This was originally published May 10th, 2017 in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri.
This article is about my experience with Generals.
In December 1972, I was a Staff Sergeant (SSG) E6, in the 82nd Airborne Division, and I received a call from a Sergeant First Class that I only knew by name. He was the NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) (Sergeant) in the Command Section of the 82nd Airborne Division. He ask me to come to his office. I did, he was offering me his job, he had been in it two years, he was burned out and wanted to move. He told me about the normal 12 hour days, sometimes six days a week, sometimes seven days a week, and the stress of trying to keep a Colonel and three Generals happy. I told him “You’ve got to be kidding”, I didn’t want to do that. The next day my Colonel called me to his office and said; “I guess I should have talked to you before you went up there, I would really like you to take that job.” In other words, I had been picked.
The Division Headquarters, at that time, was in a building, built to be a barracks, so the Command Section was built into an area intended to be a 40 man platoon bay (living area), on the third floor. The swinging doors to the “platoon bay” remained, my office area was on the right and the first encountered, which made me the receptionist. Two stenographers sat behind me, and my immediate boss was to my right. He was a Major who’s title was (and is) the Secretary of the General Staff (SGS). A door behind the Major’s desk opened into the office of the Division Chief of Staff, a full Colonel, and a door behind the Colonel’s desk opened into the Commanding Generals’ (CG) office. There was a hallway from the swinging doors back to the CG’s office, with a door from the hallway into the Chief of Staff’s office. Across the hall, immediately inside the swinging doors was the Division Sergeant Major’s office, then an open area shared by the three a Captain and two First Lieutenants (Generals Aides), the three drivers and another SSG who was the Command Section Operations Sergeant in the field, he made sure that field equipment was setup and ready in the field. Then each of the two Brigadier General (BG), Assistant Division Commanders (ADC) had their own offices. One was ADC-Operations, and the other ADC-Support.
Major General (MG) (2 stars) Frederick J Kroesen was the Division Commander, BG (1 star) Calvin P Benedict was the ADC-Operations, and BG James A Herbert was the ADC-Support, Colonel Volney F Warner was the Division Chief of Staff, and Command Sergeant Major (CSM) George Ketchum was the Division Sergeant Major. CSM Ketchum developed some health issues, and retired. CSM John Pearce replaced him. This was CSM Pearce’s second tour as the Division CSM (the only man ever to do that), he had a reputation of being loud and in your face, he was loud, he told me to come and push his door shut if he got too loud. John Pearce was a Marine in WWII, he was so impressed by the 82nd Airborne Division, that when he was discharged he immediately enlisted in the Army, for the 82nd. He was very proud of having spent 21 years in a Rifle Company, 15 years as a First Sergeant, and 11 years in the same company. We were always receiving telephone calls from ex paratroopers wanting to talk to their old First Sergeant. He loved the Army, he loved soldiers, and he loved the 82nd Airborne Division, minus a couple trips to Korea and Vietnam, he spent almost his entire career of 32 years in the 82nd. I saw him viciously chew out Sergeant Majors, who he thought weren’t doing their job, and I saw him intervene for young soldiers, who he thought needed help.
MG Kroesen, was a tall, quiet man, who did not like personal attention drawn to himself. He quit school after three years at Rutgers and joined the Army, when WWII broke out. He made Sergeant, went to Officer Candidate School, and was a Captain by the end of WWII. He was the last commander of the Americal Division in Vietnam, when it was deactivated in November 1971, he then took command of the 82nd, so he had been the CG for about a year when I took the job. I don’t think there was a pretentious bone in his body. The staff would draft letters for him and include the phrase “my division”, he would change it to “the division” and include a side note, “I don’t own it, I’m just assigned here like you”. As I became close to him I discovered a light hearted sense of humor, he looked everybody in the eye and treated every soldier with the same personal respect, regardless of rank.
I became closer to Col Volney Warner, than the others. Col Warner’s job prior to being assigned as Chief of Staff of the 82nd was executive officer to the Chief of Staff of the Army. He had been considered for Brigadier General three times, they only get four looks, so he assumed that he had stepped on some toes in his previous job. He bought a house at Top Sail Island, North Carolina and came to Fort Bragg to retire. He was also a down to earth, non-pretentious, great, and brilliant man. I saw him come in from PT and immediately get a briefing on a new technology. He listened while in shorts and T shirt, wiping sweat off with a towel, and ask four or five pointed questions that sent the G2 (intelligence) people back to days of research. One time he asked me to take his wife to town to pick up their car, which was in for service. When I picked her up she had a terrible cold, she was really sick. I told her to go to the Division Clinic, she said she didn’t have an appointment, I told her to go anyway, that I would call them. I called the Division Surgeon (a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of all the medical people), who was in our office about every day, of course he said send her. When I told Col Warner, he didn’t like having jumped ahead of other people. I said; “I know you don’t sir, but she is sick and I did it.” He never said anymore about it. In early 1973 the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota revolted, they had all kinds of problems, they barricaded themselves in at Wounded Knee, the FBI arrived, an FBI agent was shot and a couple Indians killed. Hollywood got involved, and it became a national incident. The FBI requested 2,000 army troops to over run the place. Col Volney Warner was from South Dakota, and he was personal friends with Alexander M Haig, who was White House Chief of Staff. So he was sent to Wounded Knee, in civilian clothes, as the senior government representative. Everybody was to take their orders from him. He was credited with keeping the FBI and the Indians from killing any more people, defusing the situation, and convincing the Indians to lay down their guns and start negotiating. When the new Brigadier Generals’ list was released in June 1973, Volney Warner’s promotion orders came with it. He then became the ADC-Operations.
There were six full Colonels in the 82nd then, Col Warner and four of the other five were also on the list for promotion to Brigadier General. Volney Warner and two of the others, Roscoe Robinson, and James Lindsay, all retired as full four star Generals, as did Frederick Kroesen. I knew them all, up close and personal and they were simply great common people who loved what they doing and they loved being with the troops. When BG Volney Warner left the 82nd for his next assignment, he wrote the Chief of General Officers Branch at Army Headquarters. He said; “I don’t know what my future holds, I’ll accept whatever you have for me, but I would crawl through a mile of ground glass to get back here. These are the finest troops in the world, they will do anything you ask of them.” He did return to Fort Bragg as a 3 star commanding the 18th Airborne Corps, the higher headquarters of the 82nd. I talked to him just before he retired, he was Commander of the Readiness Command, which became Central Command. He said the further you get from the troops the more BS you have to put up with. At 91, he is still operating Volney Warner Consulting in McLean, Virginia. At the age of 94, Frederick Kroesen, is also still working, active in three organizations.
With one exception, which I have not, and will not name, all the General Officers I knew, including those who became generals did not consider themselves better than any soldier. A soldier is a soldier. Big generals grow from little second lieutenants, so they all have been where the troops are. They were great personable people who cared about their job, and they cared about the troops. Generals supervise/lead Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels, they encourage, mentor, pass on their experience and knowledge and allow the Colonels the freedom to do their jobs. It pained them to have to discipline Colonels. I saw two Lieutenant Colonel Battalion Commanders relieved of duty (fired). One was a training accident, involving mortars and a soldier was killed, an investigation revealed that all safety precautions had not been followed. Whoever failed to do their job, it was the Battalion Commander’s job to check, for it is his ultimate responsibility. The other was the result of a surprise maintenance inspection. Those inspections were constantly being conducted by a team from the Division G4. Maintenance records and procedures, as well as vehicles and equipment were checked. I was present when the Chief Warrant Officer, in charge of the team reported to the Assistant Division Commander for Support, because as soon as the G4 reported that a battalion had failed an inspection, it went straight to the General. The Chief said; Sir, it’s not that their system wasn’t in order, their stuff is sitting in the motor pool rusty, and hasn’t been touched in weeks.” The Battalion Commander and the Major, Battalion Executive Officer, who was responsible for maintenance, were both fired. When an officer is relieved of duty he might as well start working on his resume, because he will not go any further in the Army.
I’m sure that there are others who has not had the same experience with Generals. But that was the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army has always tried to keep the 82nd staffed with its’ best officers, because if somewhere in the world explodes, it’s the 82nd that goes to put out the fire.
General John W “Mick” Nicholson, Jr, the current commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan, recently commanded the 82nd. He also has more time and experience in Afghanistan than any other Army General. General Curtis Michael “Mike” Scaparroti, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, also commanded the 82nd Airborne Division. There are many three and four star generals throughout the Army who have had multiple tours in the 82nd Airborne Division.
This was originally published May 10th, 2017 in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri.