FORT KNOX, Ky. — Robert Bousum knows his way around armored tanks; he’s been in and on and under them for over five decades.
Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Illinois, Bousum got his first taste of tank life after being drafted into the Army in 1970. He didn’t enter as a tanker. He entered as a truck driver.
“They sent me to Fort Polk (now Fort Johnson) for truck driving school,” said Bousum. “I got to Germany, they said, ‘No. You’re going to be on tanks. Don’t ask a lot of questions, just learn your job on the tanks.’
“Never drove a truck again – stayed on tanks 23 years.”
Bousum didn’t get to Fort Knox until years later when he got out of the Army for four years, and then came back in and was sent through Advanced Individual Training at the Armored School.
“I didn’t have the identifier,” said Bousum. “I told the recruiter, ‘If I don’t get in tanks, I’m not going.’ He goes, ‘We got something for you.’ So, I came in and stayed.”
He said the Armored Force was a big draw during his time in the Army.
“I loved the power behind a tank, the gunnery, the teamwork – you gotta have teamwork on these to keep them running,” said Bousum. “You gotta have a good team.”
After he retired from the Army, he couldn’t see himself anywhere else than at the home of Armor – Fort Knox.
“When I got out, the contractor here was hiring painters for tanks,” said Bousum. “When the tanks were here, we would sometimes paint three tanks a day.”
Then on June 13, 2011, the final colors belonging to Armored School units were rolled up and the tanks were railed to Fort Benning, Georgia.
“It kind of hurt us bad,” said Bousum. “I retired here because I figured Fort Knox is my post. So when they took the tanks away it was kind of a sad moment.”
These days, Bousum still works on tanks, although in a very different way than he did when tanks could be seen rolling all around post. Now, he paints the ones on display. He’s still painting them and said he is proud to do so until he retires again.
And he plans to retire again, soon.
“My wife’s begging me, ‘Yeah, go ahead and retire. You need to do it,’” said Bousum. “She’s 78 and I’m 72, so we need to spend a little bit of time together before I retire again.”
As for what tanks have meant to him over the years —
“Awesome firepower, and a very nice career,” said Bousum. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”