with Major General Rob Ostenberg, Commanding General,
U.S. Army Reserve
- To live, "seek good, not evil:" proofs from
more about General Rob Ostenberg's amazing Army career,
his assignments, and
Guest of the Month - Major
General Rob Ostenberg, U.S. Army Reserve -- Part II
11 is Veteran's Day. So, it is quite fitting that
our Guest of the Month is a Veteran of Vietnam.
Rob Ostenberg, a Major General (2 Star), is the Commanding
General for the 63rd Regional Readiness Command of
the U.S. Army Reserve, and a Veteran of Vietnam. He
is also an Advanced Field Underwriting Consultant
for Financial and Estate Planning for a major financial
firm. Last month, he shared practical and prayerful
insights regarding leadership, values, the Army, the
current world situation, and the War on Terrororism.
In this Part II of our interview, Major General Ostenberg
shares how he joined the Army, fought for our country
in Vietnam, listened to God, and was protected and
guided each step of the way.
How did you decide to join the army?
Many of my friends in college joined one of the services
following college. After graduation, I decided to
go to Martha's Vinyard, MA, for the summer. I worked
as a carpenter. Then I hired on as a First Mate of
a yacht and sailed around Maine. My brother and some
friends were drafted, so I drove to Alton, IL, and
enlisted. That's what you did in the Midwest. Even
educated college graduates had no intention of doing
anything other than serving for two or three years.
My father had passed away, and I had no one telling
me to go in and learn to be a man. It seemed to be
the right thing to do. I didn't know really what job
I wanted to do, so the Army would give me time to
think about my life.
What happened once you enlisted?
I went through basic training at Fort Dix, NJ. You
take all these tests in the military for mental abilities.
I was told I would make a good Combat Engineer, and
after Basic, I was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood and trained
for eight weeks as an engineer, during which time
I decided to go to Officer Candidate School (OCS)
and was sent to Ft. Benning, GA, for six months of
Infantry Officer training. During the last several
months, we also worked with cavalry tactics, and I
liked the tremendous fire power. So, after I was commissioned
as an officer on 9-11-1970, I went to Ft. Knox, KY,
and was assigned to an Armor (Tanks) company as a
platoon leader. My first company commander was a real
hero and a great mentor for me. He was the recipient
of the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration for
heroism awarded by our nation. Yet, he was humble
and modest. He would do whatever was required to train
soldiers, and he cared about the welfare of his men.
He was a great guy and a great leader. He was the
motivator who made me decide to volunteer for service
What was OCS like?
The regimen for OCS was strict. For at least 12 weeks,
you had no privileges. You couldn't leave the company
building block unless you were married. Then you could
see your wife on Thursdays for one hour. I wasn't
married. The only time you got off was to go to church
on Sunday. We enjoyed our two hours -- the walk over,
the service, and the walk back. It was the only time
we found peace and quiet. Church, regardless of denomination,
was very important. We all worshipped together. Often
the churches or temples had food for lunch for us.
Church was one of the biggest treats for us.
How did you prepare to go to Vietnam?
I went through Airborne and Jungle training. I wanted
to be a Cavalry soldier and work with a historic unit.
I was sent as an Infantry Platoon Leader; my dream
didn't work out then. But later on in the same tour,
I became Platoon Leader with a Cavalry Squadron. I
did that until 1972, when the division stood down
and came back to the U.S.
How did you use the Bible in Vietnam?
I seemed to follow one of my college buddies; we were
at Ft. Benning together. He had a girl friend who
sent him mimeographed, typed-out Bible quotations
every single week, which were very timely. She started
sending them to me, too, and continued to do so every
single week even when I went a different direction
after OCS -- to Vietnam. We were also given a small
copy of the Bible as servicemen, and I carried the
Bible in my breast pocket of my uniform, and it protected
Are there any passages that were particularly
I recently looked at my service Bible and saw many
verses underlined and marked. I had my favorites.
Psalm 56 was particularly helpful:
||What time I am
afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise
his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not
fear what flesh can do unto me.
going on the first couple of missions, during which
we inflicted casualties, I struggled with what we all
were doing. Here these people are God's children, and
we are God's children, and we were warring. Actually,
I'm glad it bothered me. But then I got to the point
where I just had to do my job. And, if you think about
it, the Bible shows how there's always an antagonist
to the one fighting for what is right -- David and Goliath,
for instance. I'm sure both sides are praying and fighting
for what they believe to be right. But we have to realize
that there's a higher power and a higher right. So,
I found Psalm 107 enlightening:
||Fools because of
their transgression, and because of their iniquities,
are afflicted. Then they cry unto the Lord in
their trouble, and he saveth them out of their
distresses. (17, 19)
I prayed to know that I had protection because I
was not a fool. It was difficult, though. Tours were
one year, and I was there eight months. Another statement
that was comforting was:
||Seek good, and
not evil, that ye may live. (Amos 5:14)
How did reliance on the Bible help you do your
My job was to eliminate the enemy. We were dropped
in by helicopter into free-fire zones and told that
if it moved, we eliminated it. We were pretty good
at what we did. When we took fire, as the Lt., I had
to remain erect and try to figure out which direction
the fire was coming from. I prayed a lot about protection
and deliverance. There was one time a sniper was shooting
at us, and the round went right by my neck, through
my rucksack, grazing my upper left hand shoulder.
I had a light wound, shrapnel in my head, that I didn't
even realize was there for a while. I got wounds in
the legs and other areas. I was shot at a lot and
was missed quite a bit. God was with me as I sought
"good" and lived. But I did have some casualties
in my platoon. I had a great group of young men under
my command. As a platoon leader, I was supposed to
have 42 people; we had 25-27. We worked against units
in the mountains with battalion-like elements of 200
people. We could get re-supplied in about 15 minutes,
but there were no other friendly units around. It
was God and us. The chaplains were busy. We talked
about religion and different things, and I think most
of the men believed there was a God, and they prayed
for protection. One time, one of my men told me he
couldn't go on a mission because he had a vision that
he would be killed that night. I couldn't not let
him go, so I put him in the line of march right behind
me. Even though he was up front and not totally removed
from danger, I thought he would feel better because
I was up there taking care of him. He worked through
his fear. We had an ambush, and he was okay. He finished
the mission and never had a problem again. But as
a leader, you can't just assume everything is going
to be okay. The worst thing that could happen was
to have someone break under pressure. Even though
we have a system and rules of engagement, when you're
in the heat of battle, you only have 5-7 seconds before
everyone is killed or is safe.
Did you often feel God's guidance?
Yes. We had a number of incidents that proved divine
direction. I was told by my company commander to circle
down south to join his location. As we proceeded,
I had a very strong feeling that something just wasn't
right. It didn't even smell right. I proceeded into
the valley and had my platoon form a perimeter, take
off their heavy equipment, and perform a search in
the middle of the jungle in the mountains of northern
South Vietnam. Within minutes, we found a cache of
clothing, weapons, RPGs (rocket propelled grenades)
that shoot through tanks, and equipment. It was one
of largest caches found in that area. The rice and
food stuff was enormous, enough to outfit a battalion,
a couple hundred people. There was no reason to stop
there. The area was not in the marching direction,
but that's what came to me. I called my commanding
officer who came over to our area. We had everything
evacuated and shipped back to our rear Fire Base.
It was one of the largest finds by any unit during
my tour there, and pictures and the details of the
find were published in "Stars and Stripes,"
the military newspaper published there. There was
no question that this was divine guidance! This cache
was not lying out in the open. It was in caves, with
overhangs, covered. We wouldn't have seen a thing.
I had listened to God. I could feel His presence and
guidance. God is always guiding, but you have to listen
How did you get to where you are today?
When I left Vietnam, I got out of the Army, not planning
to return. My father had passed away when I was 18,
but his friends were special to me, and I went to
visit them in Florida. Most of them got out of WWII
or Korea and joined a Reserve. But a lot of them said
they wish they had stayed in because the comradery
was fantastic, and they also would be drawing a pension.
I didn't want to have those same regrets later in
life. So, nine months after being discharged, I joined
an Army Reserve unit in California. I have had some
great jobs in the Army and have held every leadership
position from Platoon Leader to Commanding General.
I found that I was good at instilling values and providing
sound leadership to soldiers, so I continued to participate
in the Reserve, while on the civilian side I worked
for a major financial services and insurance company.
I really took that job for only one year and had other
plans. I have now worked there for 29 years and have
been in the Army for 35 years.
And you still pray and trust in God, I'm sure.
I continue to pray for the protection of those who
are in harm's way. Today, the enemy is listening to
us all the time. We have had a couple of our own tragedies.
I have lost three (at the time of the interview) in
our War on Terrorism. I recently went to a funeral.
But the morale of the troops is very high still. Email
is an incredible tool, a way to keep in touch with
The interview would not be complete if I did not
thank you, Rob, for all you have done and continue
to do in serving and protecting our country. I'm sure
many others send their thanks.