Vance served in the Army National Guard for more than 40 years
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2020, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service. The series will be published through Veterans Day.
ELKINS — Local resident Bob Vance made a lifelong commitment to his country and the United States Army National Guard, serving more than 40 years in the military.
“I enjoyed every minute of it and I’d go back in a minute if they’d let me,” said Vance, who spent four decades in the military before retiring in July 2004. “During my 40-plus years there, I saw and did a lot of different things. From going to war, to a lot of state duty, which involved a lot of flood work, missing people, airplane crashes and things like that.”
After graduating from Elkins High School in 1963, Vance enlisted in the Army and went to basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky later that year He then went to Fort Sioux, Oklahoma for advanced individual training, and from there worked his way up the ladder before retiring as a command sergeant major.
“Most of my time in it was with the National Guard, other than the six months when I first went in and the six months of Desert Storm,” he said. “I started off at the bottom and made my way up to the gun line. My rookie year I carried powder from the tents to the gun and those big old heavy hundred-pound shells. Then I finally made it up to section sergeant where I had my own gun and own crew. From there I went to platoon sergeant, then to intel sergeant when I was in Desert Storm.
“When I came back (from Operation Desert Storm) they put me as first sergeant in Morgantown and I was there for two years. Then came back to Elkins as the first sergeant in Elkins and from there I went to the sergeant major academy in Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1997. I came back and was promoted to command sergeant major.”
Vance spent the majority of his career in artillery, except for being in special forces for a year and a half. While in Operation Desert Storm he was section commander in charge of a M-109, 155 MM Howitzer, which is a large tracked vehicle and indirect-fire support weapon of maneuver brigades. It had a .23 caliber, 155 millimeter M126 gun with 28 rounds of ammunition. It also has a .50 caliber machine gun with 500 rounds as a secondary weapon.
“With that thing you could shoot over a mountain or whatever you wanted to,” Vance said of the M-109. “For a long-distance round we used what they called a RAT (rocket assisted projectile). The shell itself had a little rocket in there and after it went so far the rocket would kick in and take it further.”
Vance’s two-year stint during Operation Desert Storm began in Basra in in Iraq, but then most of his time there was spent in Kuwait.
“We were in the 100-hour war and we did a lot of firing in that with the field artillery,” he said. “It would get 100 to 115 degrees in the daytime, then at night it gets down to 70 and it’s like you’re going to freeze to death. It’s a different kind of heat altogether and all you saw was sand.”
He also recalled barely being able to see the sky and the sun during the oil fires, and that sometimes at night, it was very difficult to sleep.
“Every time you would try to go to sleep there would be an alarm come in where someone would say there was an incoming round,” Vance said. “Then you’d have to jump out of bed and put your gas mask on and get ready.
“We did have some incoming rounds one night, though, and when they hit beside the tent it was something. I wouldn’t trade my time over there for anything, but I don’t want to go back. It was quite an experience.”
Close to 12 years after Operation Desert Storm, in 2003 the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom. Vance was disappointed he couldn’t make the trip but understood why.
“I didn’t get to go over for Iraqi Freedom, but I wanted to and had two or three years left I could serve,” he said. “They found out I had sleep apnea and wouldn’t let me go because they didn’t think there was any way I could run my CPAP machine over there.”
Vance currently resides in Faulkner with his wife of 53 years, Linda. His son Timothy is currently a colonel in the Army National Guard.
“All and all I think I had a pretty decent career,” Vance said. “I really miss the comradery with fellas the most. But I do see them every once in a while and I do keep in touch with some of them through Facebook.”