LRRPs" long-range reconnaissance patrols.
Blow served his first term with the Army from 1969 to the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in 1973.
Job opportunities were difficult during the oil embargo that began October 1973, so Blow served again from the end of that year until 1981 as an infantry soldier; his last few years he worked as a post nightclub manager, both in Korea and at Fort Lewis.
He then left the Army to work in the restaurant industry for a while before going back to college.
"I studied marketing and sales and went into the mortgage industry, I worked as a mortgage loan officer," Blow said.
After a long break from military service, a friend talked him back into military service in 1995.
"It was my neighbor, who was a full-time National Guardsman. He and I became friends, and he convinced me that being a traditional National Guardsman was the way to go. I love the Army - I always did; except during peacetime. I figured I'll try the Guard, give that a shot," Blow said.
"Also what drew me in was I heard that National Guardsmen could volunteer to go to various places all over the world. It wasn't quite so 'locked-in' like the [Regular] Army is, where typically you'll be told where you're going to go."
He volunteered to go to the Balkans, seeing Macedonia and Kosovo for eight months.
"I volunteered to go to Afghanistan, but ended up in Iraq where I served 18 months. I was able to get to Afghanistan three months after returning from Iraq," Blow said.
Blow is coming up on terminal leave, coming into the JBLM NCO Academy as needed to help his successor, 1st Sgt. Kevin Staddie with transition into the role.
"He brought his knowledge and experiences of about four generations of soldiering and being an NCO to the Academy," Staddie said of his predecessor. "He was able to bring firsthand knowledge of changes that have occurred to the NCO Corps and soldiers since he first enlisted in approximately 1968. He was extremely easy to talk to and loved to pass his experiences on to junior leaders."
Even at age 61, Blow maintained his physical fitness and took regularly scheduled Army Physical Fitness Tests with the cadre during his time with the NCO Academy.
"He epitomized what right looked and acted like. No matter how bad things may get or how high the stress level, was he always had a smile on his face and enjoyed every minute of his time spent serving the people of this nation," Staddie said.
Blow has been married to his current wife, Diane, for 10 years.
"We were married shortly after 9/11 and I had warned her that I was a career soldier ... and that's the reason why she is wife number four, because of my commitment to the Army," Blow said.
Blow describes her as his "internet babe."
"She works in the information technology department for a lab at Valley Medical Center. Diane said if the Army is what makes me happy, it's what I should be doing," Blow said. "She's stronger than previous wives who couldn't handle one deployment."
As Blow prepares for retirement, he reflected on the most fulfilling things about being a soldier.
"Other than being able to be a part of the vanguard, protecting the American people, protecting our way of life, it was for somebody else - Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, it was for somebody else," Blow said.
"Afghanistan, in my generation, is the only war we've fought where we're actually fighting somebody who was attacking us," Blow said.
"The ability to be part of the protection of Americans has been a satisfying thing for me that goes without saying. Other than that, the most satisfying and fulfilling thing for me was seeing the growth of young men and women; seeing them become mature adults and soldiers, and better people for it."