CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Robert Ferrone was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in September 1958; he enlisted in the U.S. Army on November 11, 1979. His father and uncles had served in the military in Korea and Vietnam, and Ferrone was attracted to military service as well. His main motivation for entering the service was to have an opportunity to travel the world; and, he felt the military provided a perfect opportunity for that. The international political climate in 1979 was not very tense; and, the closest the United States had come to war after exiting Vietnam was the incursion into Panama. Ferrone completed basic training in Kentucky. He remembered being mentored by Vietnam veterans who, when they spoke about Vietnam, accentuated the positive aspects of their service there. Ferrone recalled learning more from the veterans than from his drill sergeants. Following basic training, he was sent back to Altoona, where he was assigned to recruiting duty.
After thirty days as a recruiter, Ferrone was transferred to Company C, 2nd Battalion 69th Armor, 197th Infantry Brigade, and stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of the Infantry School. Although assigned as a tank driver, he assisted in weapons training demonstrations of the M72 LAW and the M203 grenade launchers. In 1981, Ferrone participated in the first rotation of a brigade-sized unit to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where his brigade trained in a desert. He learned about survival in that environment, and the importance of not becoming dehydrated.
In September 1981, Ferrone was transferred to the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was stationed in Bad Kissingen, Germany. The 11th was assigned to patrol a 40 kilometer stretch of the East and West German border, which was heavily fortified with mines scattered along the East German side. He remembered watching an East German attempt to flee to West Germany who was killed by a mine. His unit would patrol for three days every 3 months. In 1983, his crew transitioned from the M60A3 tank to the M-1 Abrams, and they received the highest training scores of all the crews in his troop. On Christmas, they had the chance to see a USO performance featuring the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
In November 1984. Ferrone was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, in the 1st Cavalry Division, located at Fort Hood, Texas. In 1987, he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor, 2nd Armored Division and rotated back to Germany.
During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Ferrone’s unit was sent to Saudi Arabia. He was a platoon sergeant at the time and was worried about his men. Ferrone received letters from the parents of soldiers inquiring about their welfare, and that exacerbated his anxiety. He believed the army was there mostly for the oil; but, as a soldier committed to doing his duty, he did not speculate about the politics of the situation.
Ferrone’s unit was stationed near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. He recalled that the Iraqi Army was unwilling to fight; Iraqi soldiers would often surrender without a fight. The Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein’s elite force, was more motivated yet highly disorganized. One reason the allied forces were able to do so well was because the Republican Guard expected an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf, which caused them to get outflanked on the land. Ferrone’s biggest problems in Kuwait were mines and the lack of landmarks. Mines were everywhere, and inexperienced soldiers often got killed or wounded, since they would kick a mine out of curiosity.
Ferrone mentioned that when he had to relieve himself during Desert Storm, he would either do so in a water bottle or outside, very close to the tank, because of his fear of the mines. Despite being trained for fighting in a desert environment, the topography was still an issue. His unit had to utilize a Magellan GPS, since there weren’t any notable landmarks, such as trees and hills. After Operation Desert Storm concluded, he was sent back to Germany on September 1, 1991.
Ferrone returned to the United States, where he became a Senior Instructor, and trained over 500 soldiers on the M60A3, M1, and M1A1 tanks at the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In 1994, he was sent back to Europe, where he was a platoon sergeant in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His platoon was tasked with guarding the Tuzla Airfield during Operation Joint Endeavor, and performed escort missions and checkpoint operations in Bosnia. At the time of his interview, Ferrone was still on active duty with the NJ Army National Guard.
Ferrone returned once more to the United States in 1996, and assisted in the training of over 500 Non-commissioned officers. He remained in the service after serving in Operation Desert Shield/Storm and the Bosnian War. Ferrone earned the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Army Overseas Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and the Army Superior Award.