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Veterans’ Voices: Retired Major General Kent Hillhouse

U.S. Army Reserve
Dates Employed Jul 1966 – Sep 2001

First – 1966-1968 – 2nd Lieutenant – Cavalry/Rifle Platoon Leader, United States Army, Viet Nam
Last – 1996-2001 – Major General – ADCSPER – U.S. Army, Pentagon, Washington, DC

 

During his career, the U.S. military recognized Major General Kent Hillhouse (retired) for his leadership, service and valor with the Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

Discipline Gets You Through, Hard Work and Leadership Get You There

What I have most cherished over the years has been the acknowledgment that many of the men who served under me or with me still keep in touch—and in a way perhaps more personal than able at times during the war—a testament to our strong, special bond formed by our time of service together. Around Veterans Day, I am reminded that while circumstances of war were tough and unpleasant to say the least, as a unit, we all stood together, through extreme hostile encounters, doing our very best in the honor and service of each other, and our country.

My first real introduction to discipline and leadership was through my days of high school football. I credit my coaches as my role models in these areas—they understood the power of motivation to inspire players. They wanted us to understand the meaning of “team” and to realize it took hard work and perseverance to succeed. This early exposure became my recipe for survival while serving in Vietnam. It was really about discipline – discipline helped keep you calm, and got you through the tough times, and the sleep deprivation, and the shooting. It also got you through the times after the action when you had time to think.

In Vietnam as a platoon leader I experienced different challenges. We had a saying among the officers there: “You can’t manage someone up a hill to die; you have to lead them up.”  I could not be close to my men, no buddy-buddy stuff – couldn’t talk about my girlfriend, my life back home, nothing too personal. I was their leader, and that was how it had to be, especially in these conditions. We all got to drink one canteen an hour of hot muddy water to stay hydrated. Two field issued C-rations (“C-rats”) a day kept us nourished. Sucking on one-half of the undissolved coffee tablet (from the C-rats) kept us awake while on ambush patrol. I made sure my guys knew that my goal was to ensure their safe return home. Unfortunately, that did not always happen. But, at least they knew I was not making irrational decisions, and I was trying to keep them alive.

On Veterans Day I remember my friends and colleagues who served and the sense of camaraderie that endures to this day.

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