Remembering the Vietnam War: The Story of an Operation Phoenix Operative
July 4th, 2018 Ben Palka
We live in an era where celebrity is routinely held up as the highest aspiration. In recent years, this societal trend has seemingly influenced government resulting in elected officials, directors, and appointees being sensationalized within a polarized national political climate. This shift of focus often means that the goodness of integrity and quiet professionalism can often be undervalued as a worthwhile goal. Nevertheless, elsewhere in the federal government and our military services each day, committed men and women study, train, and execute policy to serve and protect our nation and its interests. Many of these men and women have the credentials and smarts to earn more in the private-sector – yet instead they have dedicated themselves to serving our nation’s good.
Dave Clark, Vice-President (Intelligence and Operations) of Thomas Solutions Incorporated (TSI) has a remarkable professional life and career that exhibits these qualities of service, dedication, and quiet professionalism. At TSI, Mr. Clark’s presence and posture supports our efforts to continue providing service to our nation ahead of self-interests. Similarly, Mr. Clark brings wisdom to provide unmatched customer service and agility for clients who may have challenging requirements in complex environments.
Mr. Dave Clark is a graduate of the University of Nebraska (Omaha) (BS) and North Carolina State University (MEd). He is also a graduate of the US Army Infantry School (OCS and Airborne), the Command and General Staff College, the National War College, the JFK Special Warfare School, and the Defense Language Institute. Other professional development includes the Senior Officials in National Security (SONS) Program, Harvard University, the Federal Executive Institute, the National Security Studies Program, Syracuse University, the Government Executive Program, Northwestern University, the Intelligence Community Senior Leadership Program, and the Intelligence Fellows program.
His initial military service followed graduation from high school when he and two classmates enlisted in the Marine Corps. After serving in the 10th Marines and on completion of his enlistment he returned to Massachusetts where he worked his way through college as a bank messenger. During this period the United States was escalating our involvement in the Republic of Vietnam, moving from an advisory commitment to full combat operations by US forces.
Upon joining the Army he was branched to Air Defense Artillery wherein he applied for Officer Candidate School. Commissioned as an Infantry officer, he volunteered for assignment to Vietnam where his initial tour was as an infantry platoon leader in 1966. Fighting in the Central Highlands and the Bong Son plains area, he was eventually wounded in the leg leading a helicopter assault against a North Vietnamese Army unit.
Following a stay in an Army hospital in Japan he returned to his battalion in 1967 and was assigned as an infantry company Executive Officer. Following a significant attack upon a fire base, he was placed in command of the company. Following that command assignment he extended his tour again wherein after leave to the US, he would return to be a battalion staff officer. On his return to Vietnam he learned a company commander had been killed in action and was offered the company, which he commanded up to and during the Tet 1968 offensive. In the latter days of Tet 68 he was wounded leading an assault against a numerically superior force.
Dave served as an infantry officer under four Battalion Commanders. The first retired with four stars, the second with three stars, the third was killled in action, the fourth retired as a Colonel after a long career of combat service in WWII, Korea, and the Republic of Vietnam. His first company commander was also KIA. His replacement was delayed enroute to Vietnam, so he volunterred to stay beyond his departure date until the officer arrived and took command. During this period he was killed. He and the Battalion Commanders were very inspirational to the men they led. The Army leads far forward, as do our sister services. This is how it is today, and always will be.
Upon being medically stable he was returned to the United States for the remainder of his hospitalization, where upon being close to discharge he was informed he was being medically retired. Taking medical leave he visited Infantry Branch, wherein the authority to override the medical decision did not exist. Upon leaving branch he encountered the Colonel who had put him in command of his first company in Vietnam. After a short conversation he was told to take a long lunch break and return to branch. During this period the Colonel called a friend of his who was a medical officer. When he returned from lunch he was told he had an appointment with Military Intelligence Branch that afternoon. From that appointment he returned to Massachusetts.
Returning to hospital and awaiting his fate he received a call advising him that he was being transferred to Ml branch for skill training and the Advance Course.
After training and schooling he returned to Vietnam as a Phoenix Operations Officer. During this final tour in Vietnam he worked with some very skilled and dedicated military and civilian intelligence officers, both American and Vietnamese who were dedicated to the preservation of the Republic of Vietnam. Most of his Vietnamese counterparts had been in a state-of-war for their entire life. He clearly recognized the impact US advisors and Special Forces had on training their Army. Even more evident was the hope of the populous that a state-of-peace would endure once the US withdrew our forces.
During this period both the US and the Republic of Vietnam were war-weary. High casualty rates by US forces and the South Vietnamese had been the cost of keeping our host country as a viable free nation.
His Provence Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Chief counterpart epitomized the spirit of the Republic of Vietnam. He went underground for over a year when the republic fell. The PRU Chiefs intent was to continue the fight, but had to escape by boat when the Viet Cong were close on his trail. The good news is they are now in the US as citizens, in large part to the team chief who preceded Dave, and who retired as a well-deserved Lieutenant General, who took up the cause to unite the family in the US. Well deserved credit to our State Department and the help of our great neighbor, Canada.
Dave remembers a visit by a few of the ladies who participated in the Miss America tour to Vietnam, visiting the few remaining troop units and an occasional team house, in this case Xuan Loc because our Vietnamese cook was "world class" and it was lunch time. As the two helicopters approached the airfield the enemy fired a missile at the lead bird, first seen by the door gunner, the pilot went into what looked like (and was) a deep dive, avoiding the missile. He remembers the emotional embraces the crew received once of the ground. After lunch, they boarded both birds and proceeded to their next site. A true demonstration of the grit of American womanhood, and the skills of Army Air.
Dave's last flight out of Xuan Loc was courtesy of Air America. Out to the ocean and low over the water to avoid the Strella ground-to-air threat. Air America never refused a mission during his entire tour, to include the rescue of a helicopter crew shot-down by the Viet Cong. He believes they, the men of Air America, deserves more recognition and praise for their contribution to our national efforts to keep the Republic of Vietnam a free nation. They never turned down a mission and were as brave as they come.
Dave’s range of experiences and responsibilities in the past have included; leading and managing men and women in the collection and exploitation of intelligence, investigations, cyber security, logistics, personnel management, training-to-standards, tradecraft, team building, war planning, Intelligence/ Surveillance/ Reconnaissance, and operations-security. He has extensive experience in international liaison and operations with numerous nations sharing mutual interests. Mr. Clark understands the critical needs of the hour for the intelligence community (IC) and SOF (Special Operations Forces) communities. He understands the skills, competencies, and talents that ideal SOF/IC candidates must possess in order to perform with excellence.
At TSI, we continuously seek to grow our understanding of our customers and their goals. We take pleasure in the giving of our time, talents, and resources to make a positive impact as members of our communities. We rely on subject matters experts and hard workers like Dave Clark to expertly deliver our services in these ways from our “customer is always right” corporate culture. TSI is exceptionally proud to have a distinguished, hardworking, quiet professional like Dave Clark contributing to our efforts to provide the best value through inspired service.