PROGRESS 2024: Veteran Spotlight – Troy Oliver

When Russellville’s Troy Oliver, a retired major general for the U.S. Army National Guard, speaks about being a veteran, he often points to Bible scripture.

“When I talk about our soldiers, I always quote John 15:13 from the Bible that says, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’” said Oliver at a Memorial Day ceremony one year, as reported in the Franklin County Times. “Those of us that have been through wars don’t just remember our fallen soldiers who went to war and didn’t come home – we also remember the ones who have died because of the effects of war and were lost after they made it home. And we don’t just remember these fallen soldiers on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. There is hardly a week that goes by where I don’t think about the sacrifices they made for our country.”
Oliver, now 80, began his 34-year military career at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1965 – although it actually started before that.

Oliver graduated from Belgreen High School in 1961 and opted to continue his education at Florence State College, which is now known as the University of North Alabama. At that time, two years of ROTC was required for college students; the situation in Vietnam was heating up, and all able-bodied American men had to be prepared to defend their country. Oliver, however, opted to continue ROTC into his junior and senior years at FSC, with an eye toward enlisting after graduation. His degree was in accounting, economics and military science.

“I loved learning about the military,” Oliver said. “I had always enjoyed reading about great generals of the past. I was intrigued by how they operated, how they thought and how they led.”

He would soon be living his own story of military operation and leadership. College graduation ended with Oliver and fellow senior ROTC students being sworn in as second lieutenants. The 22-year-old went through officers basic training – “it was intense training” – to become an infantry officer, as well as airborne school for parachute training, and then he began training recruits.

“I enjoyed the military – the discipline,” Oliver explained. Of course, that particularly value was nothing new but rather something he’d been learning all his life working with his father on the family farm – an agricultural legacy Oliver would ultimately continue, operating his own 500-acre cattle farm to this day.

Oliver was slated to deploy to Vietnam in August 1966, but there was something he had to do first: marry his Brenda, who had just graduated high school. The two tied the knot just a week before he shipped out. “That’s what we wanted to do, and that’s what we did,” Oliver said. Of course, that meant the honeymoon had to wait – but six months later, when Oliver had a week of R&R, Brenda got a plane for the first time and flew to meet him in Hawaii to finally celebrate their marriage.

Deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, Oliver landed in Vietnam as an infantry platoon leader, with 44 men in his charge. The battalion was based in Lai Khe, at the site of a Michelin rubber plantation. Oliver – known as “Hillbilly 6” by call sign – and his fellow soldiers would conduction daytime patrols and night time ambushes, in nearly constant combat with the enemy. They were issued the new-at-that-time M16 rifles – which did not please Oliver. “We had a lot of problems with them,” Oliver explained. The damp and dirt would get into the weapons and cause them to jam. Oliver was able to outfit his platoon with three M60 machine guns – a much more reliable option if push came to shove.

Oliver said he and his men were often in immediate danger. Several of his friends died while they were deplored; but although that was a gut punch – “You live them and sleep with them out in the jungle, and you ambush with them, and you get pretty close” – Oliver said he had to get through it by focusing on his men and their mission. “Your mission drives you.”

Oliver said although he and his platoon captured and killed many enemy soldiers, they were never caught in an ambition themselves. He feels he had something of a sixth sense when it came to avoiding an enemy ambush.

Oliver was in Vietnam through August 1967. He was promoted to first lieutenant while there.

“I wouldn’t take anything for it,” he said. “I didn’t want to live saying that I didn’t go, and I’m proud, even though it was tough and I liked to got killed several times. The good Lord was with me, and I had a good wife to support me.”

In one of those almost-killed scenarios, shrapnel punctured and went through Oliver’s helmet while under enemy fire. He still “can’t figure how I got out of that one alive.”

Oliver said he experienced a lot of anxiety when he came home. He dove into a CPA job to give himself something to focus on, and he soon had an additional way to channel his energy: National Guard Commander Jimmy Byars needed a lieutenant, and Oliver was the man for the job.

From 1968, Oliver held several positions in the Alabama Army National Guard, rising to greater and greater levels of responsibility:

  • March 1968 to September 1971: maintenance and supply platoon leader, 186th Engineer Company, Russellville
  • September 1971 to February 1972: commander, 186th Engineer Company, Russellville
  • February 1972 to October 1976: commander, Company C, 115th Signal Battalion, Russellville
  • October 1976 to April 1978, assistant S-3, 115th Signal Battalion, Florence
  • April 1978 to June 1979, telephone digital communications officer, 142nd Signal Brigade, Decatur
  • June 1979 to September 1981, S-3/S-2, 115th Signal Battalion, Florence
  • September 1981 to January 1984, executive officer, 115th Signal Battalion, Florence
  • January to October 1984, material management officer, 167th Support Command, Birmingham
  • October 1984 to August 1988, commander, 115th Signal Battalion, Florence
  • August 1988 to April 1989, S-4, 142nd Signal Brigade, Decatur
  • April 1989 to December 1994, deputy commander, 142nd Signal Brigade, Decatur
  • January 1995-2000, commander, 142nd Signal Brigade, Decatur

The 142nd was the largest signal brigade in the U.S. Army, providing communication to more than 125,000 soldiers.

Oliver saw steady promotions throughout his military career, rising from lieutenant to captain to major to lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier general and finally major general.
His numerous military decorations include the Purple Heart, Army Commendation and Army Achievement medals, Bronze Star with valor, Combat Infantry Badge, Legion of Merit and Meritorious Service Medal, along with the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Bronze Star, Honor Medal 1st class and Campaign Medal.

Through it all he managed to balance his family, his family and his manufactured housing business with his rigorous National Guard duties.

He said he cherishes his National Guard memories, especially toward the end. “You wouldn’t believe how much fun I had as a general – getting things done and working with the corps commander out there,” Oliver said.

Oliver retired in 2000, and since then he has stayed busy with farm and family. He is a member of the Franklin County Cattlemen’s Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5184 and American Legion Post 64. The family attends Russellville First Baptist Church. He and Brenda have four children, Sharon, Jonathan, Laura Beth and Mason, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Thirty-four years in the military will leave their mark on a person. Oliver sums it up by remembering the credo of the 1st Infantry Division. “Our motto and the vision is no mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, and duty first. We taught that, and we lived it.”

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