James (Jim) E. Wright, Jr.
My paver acknowledges the exceptional and courageous men and women who subsidized my career with their superb performance and selfless service. The US Army offered education, training and experience that would not have otherwise been available. The disciplined and institutional environment was somewhat familiar and did not come as a surprise or shock as it did for many others. I served in the US Army during the period from 1960 to 1987. I started my career as a private in the enlisted ranks and was promoted to Sergeant in the non-commissioned officer ranks. After graduating from the Army Officer Candidate School in 1966, I was commissioned as an infantry officer and later assumed an additional alternate Specialty, Code 51, Research & Development, with an Additional Skill Identifier of 6T, Materiel Acquisition Management, until military retirement in 1987. My first operational assignment was with the 82 Airborne Division (325 Battle Group at Fort Bragg). This was followed by assignments to the 7th and 8th Special Forces Groups. After OCS, I rejoined the 82nd Airborne (1st Battalion, 504 PIR in the Dominican Republic and at Fort Bragg). This was followed by multiple assignments to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam. My last operational assignment was Assistant Chief of Staff, Personnel, 3rd Support Command (Frankfurt, GE). The operational assignments were interspersed with various staff jobs to include being an instructor at the Infantry School (Fort Benning) during the height of the Vietnam War, combat developer / system staff officer HQ TRADOC (Fort Monroe, VA), and Director R&D, CECOM / Project Manager Training Aids and Devices (Fort Eustis, VA). Interspersed throughout this career were student and resident assignments to various formal training courses and schools to include Jump School (parachute training), Ranger School, U.S. Army Special Warfare School, U.S. Army Officer Candidate School, University of Tennessee, Armed Forces Staff College and numerous short-term specialized training programs that would serve me throughout my career and in Vietnam. Vietnam tours stand out as my most challenging military experience. I suspect that of all that served in Vietnam few will have the same perspective due, in no small part, to the vast difference in timing, location, organization and a myriad of other considerations. It should be noted from the outset that not all shared the same miseries, risks, dangers and great hardships as those exposed to direct combat operations in the line units and the indomitable grunts who were exposed to them 24/7. Those who dared to share the combat line experiences at the infantry platoon and company levels will forever be embedded in my memories with the greatest admiration, respect and esteem. A noteworthy experience also included serving as the Headquarters, US Army Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC System Staff Officer (TRASSO) for combat developments related to the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) and now commonly referred to as the HUMVEE / HUMMER, the Improved TOW Vehicle (ITV) and the M-113A3 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) Modernization Program. I was inspired to pursue combat and materiel developments as a result of my experience with the M-16 fiasco in Vietnam in 1967. The needless casualties resulting from this failure made an indelible memory. The TRASSO period also included the force modernization effort of the 1970s which featured the research, development and acquisition of systems like the Abrams tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Blackhawk helicopter, AH-64 helicopter, Squad Automatic Weapon and several hundred others. I was continually surrounded with highly respected Vietnam vets at all levels to include General DePuy, General Starry, M.G. Vuono, and B.G. Woodmansee and Colonels like Fred Franks who later became a full general and Commander, 7th Corps, during Desert Storm. The M-113 effort required a detailed review of all available after-action reports from Vietnam and focused on how associated casualties were generated. Consequently, the vehicle was converted from gas to diesel and the fuel tanks moved to the rear and outside the vehicle and placed under armor. The ITV was an accelerated system acquisition initiative to place the TOW under armor as a counter to the Soviet artillery threat. The HMMWV acquisition was precipitated by an urgent request from M.G. John Foss, CG 82nd Airborne division to General DePuy, CG TRADOC, to develop a mobility platform to support greater survivability of the TOW, the 82nd’s principal antiarmor system. We also confirmed that the surest way to validate a solution was to subject it to rigorous developmental testing (DT) and operational testing (OT) in the hands of live (not virtual or simulated) Soldiers under operational conditions. In fact, the force modernization efforts of the 1970s led to the development of the Abrams, Bradley, Blackhawk, SAW, I-81 and countless others led by Vietnam vets who, in many instances, employed them during Desert Storm. The men who were the combat, material and training developers for these systems ensured lessons learned from Vietnam were included in the acquisition process. I have participated in numerous unit reunions and events. These have included the Washington DC and New York City Welcome Home Parades, the Vietnam Wall and Three Soldier dedications. In 2015, I also made the trek to Soldierstone located in Colorado which stands as a tribute to all countries who resisted communist oppression in Southeast Asia and is a memorial to all who served and sacrificed in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I found it personally rewarding to meet up with the men who shared the Vietnam experience. It is particularly pleasing to see that most overcame the trauma of Vietnam and have led very successful lives. It was a great pleasure to meet many of their great families who have served as a bedrock of their sanity. In some instances, the families hear for the first time what their loved one really did in Vietnam and how brave and courageous he truly was during this challenging period of his life. In reliving, some of the Vietnam experience with another veteran many words go unspoken – the memories fill the blanks and, in many instances, no one else could possibly understand. My Army career which started as an enlisted Soldier and non-commissioned officer underpinned my 27 years on active duty, significantly contributed to my success in Vietnam leading Soldiers in combat and enabled enhanced effectiveness in all subsequent assignments.
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