three men eating at a table talking

Meet & Three: Band of Brothers



Since the Civil War, when the entire student body enlisted, Carolina students have been marching off to battle. The campus boasts a War Memorial Building commemorating the sacrifice of S.C. soldiers of World War I, and in World War II — when the need for junior officers was urgent — USC resembled a Naval training base. During the Vietnam War, campus was home to returning soldiers, future soldiers and anti-war activists. USC Times, a monthly communique for faculty and staff, invited three alumni and military veterans who have served in war zones to discuss campus life, military life and public perception of the military through the years.


Meet our panel: 

Col. Scott Brown (RET.), ‘86 geography, is recovery programs manager at the S.C. Emergency Management Division. His 28 years of service in the U.S. Army included deployments in the First Gulf War, Korea, Bosnia, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Afghanistan and the northern Arabian gulf.

Lt. Col. Barry Hale (RET.), ’87 political science, is recruiting officer for the Army ROTC at USC. His 33 years of service included three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marshall Swanson, ’73 journalism, a retired publications writer for the University of South Carolina, served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970 and did one tour of duty in Vietnam.


 

USC Times: Marshall, let start with you and your experience in Vietnam.

Marshall: I was a freshman at Carolina in ’66 and didn’t do well at all, so I enlisted in the Army for three years to get the G.I. Bill. The first two years, I was an intelligence analyst in D.C. In Vietnam, I was a night operations NCO in a command bunker in Pleiku. I worked 12-13 hours a night, six nights a week.

I was over there in the spring of ’70 when they went into Cambodia. That’s what triggered the Kent State riots, and, well, riots across the country. It was the second most divisive war, after the Civil War, I think. On the home front, there was complete tumult. Sometimes looking back on it, I’m glad I was in the Army because it provided a structured way of life for me when civilian society was going crazy. The civil rights movement was going on at that time, too, and you had the anti-war movement and general student activism.

Barry: Let me interrupt. What was it like on campus here?

Marshall: In the spring of 1967, you could see the beginnings of the protest movement, but Carolina was kind of behind the rest of the country. I remember there was a demonstration by students protesting the university giving Gen. William Westmoreland an honorary degree. When I came back as a student in 1970, three years later, there was a lot more of that. That was the year students occupied the administration building and the Russell House, the same time as the trouble at Kent State. In that three-year period, the university had been swept into the rest of the country’s activism and opposition to the war. I didn’t encounter any hostility from students. I think partly it’s because South Carolina is a military-friendly state — that’s part of the tradition. But I didn’t broadcast that I had been in Vietnam.

Barry: So you went with the long hair and the flip-flops?

Marshall: I had short hair, but I pretty much kept to myself. I was dating a girl who was in graduate school, I worked at the Gamecock and at the campus radio station, and I lived off campus in an apartment down in Five Points with two Air Force veterans and another grad student. It was on Waccamaw Avenue — we called it ‘The Swamp.’ In my classes, I didn’t encounter any hostility from other students. The only thing was that at a party someone might make a remark about Vietnam vets — that Vietnam vets were suckers or whatever.   But I don’t remember anyone ever saying anything directly to me, and if I was in a situation where someone said something about the war, I didn’t confront them, I just let it go.


Scott, your situation was different. You finished college first, then joined the Army and ended up in the First Gulf War, which enjoyed far more popular support. Did college in any way prepare you for war?

Scott: Later on, as a staff officer, the education came into play: the attention to detail, the research, the problem-solving skills. The cartography component of my degree, the painstaking attention to detail to make those maps — that’s something you actually use.

Barry: It prepares you to be a staff officer, that’s absolutely true. The ability to think is critical.

Scott: Compared to Marshall’s experience after Vietnam, Barry and I were definitely embraced by the student population. We walked around freely in our uniforms. In fact, we embraced it, almost — not grandstanding, but we really enjoyed being part of the military department. From that standpoint, from 1973 until 1983 when the Army ROTC program started, there was a significant change in people’s outlook on the military and the opportunities it provided.

Barry: We would have formations and ceremonies on the Horseshoe and people would come watch. We had commissionings on the State House grounds. There would be a thousand people there, counting the commissionees. It was a big deal.

Scott: I don’t think any of my non-military friends treated me with any deference, but among my ROTC friends we had a mutual respect for one another’s place in the hierarchy. We used to salute each other and say ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir.’

 

Barry, you’ve seen 16 years of cadets here at USC. Has there been any change in terms of their academic caliber?

Barry: Absolutely. When Scott and I graduated, I had a 2.8 GPA, and I was considered a better-than-average cadet. It’s 3.4 now, and we’re working real hard to get that to 3.5. When we were in ROTC the saying was ‘2.0 is good to go.’ Now, I won’t even contract you at less than 3.0. As the numbers of cadets have gotten smaller, it’s been easier to do, too. USC can produce 50 officers easily every year. But my mission is 25. I’ve got five engineers in that group, a couple of nurses, some hard science majors and a couple of political science and criminal justice majors, too.


There’s been a huge advance in technology, as well. How has that affected military deployments, particularly in war zones? Marshall, you could only write letters home, right?

Marshall: I was hospitalized with appendicitis in Vietnam and was able to make a phone call only because I was in the hospital. They hooked up a patch with ham radio operators and limited it to five or ten minutes, and whenever you were done talking, you would say ‘Over’ so the ham operator could flip the switch and allow my mother to speak. That was the only time I was able to talk on the phone. All the rest of the time you’d write a letter and write ‘Free’ on the upper right hand corner of the envelope instead of using a stamp…

Barry: They still do that...

Marshall: … and it would take a week for a letter to get home.

Scott: Now, with social media and all the various platforms, you can have instantaneous communication.

Barry: And it’s a double-edged sword…

Scott: My first experience with technology in a war zone was in the First Gulf War. I stood in line for four hours to call home and my wife was at work so I got the answering machine. But we still used mail, and I still have the penpal I had from Desert Storm — she’s now a schoolteacher up in North Carolina. Fast forward to cell phone technology, and we’re trying to stay ahead of it. The ability to have a cell phone in combat, the ability to text someone on the battlefield, that’s just bizarre for us.

Barry: In ’03 I had a satellite phone. I think we had a hundred minutes we could use. In 2010, I was responsible for casualty reporting, and we had to finish reports so that they could make a casualty notification within 12 hours — and we were averaging about eight or 10 hours. In 2013-14 we had that down to about 45 minutes. We were trying to beat Skype and Facebook and U.S. News & World Report and Fox News and CNN. A kid would get shot, and 45 minutes later the Department of the Army’s Casualty Notification System was calling us to go to a family’s home to say ‘Your son or daughter has been injured’ or ‘Your son or daughter is dead.’ They would turn off the Wi-Fi on bases [in Afghanistan and Iraq] to keep kids from calling home after a bad firefight when there were 12 or 15 casualties — and casualties can mean wounded, not just dead.

Marshall: I would think the presence of social media and all the technology would be a distraction on the mission. Did you find that troops couldn’t wait to get on the phone to tell people in the States what had happened?

Scott: Being informed about what they could and couldn’t discuss is no different than how we drilled in ‘Loose lips sink ships’ in World War II. With geo-tagging, you can post a picture to Facebook, someone can figure out your location and next thing you know there’s a rocket attack on your position. But the ability to reach back home and talk to someone is a big morale booster.


What are the most common misconceptions that civilians have about military life in general?

Scott: [Civilian] perception of what the military does is so much better today. If you know someone in the military, you have a better sense of what it means to fuel an F-16 or drive a convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad — there’s a better sense of awareness of what those folks are doing. At the same time, because we have things like Navy SEALS and Rangers and Delta Force, people think — unless you have that connection with the military — that that’s what everyone does, and that’s not the case. There are lots of people behind the scenes.

Marshall: A lot of civilians don’t have family members in the military and don’t know how the military does things. They might think everyone in a war zone carries a rifle. They don’t really know, quite honestly, how things work. That should be a point of concern because in the days of the draft we did have a citizens army and people had more knowledge about the military and the way it works.


This might seem obvious, but is there really a bond among those who’ve served, especially veterans of war?

Marshall: The Band of Brothers is very real. If you serve in the military, your life might depend on the guy next to you. So you look out for him and he looks out for you.

Barry: And it’s not just in combat. It might just be getting through the day. It’s shared experiences: ‘The bleepin’ Army, look what they’ve done to me now,’ that kind of common experience.

Marshall: Veterans will very often look out for one another; they’ll give references for each other and things like that. When they did away with the draft, I think it was a big mistake. Now a lot of young people don’t have any skin in the game.

 

Is the Band of Brothers thing different for younger people in military service?

Barry: You’ve got two kinds of people doing ROTC or military now: the guy who wants to find a way to pay for school and get his career start — and we’re okay with that — and the millennials who want to be a part of something bigger. You can tell which of those two groups they’re in just by the conversations you have.

Just after 9/11, that group of cadets [who were already in] didn’t know what they were getting into. But instead of people running away, we had them lining up to join. We went from 90 kids to 300 kids [in Army ROTC] in less than two years. And all of them knew full well they were signing up for war.

Scott: The VFWs and American Legions that catered to my father’s and grandfather’s generation, where guys would sit around and reminisce and drink beer — these younger generations of veterans want to do more.


Barry, what about emotional scars among those who come back to college?

Barry: It’s an issue across the nation for ROTC programs. We’ve had to deal with it on a case-by-case basis with PTSD and other conditions. Marshall, did you have peers who had problems? That’s something you don’t hear much about anymore, that generation.

Marshall: A lot of Vietnam veterans came to a very bad end. I think they were suffering from PTSD. There were drugs readily available in Vietnam if you didn’t have the good sense not to use them — marijuana, cocaine, hashish, heroin. A lot of those guys came home, got discharged and had that monkey on their backs.


Since the Truman administration, when the military was desegregated, the U.S. military has been on the leading edge of social change, including the end of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and now combat opportunities for women —

Scott: For me, the argument had been that women shouldn’t be serving in combat. But as an aviator, my perception changed. That surface-to-air missile coming across the sky doesn’t care whether you’re male or female, doesn’t care what ethnicity you are — you’re just a target. Now, there may be some positions you want to reserve for men, because maybe, there are some skills required or just because of the physical nature of it. But women are soldiers first, so for me it’s no big deal.

Barry: I can make an economic case for not having women in the military — the expense of different uniforms and facilities — but then you get into the piece where the bullet doesn’t care what you are. If women want the opportunity, and if they’re willing to put the effort into it, more power to them. If you’ve got a ‘want to,’ we’ve got a place for you. Barry’s opinion is that guys ought to be fighting a war — and I say we do that by way of a draft — but that’s Barry’s opinion, not the party line. The truth is, my last two bosses were women and they rode rings around me. So it’s not a matter of quality or capability.

Marshall: What about the old-school idea that women might be a distraction to male ranks? There was a case in the Navy recently of enlisted men spying on female officers in the showers.

Barry: I’ve not seen women get to the point of being a distraction. For every dainty little female I’d have a female sergeant who was 6’5” and weighed 260 pounds and could carry tractor tires like they were a pocket book.


None of the candidates for President right now has a military background. Is there a disconnect between military service and the nation’s leaders?

Barry: We’re getting back to a point where there is very little contact between the military and the populace at large.

Marshall: That’s a dangerous development.

Barry: And if and when that happens, we’re going to, as a country, make stupid decisions to use military forces in places we shouldn’t. You’d think we’d have learned something about getting involved on the Asian continent to begin with and the level and type of involvement that you get into — but we didn’t.

Marshall: When I hear a candidate say he’s going to carpet bomb some place, that scares the hell out of me because it’s obvious that person doesn’t understand the concept of sending people into war or the collateral damage of civilians being wounded and killed. I saw civilians in Vietnam turn to prostitution because their husbands had been killed. War, in my mind, should be the absolute last resort in foreign policy. We’re talking about young people’s lives. You look at that Vietnam Wall in Washington and realize every name represents someone’s life with a family. If someone doesn’t have familiarity with war, they can’t know what it’s like. That’s why I’m a proponent of some form of required national service, whether it’s military or some other kind of service.

Scott: I wholeheartedly agree with that, some kind of national service. Having life experiences helps shape what you want to do, and that’s not to say military service is the only kind of service. There’s Peace Corps and lots of other ways to serve without being in uniform. 

 


USC Times

Got a taste for intelligent conversation? Want a free lunch for yourself and two colleagues? RSVP with your Meet & Three idea to Craig Brandhorst at craigb1@mailbox.sc.edu. You will find the Meet & Three feature in the monthly faculty and staff magazine USC Times.


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