Service Reflections: Vietnam vet recalls boosting troop morale as young officer

Me in Vietnam With My Troops
Me in Vietnam With My Troops

Service Reflections: Vietnam vet recalls boosting troop morale as young officer

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Editor’s note: The following Service Reflections is one of many recorded on TogetherWeServed.com, a secure online community with a membership of over 2 million active-duty and veteran members. This story may contain language which may not be suitable for young children.

CPT Frank Begovich
Status: U.S. Army Veteran
Service Years: 1965 - 1980

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Army.

My uncles all served in WWII and Korea; I was proud to follow in their footsteps and do my part. They served in all branches in WWII, and my choice was the Army.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

After I completed Basic and Armor AIT, my Company Commander approached me and said he had reviewed my training records and suggested I consider an application to Armor OCS. Not only did he strongly suggest, he called me in after duty hours sat me down and said, "Now we will start the application process," Basically he gave me little choice when he said to me he would welcome me as an officer under his command. That comment made my decision to apply for a commission.

My decision to leave the Army was dedicated primarily by family matters, hade it not been for that I would have chosen to make the Army my career.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?

My first assignment as a newly commissioned officer was with the 14th Armored Cavalry in Fulda, Germany. I was assigned as a Platoon Leader in our D Troop, where I had command of 6 M60A1 Main Battle Tanks. Our mission was sharing weekly duty with the other line Troops conducting daily mounted wheel vehicle patrols of the East/West German Border. Our base was approximately 5 miles from the border and directly across the border from an Armored Division.

I was promoted to 1st LT and assigned as Executive Officer of B Troop and shared command responsibility with the Troop Commander, primarily responsible for Troop administration and logistics. I subsequentially took command of B troop when the CO received deployment orders. I was promoted to Captian and held command for 18 months. I was then assigned as the Squadron S 3, which I held until I received orders for Vietnam with a stopover in Panama for Jungle Warefare and survival school.

I arrived in Vietnam in May of 1969 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division operating in the Mekong Delta. I was initially assigned as the Brigade assistant S3 and held that position until June 1969. I was then assigned to the 2nd Bn 47 Mech Infantry when the Commanding Officer of B Company was wounded. I held that command for seven months and was assigned to serve as the BN S 2, a position I held for the remainder of my Vietnam tour.

Both assignments and the command positions I held were totally different in missions and operations. As a Cav Troop Commander, serving on the border, my primary responsibility was to serve as a blocking force in the event Eastern Block countries crossed the border into West Germany and conducted an organized retrograde operation until back up forces would be able to engage and attempt to stop any further advance into West Germany. What remained of our units were to be absorbed into 5th Corps units.

In Vietnam, the mission was to seek out and destroy the NVA and Viet Cong by conducting offensive operations. Our units were in base camps spread throughout Vietnam, and operations were launched from these base camps and lasted from 48 to 72 hours and returning to base camp for a 24-hour standdown to resupply and prepare for a new mission.

It was while in Command in Vietnam that my most life-changing experience took place. It was there that I now had not only command responsibility, that responsibility included the lives of the men who served in my command, and the decisions I made would directly impact not only to the mission but the lives of the men I commanded. As a 25-Year-old Captian, this was something I had to learn quickly and was not trained to do. It meant depending on the senior NCO's who were in my Company and learning that their experience would help play a significant part in my decision process.

I also learned how to boost troop morale was during combat operations and whatever I could do within my scope of the command to help maintain or increase the morale of the troops during standdown I needed to do. There was nothing on our small basecamp to provide the troops with any type of recreational activities, so I decided to have them build a bar/private club for them.

With the aid of one of the finest First Seargent's I ever served with whose efforts far exceeded anything I wanted. He suggested to stock the bar with beer and liquor and snacks him and me to fund the initial expense to buy everything from the closest PX out of our pocket. As far as I am concerned, this would be what I consider the high point of my command. I commandeered a ramshackle wooden building adjacent to my company area and had my troops get enough wooden boxes that were used to ship artillery rounds.

I had the boxes broken down to planks and used the planks to shingle the outside of the building and then paint the building Infantry blue along with our Batallion insignia and a Combat Infantry Badge and named it the Infantry Inn.. Once it was finally done I had my Officers serve as bartenders and instructed them rank was not acknowledged in the club, this made the club a place the troops would flock to and relax when we returned from an operation.

My part was done, but the troops decided they needed to add their touch to the club. The club shortly had several picnic tables, and a homemade BBQ grill had it all covered by a parachute to provide a comfortable shady area to sit under. Even to this day, when we have an opportunity to meet at a reunion, this is one of the major items of discussion talked about and stories relived of the time they had in the Infantry Inn.

Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.

I can not say there was any situation in which I did not feel there was a major possibility I would not survive. There were many situations where during an enemy engagement, the chance of being killed or seriously wounded existed, But that thought never came up until after the contract ended, and you had a chance to slow the adrenalin rush and think about what just happened.

There was one incident where we were brought in to a major enemy contact with the NVA as a relief unit. During that operation, some type of explosive device went off, and I received shrapnel wounds to the face and chest. I was treated by a company medic, and I determined the wounds were not severe enough for me to turn over command to one of my Platoon Leaders who did not have the field experience I had. I continued the operation in command and was later treated at an aid station for minor wounds.

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of, and why? Which was your least favorite?


6 Track On The Move

There is no duty station or assignment that I can say is my least favorite. Every assignment I had given me the ability to grow as an Officer and helped me develop my leadership skills. With each assignment, it introduced me to another segment of the Army and required me to learn how many different missions each unit within the Army may be tasked with and tested my leadership skills. With each assignment, I was not only given Command responsibility of men in my command but also the responsibility for caring for millions of dollars of equipment associated with that command.

My first assignment as a newly Commissioned Officer serving with a Cav Unit with the responsibility of securing a portion of the East-West German Border and serving as the "Tip of the Spear" provided me with an actual mission was unlike typical Army units we actually carried a full basic load of weapons at all time and were subject to possible enemy engagement at any time on a without notice.

My assignment in Vietnam, where I commanded a Mechanized Infantry Company, also gave me a mission to test my leadership skills in actual combat operations against a hostile enemy. I firmly believe that the most difficult assignment in the Army is a small unit command, You are given command responsibility of operating in conditions where every decision you make can determine the success of your mission and the lives of the men in your command.

Unlike any Command within any Military unit, conducting combat operations where enemy contact is not only expected but inevitable and places your stress level at the highest. The lack of knowledge of what the next day and the next mission may bring serves to draw each person closer to their buddy and truly forms a brotherhood that continues long after we go our separate way and return to civilian life.

That is why I can truly say I have no least favorite assignment as each has given me fond memories that I will carry to my grave.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect on to this day.


Me in Vietnam With My Troops

The memories that stand out most in my mind are those associated with my time in Vietnam. Combat operations etch into your memory many things, some good and many bad.

Many years ago, I chose to focus on the better memories and more humorous things I experienced during that time. Memories such as I referred to when my Pants split during an Airmobile operation, the satisfaction I received when the Infantry Inn was completed and how much of a morale boost it provided my men. Focusing on those memories helped me avoid some of the pitfalls of PTSD and kept me from falling into a dark place.

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

There are several professional achievements that I am proud of, but there is only one that I can consider the top of the list and deserves mentions.

I had command of an Infantry company conducting operations against a hostile enemy on a daily basis. During my entire time in command, I managed to accomplish every mission given to me.

That, however, is not what I am most proud of, there were individuals in my command to include myself that were wounded, but my proudest is this was done did this without the loss of life of any member of my command.

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?

I was commissioned as an Armor Officer, yet never served in a true Armor unit. The closest I came to it was my time with the 14th Cav in Germany. Before deploying to Vietnam, I was assigned TDY to the Jungle Warefare school in Panama. The school tested all the resolve I could gather at the time as it was wet during the entire course, and the heat, bugs, and snakes added to the misery.

The course also required a lot of night training and ended with an all-night escape and evasion course. At no time were we given any indication of how we were graded until the end of the class.

A small percentage of the class was awarded a Jungle Expert Certification and allowed to permanently wear the Jungle Expert patch. I was honored to be awarded this Certification and proudly wore it for the remainder of my active duty and reserve time.

When I was assigned to the 9th Infantry division and assumed Command of an Infantry Company, at the time, I did not realize that I was operating in an Infantry MOS and thus eligible for the award of the Combat Infantry Badge. After I served longer than 30 days in that MOS and was engaged in Combat Operations against a hostile enemy, this award was permanent and being an Armor Officer. I was among a small select group of Armor Officers to be given that honor. To this day, that award means more to me than any other award I received, and I still wear it proudly on my lapel.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

I have a long list of individuals that provided a positive impact on my time in the military. It can start with my first Company Commander, where I served in the enlisted ranks. He is the first individual that saw in me as someone who could make a difference to the military and prodded me to seek a Commission through the OCS Program.

Each subsequent assignment provided me an opportunity to serve under a new Commanding Officer. Each of these Commanders gave me an opportunity to prove my worth to the Army and assigned me a position of responsibility where I had to prove myself.

I am especially grateful to the Commanders that gave me the opportunity to command a unit. I was given the opportunity to not only have two command positions but also serve in Key staff positions, each of which provided me with a test of my leadership and organizational skills.

For each of these individuals, I can never thank enough as they not only help shape my time in the Army, they also helped me in charting my future. I would not trade one minute of my military time as it has provided me with some of my fondest and most memorable moments in time.

List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.

Membership in the various associations I belong too provides me with regular contact with not only the men who share the same experience I did, but what the unit and the men now serving are experiencing. It also allows me to meet and spend time with them at organized reunions and share our past experiences as well as their current life after the military.

It also gives me the opportunity to meet with the current active personnel now serving with the unit and what type of mission they now have as well as share our experiences, both good and bad.

I was living in Northern Virginia within close proximity to several military installations where many have chosen to make a home after retirement provides me with the opportunity to meet not only retired military but also current active duty individuals. Once a month, I look forward to meeting at the Ft Belvoir Officers club and share lunch with a former Batallion Commander and a fellow Company Commander who served in the 2/47th at the same time I did.

Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?


Vietnam

When I arrived in Vietnam, I had transitioned from a duty station with the 14th Calvary in Germany. This assignment was my first introduction to the Army as an Officer. The time frame was in the mid-'60s when the Army was steeped in tradition and was especially strong with a Cav unit that had a long history. That tradition entailed weekly Regimental formations headed by the Regimental Commander, starting every week with the entire Squadron and Regimental HQ forming on the parade field complete with the raising of the flag, playing of the National Anthem and closing with firing a cannon.

That tradition also included every officer and Senior NCO wearing a yellow neck scarf, leadership tabs on the lapel of our jackets. It also included and was highly recommended every officer wear an Eisenhower jacket, which was referred to as a Tanker Jacket. It also included officers to wear tanker boots that had straps rather than laces, and every officer was encouraged to "break starch" on the duty uniform daily. It kept the on post laundry busy not only keeping us in fresh uniforms but it also kept them busy tailoring our uniforms from baggy to tailored pants.

After nearly three years of this activity, it became a habit, a habit that it took Vietnam to beak. When I was issued my jungle fatigues and wore them for the first time, I went directly to the base camp tailor and had every pair tailored? Big mistake.

Operating in the Mekong Delta, we not only had hot temperatures in the base camp; when we were conducting operations the area of operations, we spent a considerable amount of time crossing streams, canals, and muddy rice paddies. The issued uniform was designed to dry quickly, except the issue underwear and t-shirts were standard cotton and did not dry quickly. This gave the issue t-shirt and underwear a new use, that of something you could use to your gear.

The standard dress when we were on operations underwear and t-shirts were left in base camp, I learned that quickly and followed that process. That proved to be an embarrassing situation for me. It seemed the base camp laundry/tailor proved to be an unreliable seamstress when of the first lift of an airmobile operation I jumped out of the helicopter, and my pants split from the rear to the front fly. I was left to finish that lift with my butt partially exposed. Needless to say, my troops got a big laugh out of that incident. I had to wait for our extraction, where my XO sent a fresh pair of untailored pants out.

At reunions, this also gets a lot of conversation and laughs, even I laugh about it.

What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now?

I am fully retired at this time and enjoying my free time and time with my wife.

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

9th Infantry Division Association

Mobile Riverine Force Association

47th InfantryRegiment Association Charter Member

14th Armored Cavalary Association, Charter & Life Membership

Membership allows me to keep informed of the unit activities and individuals who I served with

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?

The military has allowed me the time to develop my leadership skills at a younger age than in a normal point in my life. This allowed me to put into practice these skills in Civilian life, which in turn provided me an advantage over those that had no military background, discipline, or the ability to think and act quickly. This background provided me with a sound basis to advance in my positions and move up more quickly in the Corporate business world.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Army?

My best information I could share with anyone who is just considering or starting time in the military is to make the best of that time and take advantage of whatever you are offered in the way of additional training. You will find that many of the individuals you serve with will remain lifelong friends and will once again cross paths with you. The military can be a family outside of your own family.

In what ways has TogetherWeServed.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

TWS has given me a vehicle that allows me to connect with others who have or may have shared the same experiences I have and allowed me a chance to share both the good and bad of my time served.

Togetherweserved.com

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