|Commitment and sacrifice - the life of a military family|
|Wednesday, 22 June 2011|
by Jan Spann
For most of their 45 years of marriage, George and Vonda Crocker have followed a military path of discipline, travel and combat. During George’s 34-plus years in the military, Vonda often had long stretches of time when he trained for and was in combat. As a result of her “career” as a military wife, Vonda wrote a book, about the life of an Army wife, “Home Fires Burning,” with publication pending.George’s military career began in college ROTC. In 1962, Congressman Dale Alford appointed George as a cadet to West Point, a distinct honor. The Russellville native was home on leave prior to graduating from the Academy and had a chance encounter at Lake Dardanelle on a Sunday afternoon.
“Vonda had just graduated from the [University of Arkansas] and was visiting a high school classmate of mine,” George said. “It was like being struck by lightning! Love at first sight. Total, head-over-heels variety, still lasting as strong as ever.”
As Vonda puts it, “it was fate – we always were and always will be soul mates.”
The defining conflict in the 1960s was the Vietnam War, and George served his country on those battlefields in two combat tours. In 1966, he graduated West Point, married Vonda, attended Army Ranger School and deployed as a Second Lieutenant and rifle platoon leader with the 9th Infantry Division headed to Vietnam. Rather than daunt him, though, it confirmed that his purpose in life was the military. Vonda proved an excellent choice as well.
“I had ‘fire in the belly’ and wanted to be in action,” George said. “The military requires teamwork and discipline, and those were strengths I learned in team sports throughout junior and senior high school and during four years at West Point.”
But the analogy ends there.
“An infantry rifle platoon fighting the enemy is dirty, de-humanizing and quite emotional business, and there is nothing ‘glamorous’ about it,” George said. “The sights, smells and feel of this violent conflict are forever etched in every infantryman’s soul.
“Vietnam took away my youth and happy-go-lucky attitude. I returned changed forever, obsessed with readiness and training lest any American soldier have anything but the very best chance of surviving combat.”
His determination has been a strength of his career, and he has been described as a direct and decisive leader of integrity and character.
Assignments took the family to Germany, Panama, Hawaii and eight other states, including a tour in the Pentagon. George served as commander, operations officer and in the executive office at every level within the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. His deployments with the division included the Martin Luther King assassination riots in 1968, Honduras, Grenada and numerous worldwide joint and combined training exercises.
A military career is often viewed from the sacrifices the soldier must make, but George points out the challenges such a career demands of a soldier’s family as well. “Our career encompassed 24 total, complete moves of everything we owned, plus another four where we lived in temporary quarters for a few months.”
George retired from the Army, and the couple returned to Arkansas in 1999 where they settled into their retirement nest on the edge of Greers Ferry Lake. But his prowess as a strategic planner and leader brought George out of retirement in 2002. Known as a decisive man of integrity, George led a team of experts to Afghanistan to develop an action plan for the start of the Afghan Armed Forces in 2003.
In addition to Afghanistan, he next led and directed the initial program to recruit and train the New Iraqi Army for a year in Iraq. George then returned to the United States to work programs in support of military forces for six more years for Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Although he is no longer a NG full-time employee, he still has a consulting contract with them.
Retired as a three-star, or lieutenant general, George is only one of two Arkansans to earn the second-highest Army rank (Wesley Clark retired as a four-star general). George and Wesley started their journey together at West Point in 1962. The Class of 1966 became the subject of a book by Rick Atkinson, “The Long Gray Line,” a 25-year saga following three cadets through the Academy and into the years after graduation.
George is not a man prone to glorifying his accomplishments, and his many qualifications and awards seem secondary to the importance he places on a leader’s responsibility to his unit. “Leadership counts on the battlefield. Soldiers rely on leaders to do the right thing and rely on their training and instincts to survive.”
Nowadays, George and Vonda enjoy their rural life as well as 2,000-plus mile cross-country adventures on George’s Harley-Davidson, including Bike Week at Daytona and the Black Hills Rally at Sturgis, S.D.