Sent to Vietnam in 1970 after being commissioned in the Field Artillery, U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Robert M. Dudley first served as a forward observer, providing artillery support to his maneuver unit. He was reassigned as the fire direction officer for South Vietnamese and U.S. troops near Khe Sanh and in Laos during Operation Lam Son 719. Ultimately he became the battery executive officer in 1971, serving as the second in command of six 155 mm howitzers supporting troops along the Demilitarized Zone. “Field artillery can be compared to a boxer,” Dudley said. “The forward observer is the eyes, the fire direction center the brains, and the guns the fists.”
He had some close calls: “On March 25 we were under constant artillery, rocket and mortar assault from a cave in Laotian cliffs. I thought this was my last day and I wanted to take out as many of those SOBs as I could. We counter-fired for nearly twelve hours, and had to resupply our ammunition with a jeep and trailer. I’d time it, and when I heard them fire, I’d jump into a ditch. Once the shells hit, I’d get back in the jeep and continue resupplying. We were lucky to make it out.”
Dudley received numerous medals in Vietnam, including the Soldiers Medal for Valor; three Bronze Stars, one with V Device for Valor; and the Army Commendation Medal with V Device for Valor for recovering a howitzer after a gun pit had taken a direct hit and the ammunition bunkers were on fire.
Several years after Vietnam, Dudley earned a Master of Science in Management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and began a long career with many assignments stateside and abroad. He commanded as a captain, lieutenant colonel and colonel, serving on staffs from battalion through Army levels, including battalion executive officer and Chief Officer Management at Fort Sill in the early 1980s and in Germany as a brigade S3 and commander of the 3rd Battalion 35th Field Artillery. Dudley returned stateside teaching tactics at the Command and General Staff College before attending the Armed Forces Staff College and the U.S. Army War College Fellowship at the School of Advanced Military Studies. “I guess you could describe me as a combat warrior who became an academic military strategist,” said Dudley, 69, who lives with wife Patricia in Bonner Springs, outside Kansas City.
Retiring in 1997 after more than 29 years, Dudley worked at Sprint, but soon began to serve his country from the private sector, helping fight the war against terrorism as Terrorism Task Leader at Fort Leavenworth for MPRI, a defense contracting company. In 2002 he headed research, writing and editing of the first two versions of A Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century and provided anti-terrorism training for National Guard units deploying to Kosovo. He also helped train law enforcement professionals going to Iraq and Afghanistan. Today he is a part-time consultant with Engility Corporation and regularly travels to Germany to provide military analysis during multinational training exercises. “My work in the private sector is helped tremendously by the real-world experience and technical skills I developed in my military career,” he said.
Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for BMR.com, Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and a former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.