By Fort Sill Tribune staffNovember 8, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 8, 2018) -- The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War continues.
This article highlights the 50-year federal career of Ray Jude, Installation Traffic manager at the Fort Sill Logistics Readiness Center's Transportation Division. His federal service of 27 years active-duty Army, included two tours in Vietnam as a young infantryman; and 23 years civil service as a Department of the Army civilian.
He reflected on his service which began immediately after graduating early from Independence (Kan.) High School near Wichita in 1967.
"I always thought I would graduate from high school and go into some 8-to-5 job at the Standard Oil refining business (like his step-father) or Boeing aircraft, and probably would have stayed in Kansas," said Jude, who is 68 years old. "Fortunately, as it turns out, the government had other plans for me."
In 1967, nearly 500,000 American troops served in South Vietnam, according to the presidential proclamation commemorating the war.
"We were seeing all kinds of things on TV: people dying, casualties, and people wounded," he said. "Reality set in and I realized I could be injured or killed. It's a frightening thing."
Jude's parents did not want him to go into the military, but with the draft there wasn't much choice, he said.
"As it played out, and like most parents today, they were very patriotic and proud of that," he said.
Jude reported to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in March 1967, for basic combat training. He said he found it surprisingly easy.
"When I was in basic training, I thought this is a piece of cake," Jude said. "You get up when told, you do what you're told. It was not difficult."
The physical training came easy, too.
"I grew up in a rural area and hauled hay in the summers, worked on farms building fences, we hunted and fished," he said. He was also in good shape from playing football (linebacker) every year in high school. And, the Missouri climate was similar to Kansas.
After graduating from BCT in May 1967, Jude attended advanced individual training in infantry at Fort Polk, La.
"Most of the young guys coming in at the time became infantry Soldiers because that's what was mainly needed in the war zone," he said. "I was initially an 11-Bravo, which is a rifleman, then later an 11-Foxtrot forward observer, or scout."
Jude described the two-month AIT as fun. They trained using the M14 rifle. Fort Polk was hot and humid during the summer of his training. He didn't know it at the time, but the weather would acclimate him for his next assignment.
Jude said he recalled his first sergeant telling his AIT class that their transfer orders had been posted on the community bulletin board. The trainees ran over to find out where their next duty station would be.
"There was one order with every one of our names listed on it," he said. "We were going to report to Oakland, California, and going to APO 96-something -- which was Vietnam."
In Vietnam in September 1967, Jude, then 18, said he and all of his AIT classmates were assigned to a replacement company and reported to different units throughout Vietnam to begin their one-year tours. Today, Soldiers deploy as a unit so you pretty much know the man and woman to your right and left, he said.
Jude went to 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry at Quang Tri in the demilitarized zone. "I was fortunate some of the older people took me under their wings, kept me alive, and trained me."
When not on search-and-destroy missions, the Soldiers at the firebase would clean their weapons and prepare for their next mission, he said.
"At times we rode in Hueys and Chinooks (helicopters) to a landing zone, other times we walked straight out of the firebases," he said.
Typically, Soldiers carried 10 magazines of ammunition on a bandolier for their M16 rifles, he said.
"It was your load and if you wanted to carry more ammunition and less rations you could," he said. "You decided. No one said you had to carry X amount of anything."
Only the senior NCOs and officers additionally carried .45 pistols. Others in the squad (11 Soldiers) or platoon (25 Soldiers) would also carry combat shotguns, and M60 machine guns.
They did have flak jackets available, but they only protected the wearer from shrapnel and would not prevent a bullet from penetrating, he said.
"We wore them at times, but it was hot, humid, and that was more of a load to carry," he said. "Looking back, we probably didn't wear them as much as we should have."
Jude said he believed the height of the Vietnam War was between 1965 and 1968, not so much the Tet Offensive, which was in early 1968.
"We started using air mobility to engage the enemy, where before we pretty much waited for them to attack us," he said.
Jude saw heavy combat.
"I was involved in some engagements that were pretty gruesome, and a lot of my good comrades were wounded, and some were killed," he said. "Not good memories.
"There were three ways you came back from Vietnam: You completed your tour, you came back in a body bag, or you came back wounded," he said.
"I consider myself very, very fortunate," he said, "and sometimes feel a little guilty for surviving, if that makes any sense."
BACK IN AMERICA
Jude said that for Soldiers returning from Vietnam there was no reintegration programs back into America. He remembered walking through airports in his uniform with people avoiding him, and hearing whispers and grumbling as he passed.
"It was an unpopular war, and we were not treated with respect," he said.
His Army journey continued on to Fort Ord, Calif., where Sgt. Jude, then 19, went on to become a drill sergeant.
"It was not unusual to have drill sergeants who were 20 years old because we were combat veterans and really knew what was going on," he said.
Drill sergeant training was three weeks long at Fort Ord, and nothing like the Drill Sergeant Academy today at Fort Jackson, S.C., he said.
"It was an orientation into marching, about marksmanship, and taking care of Soldiers in combat," he said. "For the time it accomplished what we needed."
The drill sergeants understood the importance of their jobs, he said.
"Our biggest things were to let the trainees know that this is a very serious business, it's for real, and you're going somewhere you can get killed, but we're going to give you the tools, as best we can, to survive," he said.
Jude remembered that the Fort Ord area was not military-friendly, and almost daily protesters would be outside the post gates.
During a temporary training assignment at the Jungle Warfare School in Panama, Jude would meet his future wife, Bertha. She was an American citizen, whose father worked for the FAA in Panama. They would later marry in the Golden Church in Panama City, and subsequently have two children.
At Fort Ord, his two-year enlistment was about to end, and Jude said he was pretty sure he would leave the Army.
"I worked for a very good sergeant first class, his name was James Long," Jude said. He told me that he thought a lot of me as a Soldier, and that I could have a good career in the military.
"I had been pretty successful, and to be honest it was kind of exciting and I liked it as a young man," he said.
Still, Jude was seriously thinking of getting out and going back to Wichita to work for a company like Boeing.
He took Long's advice to take 30 days leave to check out the employment opportunities, and then decide about his Army future upon his return.
"I went home and found out a lot of Soldiers were getting out, and the job market wasn't very good," he said.
Jude returned from leave, sat down with Long and decided to re-enlist for three years.
The Judes' next assignment was in Kaiserslautern, Germany, during the Cold War. Jude was assigned to a security unit at a maintenance complex.
The U.S. Army had a lot of pre-positioned equipment in Germany, and Soldiers maintained the equipment so it was ready to use if necessary, he said.
That assignment lasted 10 months. Then Staff Sgt. Jude returned to Vietnam in 1970 for his second tour.
SECOND TOUR IN VIETNAM
He was assigned to the 101st Airborne at Camp Eagle. One of his responsibilities was running convoy security using gun trucks for the 523rd Transportation Company.
Here, five-ton, up-armored tactical vehicles with four M60 machine guns provided convoy escorts.
"The job of the gun truck was to engage the enemy if the convoy was attacked, and go directly at them," he said. "Those were some of my most memorable times."
Jude contrasted his two tours in Vietnam, which he described as "different times and different worlds."
For his first tour he described himself as a young, confused private, but for his second tour he was a seasoned NCO.
"I would say I had a somewhat easier job my second tour because I was riding in a truck most of the time," he said.
The war had changed, too.
"The (presidential) administration was starting to pull Soldiers out of Vietnam," he said. "The North Vietnamese wanted that, so there wasn't nearly as much contact with the enemy."
Jude's next assignment was at Fort Dix, N.J., where he was an AIT instructor for Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade.
"We trained AIT Soldiers in transportation, and that was my indoctrination into transportation," he said. That's where Jude picked up the transportation MOS.
After a couple years at Fort Dix, the Jude's next assignment was supposed to be at Fort Riley, Kan. However, while visiting in Oklahoma City, Jude stopped by the military personnel office at Fort Sill and was able to get diversion orders here.
"My wife and I talked about it. I had mixed emotions because I wanted to get back to Kansas, but I had a good friend in Oklahoma City," Jude said.
That was 1974, and Jude became a drill sergeant at the Artillery Training Center, or ATC, here.
"I worked for Sgt. Maj. E.J. Ardoin; and Artie Geter and Tim Eldridge, who would later become sergeants major," Jude said.
By now the Vietnam War and the draft had ended. Jude compared the conscripted Army to the all-volunteer force.
"Number one, all Soldiers are patriotic; it's a noble calling," he said. "Many of the draft Soldiers didn't want to be there. It wasn't nearly as professional an Army as you have with an all-volunteer force. I don't think there's any comparison."
Today's service members are more educated and motivated, which makes for a much better military, he said.
Immediately after Vietnam, there was a void in enlisted leadership, Jude said.
"We had a tremendous turnover of our senior noncommissioned officers, of our leadership, so really what we had was referred to as a hollow Army," he said. "You had either the privates, or the Officer Corps. You didn't have a professional Noncommissioned Officer Corps because most of them had got out after the war, or they had been killed in Vietnam."
It took several years to recover; part of that came through the great leadership of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams Jr., and Gen. William Richardson, Training and Doctrine Command commander, and a lot of great noncommissioned officers, he said.
After about two years at the ATC here, Jude said he again re-enlisted, and went to Panama. "My wife was happy to go back."
In Panama, Jude was assigned to Fort Clayton, but worked as a platoon sergeant for the 475th Transportation Company at Corozal.
There were some conflicts and disagreements over the Panama Canal treaty at the time, Jude recalled. But he described it as a good tour as his family was able to travel all over South America.
RETURN TO SILL
Three years later in 1978, the Judes returned to Fort Sill. Jude worked at what today would be called the garrison.
"My job there was to run part of the transportation motor pool, and I worked for Master Sgt. Bill Rakes, who is still around here today," Jude said. "I made some lasting relationships there with a lot of people who I still see."
After three years here, then-Sgt. 1st Class Jude performed an unaccompanied tour at Camp Humphreys, Korea, where he was promoted to first sergeant.
"I loved being a first sergeant. It's the best job I had in the Army," Jude said. "You have a direct impact on people's lives every day, you see the good things that Soldiers and their families do and you're involved with them."
Jude then returned to Fort Sill to the Field Artillery Board, which is now the Fire Support Test Directorate.
"We tested all future weapons for the field artillery," said Jude, who served there from 1984-89, as its first sergeant.
In 1989, Jude was on the E-9 promotion list and attended the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. While there he completed his bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Texas-El Paso.
After graduating from the academy's Class No. 33, Jude returned to where his Army career had begun -- Fort Leonard Wood, and was promoted to sergeant major.
He was the chief instructor and the command sergeant major for the 58th Transportation Battalion. The first Gulf War had broken out and Jude ensured his instructors were preparing the trainees for the war.
"I relayed that to my drill sergeants, and my training Soldiers that you've got to do a good job preparing them for what they're going to face," Jude said.
During this tour Jude also performed temporary duty at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Bragg, N.C., for drug interdiction missions.
Jude stayed in the position at Fort Leonard Wood until he retired from active duty March 31, 1994.
After his Army retirement, the Judes returned to the Lawton-Fort Sill community because they liked it here.
Jude quickly found work as a contractor at the garrison transportation motor pool. After about 16 months, a civil service position opened in the unit movement section. Jude applied and was selected for the General Schedule 7 position.
After several years in the job, he applied for a similar GS-9 position at the Directorate of Logistics, now the Logistics Readiness Center.
After 9/11 happened there were many changes in federal civilian employment, he said. "The traffic manager here retired, and I applied and was selected. It was a GS-11 position and a couple years later was upgraded to GS-12 (his current position).
"The best part of my job is the satisfaction from seeing that Soldiers and families are taken care of on a daily basis, whether it's getting arrangements to move, or assisting them when they come in here," Jude said. "We also take care of the Marines, and anyone here (including DA civilians) who is authorized government travel.
"The most challenging part of my job is to ensure that the Forces Command units assigned to Fort Sill are as prepared as possible for deployment," he said. "That's getting their equipment from here to port, or loading them on airplanes. That's the most challenging because sometimes it can be very short notice."
Jude said his civil service career has had its ups and downs, but that he enjoys the work.
"This job could be very difficult to do on a daily basis, but I work with a lot of wonderful people who make this job awful easy," said Jude. "Anyone in a leadership position should know that it is really the people who work for you that make you successful."
Jude said he plans to work until a little longer.
"It's been a good ride, I've met some wonderful people, I don't think I would have changed anything," said Jude of his federal career.