Medal of Honor Recipient Salutes, Thanks Servicemembers
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti, Jan. 3, 2006 A Medal of Honor recipient saluted the work servicemembers are doing around the world as part of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's tour of the U.S. Central Command area.
Retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, who received the nation's highest award for heroism in the Vietnam War, told servicemembers that he has seen improvements all across the theater "and it's all because of you."
Jacobs, a military analyst for NBC News, thanked the troops for their service. He spoke to thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at 13 stops in seven countries and aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
He told them that all Americans are proud of them. "You have changed the lives of millions of people," Jacobs said in Kuwait. "Millions of people are free today because of you."
The colonel also used humor to impart some hard-won wisdom to the troops. "I'm retired from the Army," he said. "People tell me it's really good to be retired from the Army because you get free medical care. Of course, if I hadn't been in the Army I wouldn't need any damn medical care."
He told servicemembers that the military thrusts responsibility on young people. The colonel told about meeting his company commander at Fort Bragg, N.C., and getting responsibility for the men of the airborne unit. "I went instantly from being responsible for absolutely, positively nothing to being absolutely, positively responsible for virtually everything in the lives of 140 to 150 men," he said. "Most of you have more responsibility than that."
He said the military trains people to run organizations and that the "average private no class" knows more about setting objectives, identifying missions, setting priorities and using resources than any number of highly paid Wall Street executives. These young people also know how to get things done quickly and efficiently, "because peoples' lives depend on it," he said.
He told the troops not to sell themselves short. "You know a lot more than you think you do," he said. Jacobs talked about a sergeant major he was stationed with in the 1970s.
Jacobs had forgotten his shaving mirror and asked the sergeant major for the loan of his. "The sergeant major said, 'Sir, how long have you been shaving?' and I told him about 20 years, and he said, 'Sir, after all the time you've spent shaving, you'd think you'd know your face.' And he was right. I did know my face," Jacobs said. "And every time I think I don't know something, I remember the sergeant major's lesson."
The colonel also spoke about a lesson he learned in combat. He was in South Vietnam advising a company assigned to the 9th Vietnamese Division. The unit was assaulting a town at night, and all hell broke loose, he said. "Every tracer in the world seemed to be aimed directly at my head," he said. "The vehicle I was standing next to exploded after being hit by (a rocket-propelled grenade)."
That first time in combat also was Jacobs' first live-fire exercise. Dead and wounded soldiers were all over, he said. "I called my commander for guidance," he said. "Essentially I said, 'Everything is all screwed up, I don't know where the good guys are, where the bad guys are, I'm taking heavy fire. You have to give me some guidance.'
"He said, 'I'm not there, so I can't make a complete evaluation, but I will give you a bit of advice.' He said, 'You better do something, even if it's wrong.'"
Jacobs said that was not the detailed assistance he was looking for. He said he was annoyed for a bit, but in retrospect, it was pretty good advice. He said that during a crisis, action is better than inaction, and that servicemembers understand that.