Robert Fiero grew up in Wyoming, and he credits the skills he learned here to his survival in Vietnam, and his success in the U.S. Army, “I look back at my upbringing here in Wyoming as a kid, the hunting, the outdoors, out in the woods and the mountains, tracking a deer, that gave me a sense of direction and instinct.”
As a young 2nd Lieutenant, just graduated through ROTC from the University of Wyoming, he attended the rigorous and demanding Ranger course at Fort Benning, Georgia. On one patrol, he realized that they were traveling in a circle, and not even the Ranger instructor was aware of it. Pointing this out, he was told that since he was such a smart guy, he was now Patrol Leader and was responsible for fixing the mess. Trusting his compass, he got the patrol back on track, and crossing a road, he had his patrol walk backward, stepping in their own footprints. The aggressors were entirely fooled, and headed off in the wrong direction, permitting the patrol to successfully complete its mission. The Ranger instructor asked where he had learned this, and Lieutenant Fiero responded, “The Indians used to do it. That is part of growing up in the West, you learn that.”
A couple of years later, as a company commander in the U.S. Army Europe in West Germany, the fledgling Special Forces came calling and interviewed him. Several months later, as he was close to competing the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Fiero and another young captain were unexpectedly summoned to the Commandant’s Office … usually a harbinger of doom. The general instead told them that they were assigned to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam as advisers to new ARVN Ranger battalions shortly to be formed. Two weeks later, he was in South Vietnam.
As their U.S. Army advisor, Captain Fiero helped organize, train and support the ARVN 33rd Ranger Battalion in their initial combat operations between 1965 and 1967. The first time he saw these men in their dress uniforms, he was intrigued by distinctive commendations and ribbons worn by the senior officers and NCOs. It was subsequently revealed that these men had fought the Viet Minh with the French during the First Indochina War in the 1950s. A decade later, these men were fighting the same enemy in the same war. Only the uniforms were different.
He then spent a brief year home advising the Army ROTC detachment at the University of Wyoming, but by 1968 he was back in South Vietnam. Ostensibly the Plans Officer for the 4th Infantry Division, in actuality he was the Liaison Officer and Fire Support Coordinator for the Special Forces Military Assistance Command-Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MAC-SOG) at Forward Operating Base No. 2 — performing special operations missions into Laos. When credible reports were received that “Caucasians” – believed to be Russian advisors — were observed assisting the North Vietnamese Army, a “snatch” mission was organized to capture them to confirm their identity. Successful, the prisoner was evacuated by helicopter, “with every VC and NVA in Laos taking a shot at us” in the process. While waiting for the evacuation helicopters to arrive, Major Fiero inspected a smoldering Russian-model truck sitting in the middle of what was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was surprised to discover that the tires were clearly marked, in English, “Made in USSR.” This was far too good a souvenir to pass up, he “had to have that and out came that knife” — he cut the sidewall from the tire and stuffed it into the cargo pocket of his trousers. To this day, this piece of distinctive Soviet rubber remains one of his most valued possessions.
That year proved to be the watershed of the Vietnam War. It began with the Tet Offensive of 1968, which to the U.S. Army in South Vietnam was hardly a surprise, although “it was a question of degree” according to Fiero who had access to considerable real intelligence. Still, with Tet, the “head of the VC was cut off.” At FOB No. 2, Fiero knew that “we had them on the ropes … but for the press.” And when he came home, he realized that everything had changed. In 1967, he had returned home from overseas proudly wearing his uniform. Two years later, he had to take a drug test before he was even allowed to board the airplane for the United States, and was returned home under cover of darkness wearing civilian clothes.
Assigned to the U.S. Army staff at the Pentagon, he drove to and from work in civilian dress. Peace demonstrators lurked at overpasses waiting to spot officers in uniform so that they could drop debris upon them, hoping to maim or kill the soldiers. Assigned to South Korea in 1975, “I saw a different army … lack of NCO experience, drug issues, discipline problems, racial problems, the VD rate was sky-rocketing.” His military installation had segregated bars, and if the member of a different race “went into the wrong bar a fight would break out immediately.” Staff duty officers had to be armed for their own protection. Bob Fiero found himself in a situation he never expected … having to restore the U.S. Army after it had been destroyed by the Vietnam War.
Colonel Robert Fiero proved to be one of the able, dedicated leaders who reconstructed the U.S. Army in the late 1970s and 1980s – the army’s great success in the First Gulf War that liberated Kuwait was in large part the product of leadership provided by Bob Fiero, as director of Tactics Department, U.S. Army Infantry School, and his counterpart at the Armor School. He subsequently commanded the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Armored Division in Gelhausen, Germany, for two years, and retired as a highly decorated soldier in 1989 after 29 years of service. Fiero is a co-author of “Power of Courage in Combat and Danger,” a book that is highly recommended for developing or emerging leaders. He lives today in retirement in Utah, but still maintains close ties to the home state that turned him into an accomplished U.S. Army leader of men.