Iraq and Vietnam: The lessons unlearned

Recently an article of mine appeared in an on line Periodical Lime Charlie News. I am quite proud of the article because I did a lot  of research on it  and it helped me recall many incidents and vignettes of my tour there  in 65-66 with the 8/6st 155/8″ Artillery Battalion. Up to now I stayed away from the Vietnam war because it has become so politicized as has the Iraqi ( Iraqi Freedom) war. The article is at:

vn me 5 with new junf gle fatigues

with newly issued jungle fatigues. really cool

It is amazing and disheartening to realize we, particularly our military leadership,  learned almost nothing  from our Vietnam experience to apply in Iraq. There is something intrinsically wrong with the leadership we produce in the army. As i look back on 28 years of service i think i can identify maybe three of my commanders that i truly admired.  Some others were good guys but generally ineffective, One was a psychopath who hid when inspectors or senior officers came  to visit the unit,  one just went through motions of command, hoping that nothing drastic happen on his watch.

vnfiremission 155 howitzers

fire mission

After my year in Vietnam with the 8th 6st artillery, a unit of the big  red one, 1st Infantry division, I left a first-rate professional outfit, despite our commander being a bit loony, and after 5 years in the middle East I returned to the same division and it was a mess.  It s heartbreaking ….Dope , AWOLS, racial problems, were ubiquitous. Vietnam destroyed the army and it took many years to get it back to fighting trim. In  the Carter years, our army could not have fought its way out of a wet paper bag. Out of our 18 -155 howitzers, we could, on a good day, get maybe 6 out of the motor pool for training. One of  our prime movers had a bird nest in the exhaust and the eggs were able to hatch and eventually fly away.Generals lied about the readiness  of the army and we all took their  examples and kept the lies rolling down hill.

vn dead vc

Our mission: Kill the Viet Cong. and we did. lots of them but it did not matter

Our commanding general made it clear that if a battalion went beyond a certain number of AWOLS the commander would be sacked. In one case a battalion did not report a soldier  awol for weeks and the soldier was found dead in a ditch weeks later, obviously having there for weeks.

As in McMasters book, Dereliction of Duty, civilian leadership lied,  high government  officials lied,  Carter was in lala lala land,  As everyone tried to forget Vietnam, and refocus on the Warsaw pact forces, General De Puy came up with the “active defense” strategy,  the motto being “we can fight outnumbered and win” Most of us folks in the foxholes found that to be a  phony morale builder, to cater to politicians who knew nothing about the requirements of a professional army, believing you could maintain an army on the cheap, De Puy modeled it on the Israeli victories in the 1973 war. The problem was that at the point of contact the Israelis with imaginative and agile leadership managed to have equal or superior forces on hand.  From WWII  and the disasters at Hurtgen forest, to task force Smith, in Korea, to the dozens of useless search and destroy missions in Vietnam, to the war in Iraq, to the present, our senior leadership, with some notable exceptions, has never demonstrated the ability to conduct truly agile and innovative operations.

With my artillery battalion 1-16th in Germany

watching my unit 1/16th Artillery roll into position  Grafenwoehr Germany . A beautiful sight


Nor do they fight to keep the idiotic social engineering experiments out of the training schedules. Our propensity to waste soldiers lives in straight ahead frontal attacks and grand sweeping  operations in Vietnam is truly maddening. One might mention Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom as exceptions. Possibly, but the third-rate Iraqi forces, ineptly led, manned by soldiers who were poorly trained with no stomach for dying to maintain Saddam in power, were not a good opponent to measure the capability of our army.  Sometimes I had wished that our peripatetic generals, who always seem to be getting in or out of helicopters would be like General Montgomery before the battle of El Alamein.. He passed out orders to his commanders and went to bed. What a novel idea, Think an American commander could do that…you mean trust his subordinates??? ,,you gotta be kidding me.

iz me at psops compound

Psyops compound in the Green zone Iraq Mentoring!!

Perhaps my assessment is too pessimistic. If so, it needs to be because we always seem to go into war with an  overweening optimism and hubris. And that has inevitably spelled disaster.















About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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