By Jason B. Cutshaw, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public AffairsNovember 5, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- With a sense of duty lasting more than 41 years, one U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command team member continues a life of service.
Originally from Winder, Ga., Samuel A. Bertling, a management and program analyst in the USASMDC/ARSTRAT Business Initiatives Office and program manager for the Staff Assistance Visit program, joined SMDC in May 2005 and remembers his time serving with Soldiers and even a "Gunfighter."
Like many of SMDC's civilian workforce, Bertling is a former Soldier. He joined the Army in May 1972 and enjoyed it so much, he stayed until he retired in June 1996. During his military career, Bertling served as an infantryman, cavalry scout, drill sergeant and first sergeant.
"I joined the Army at 17," Bertling said. "My best friend, who was 18, talked me into joining the Army. At the time, they had a program called the Army Buddy Program that guaranteed you the same (Military Occupational Specialty) basic training and first duty station together. When we reported in to Fort Campbell, Ky., they tried to split us up, assigning me to the infantry and him to the artillery. I had to pull out my contract before they would change his assignment to the infantry. After our first term of three years, I reenlisted and he decided to get out."
Over his 24-year career, Bertling trained or was stationed stateside at Fort Jackson, S.C., Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Dix, N.J.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and overseas in Germany and Korea. He earned the Expert Infantryman Badge, Combat Infantryman Badge, Drill Sergeant Identification Badge and was a recipient of a Bronze Star Medal as well as being awarded four Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals and numerous others.
Bertling said his superiors saw some leadership ability early in his career, and he had been an acting corporal in the 101st Airborne Division. Soon after arriving in South Korea, he was placed in a team leader position.
"I had always taken pride in my uniform," Bertling said. "When I was at Fort Campbell, I would break starch on my cotton fatigues and always wore spit shined boots in garrison. I won many days off for my appearance and military knowledge during our daily morning inspections and the sharpest Soldier got the day off."
One of the more colorful Soldiers Bertling served with was, then, Maj. Gen. Henry Everett "Hank" Emerson. Emerson, a retired lieutenant general, was known for his training methods as well as carrying pearl-handled revolvers in place of a regulation semi-automatic pistol, thus earning him the nickname "The Gunfighter."
"Maj. Gen. Henry Emerson, better known as "Gunfighter," believed in a reverse training cycle," Bertling said. "We would train at night and sleep during the day and during the first six weeks in country, you were required to take Tae Kwon Do three times a week. He also promoted combat type sports. Combat football and combat basketball with no rules at first, but so many people were getting injured the rules were slightly changed.
"I was able to personally meet him in 1974 after being in country for about four months," he continued. "The battalion was conducting best squad competition. Squads were required to conduct combat activities such as; set up a defense, issue operations order, movement to contact, attack an objective and reconsolidation on the objective. We were being evaluated by observer/controllers, one who was a Capt. Mark Smith, a POW in Vietnam who was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross.
Bertling said that each company was required to provide a certain amount of squads to run through the competition and his company was one short. So each platoon gave up Soldiers to make up a squad. He was appointed as the team leader, and his squad ended up winning the competition.
"We were having a battalion formation to receive our award," Bertling said. "'Gunfighter' pulled up in his staff car got out and walked directly to me. I snapped to attention and executed a sharp hand salute. He then commenced to asking me a lot of questions such as, 'What's your name and where are you from?' I remember distinctly him saying, 'You're the sharpest looking Soldier out here, and I noticed you when I got out of my car.'
"He then asked me why I wasn't a sergeant," Bertling continued. "I commented something like I haven't been in the Army long enough. He then called both the battalion and brigade commanders over to where we were standing. He asked them if they had ever met me, and of course they said 'Yes, sir!' Emerson then asks them why I wasn't a sergeant. They were like 'ugh, ugh, he will be, sir.' Emerson said, 'BS, this man should be a sergeant now.'"
Bertling said Emerson signaled for his aide and said go to the post exchange and get some sergeant stripes. The aide came back with stripes from the village as the PX had run out. Emerson pinned him and told the two commanders to ensure to make it official and Bertling was sent before the very next E-5 board.
Also, while in Korea, Bertling was assigned to 32nd Infantry Battalion during the "Hatchet Incident" of Aug. 18, 1976.
During the incident, North Korean troops attacked an American and South Korean party that had gone to trim a tree next to the "Bridge of No Return" in the Demilitarized Zone. Two American officers were beaten to death with the blunt end of axes after they ignored the North Koreans' order to stop.
"I was finishing up my two-and-a-half-year tour and was out-processing to return home," Bertling said. "The 2nd Infantry Division was put on full alert and all out-processing ceased and we prepared to go to war. Three days later, the U.S. and South Korea launched "Operation Paul Bunyan" in an operation to intimidate North Korea into backing down. We were then told to stand down and I was allowed to continue out-processing.
"We flew back to the states on a flight that required us to stop in Japan," he added. "We were all locked down in Japan waiting to re-board for the flight home. We were told that the plane had been over-fueled, and because it was too hot to attempt to remove the excess fuel, we would have to wait until after dark. Our thoughts were they are planning on sending us back to South Korean because something has gone down."
Besides the Hatchet Incident, Bertling served on the Demilitarized Zone in Korea in 1989 while again assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division. He also served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from Sept. 1990 to March 1991 as first sergeant of the Long Range Surveillance Detachment, 124th Military Intelligence Battalion, 24th Infantry Division.
Bertling recalled being visited by the incoming commanding general one time while serving with the LRSD.
"When I first took over as the first sergeant of the Long Range Surveillance Detachment we were under the control of a cavalry squadron," Bertling said. "Maj. Gen. Barry McCaffrey was assuming command of the 24th Infantry Division. We were told that he was extremely interested in LRS and wanted to visit us. He flew in on his helicopter and proceeded to talk to each team asking them what they needed to perform their mission.
"One team leader pulled out a long list of items and handed it to the general and on that list were desert uniforms and rucksack covers," he added. "These items were requested to assist the teams from being discovered in their hide sites. In less than 24 hours, I was told to report to a warehouse to pick up a shipment of items."
When talking about what he most liked about being a Soldier, Bertling said he enjoyed the camaraderie, the pride of putting on the uniform every day and serving the country, and he counted it as an honor and privilege.
"I always believed in leading from the front and never asking your Soldiers to do anything that you yourself would not do," Bertling said. "Last but not least, take care of your Soldiers and they will take care of you. As a young Soldier, I saw many situations where noncommissioned officers failed to take care of their Soldiers or lead them. I said, 'when I'm an NCO, I will do my best to never let that happen on my watch.'"
After retiring from active duty in 1996, Bertling became an Army civilian in February 1997.
"I retired from Hohenfels, Germany, and worked as a contractor for approximately eight months as a simulation analyst before taking a government job," Bertling said. "When a job opened for a central processing facility manager, I applied and was accepted for the job. Since I had been a first sergeant and also served in a command sergeant major position, I knew this would be something I would enjoy doing.
"This position allowed me the opportunity to meet and greet every Soldier assigned to Hohenfels," he added. "I loved my job. After three years, I took the same job in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2000. This job was a promotion with much greater responsibility and a larger Soldier base. I was given the responsibility of moving the 1st Armored Division from Bad Kreuznach and processing them into the Wiesbaden community."
Since becoming a civil servant, Bertling has earned a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, a Level-3 acquisition certification in business and financial management and completed the Joint Board of Examiners Training for the Army Communities of Excellence Program.
He has also received two Commander's Award for Civilian Service, a Commander's Award for Public Service, numerous Department of the Army certificates of commendation and appreciation, the Hohenfels, Germany Civilian Volunteer of the Year in 1997 and the Association of the United States Army Redstone Arsenal Chapter Volunteer Family of the Year in 2012.
"I still get to work with active and retired Soldiers," Bertling said. "I don't have as much interface with the younger Soldiers now as when I first started my civilian career, but I still enjoy what I do. I enjoy my volunteer work with the many different organizations that support our active and retired Soldiers and family members."
As he reflected on his Army career and looked forward to what his civilian career has in store, Bertling remembered those Soldiers who are still defending freedom around the world and quoted John 15:13 from the Bible, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."