By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Daily Leader
Today, America honors the men and women who have maintained its freedom, whether it was past service or current duty. Toasts ring out across the country with words like, “Here’s to the men and women who fight for our way of life.” However, there are thousands of men and women who never fire a shot at an enemy combatant or have experienced direct enemy fire, but they still admirably serve the nation’s military machine.
One such soldier, Liberal High School alumni retired Lt. Col. Doug Jacobs, has spent most of his entire adult life as a behind-the-scenes coordinator and officer ensuring Kansas National Guard units were getting the training and equipment needed for overseas assignments.
When Jacobs graduated from LHS in the Class of 1968, little did he realize he would retire from the Kansas National Guard some 38 years later, with 34 of those spent with the Army and the Guard.
“After graduation, I went to K-State,” Jacobs said. “I also joined ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) that first year while going to school.
“That’s when I started my military career,” he added.
In the late ‘60s and early 1970s, the anti-Vietnam war effort was picking up steam and creating problems on campuses across the country.
“Our own ROTC building was burned down while I was there,” Jacobs said.
When Jacobs graduated from K-State in 1972, he had four years of ROTC under his belt, and he had also gotten married in 1970. It was after graduation he decided to join the Army. He had three choices of duty he could pick from, but it was ultimately the Army’s decision where he would go – after he completed his basic training, which he did in Indianapolis.
“My first choice was to become an armor officer in a tanker,” he said. “But they classified me as a non-combat arms because I was colorblind – I had trouble with greens and reds.
“They commissioned me as a 2nd Lt. in the Medical Service Corp, but they didn’t let me do that,” he continued. “They sent me back to Indianapolis to the Adjutant General Corp, which was actually my third choice. The AGC is where you learn the administrative part – personnel, records and all that kind of stuff.”
Jacobs came back to Liberal in late May of 1972, and in July of ‘72, the Army sent him to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., which is the AGC school at Indianapolis. He was there until October and then shipped to Germany for active duty.
“Now I had orders to go to an ultimate short tour of duty area, which would’ve been in Vietnam, but because I spent time at LHS and college studying German, and I could speak a little German, I was diverted to Germany,” Jacobs added. “That’s where I spent my three years on active duty – in the personnel and finance center.”
While in Germany, Jacobs had a daughter born, and her name is Wendy. She and his grandson, Douglas, live in Topeka today.
In 1975, Jacobs got out of the Army and came back to Liberal looking for a job. He didn’t find anything, but he did get one offer.
“It’s interesting to note that I interviewed with a guy by the name of Don Nash, who was selling insurance at the time. Now, he is my stepfather,” Jacobs said, with a laugh. “For whatever reason, I turned it down, and my wife and I moved to Topeka – she was from the Topeka area. That was in September of 1975”
Jacobs got a job selling real estate and obtained his license. And he joined the Kansas National Guard. Right away, his commanding general asked him if we wanted to go on active duty for about six months to study in a new branch, called “Finance.” Jacobs took the offer and added more training and experience to his resumé.
On his return to the Guard after that duty, he was qualified as a personnel officer and a finance guy. So, he served in the Guard as the finance officer which dealt with auditing, personnel and records at the Guard’s headquarters in Topeka.
Unfortunately, Jacobs went through a divorce just prior to being sent back to Indianapolis for advanced training in personnel. When he went back to Topeka, he was made a major and was assigned command of headquarters company.
“That is the unit that all the general officers and colonels and staff belong to,” Jacobs explained. “So even though I was the commanding officer, half of the unit outranked me.”
Jacobs held that post for three years, and since Guardsmen had to have a corresponding civilian job, he worked for the Kansas highway department as a right-of-way appraiser, which utilized his real estate skills.
Jacobs had also remarried in 1981. His wife’s name is Paula.
Then Jacobs became a full-time staffer with the Kansas National Guard as budget officer in the comptroller’s office, where he was also a civil service technician. Again, he was wearing two hats.
One of his generals asked him to be in the Family Support Services, where his duties included helping families whose units were being mobilized. And in 1990, he went back on active duty briefly to do some budget work for units being mobilized for active duty in Operation Desert Storm.
In 1991, he was made a Lt. Col.
When he finished the family support job, Jacobs was assigned the job of XO of the National Guard Academy in Salina.
“The XO – executive officer – is second in command,” Jacobs said. “We trained people for the officers candidate school.”
He also was the operations officer.
This went on for about two years, with Jacobs having to drive from Topeka to Salina every weekend.
He finally was back in Topeka as the secretary of the general’s staff. That’s when he went to Bosnia the first time.
Jacobs had mobilized a Guard unit from Great Bend in 1996 to go to Bosnia, which had been ravaged by civil war. While with the general’s staff, he was asked to escort some newspaper men from the Topeka Journal to Bosnia so they could do stories on units from Kansas. Jacobs was the liaison and made all arrangements for the 27-day trip.
Once back in Topeka, Jacobs was assigned to the 35th Infantry Division as its comptroller to get them mobilized to go overseas. This was now 2003, and the mobilization effort and training took more than a year. He was preparing to go with the unit as its Joint Visitors Bureau Chief, but that title was given to another officer, Jacobs feared he had been fired, but his general told him he was going to be made the general’s G-5 – a general staff position.
That meant I was going to be a civil military affairs officer, and that’s what I returned to Bosnia as – as a peacekeeper,” Jacobs said.
“Most of our people had to stay within the compound,” he continued. “Our job was to stay between the belligerents – which were the Muslim Bosnians, the Greek or Russian Orthodox Serbians and the Catholic – Christian Croatians.
“They weren’t shooting at us then, but they were killing each other,” he added.
Jacobs had to carry a 9 mm handgun and if he left the compound, he had to have another armed person with him at all times. Being armed gave Jacobs some peace of mind, and he said he even slept with it. But it was the peacekeeping Jacobs enjoyed during his eight months in Bosnia.
“My job was to go out a visit with the civilians – let them know what we were doing and take care of their complaints,” he said. “Part of our mission was to create a safe and stable society after all the killing and the ethnic cleansing.”
Guardsmen helped build new roads, helped people returning to their homes and land how to get all their paperwork squared away, built new schools and soccer fields.
“It was a great job,” Jacobs said. “I was out working with the people – I was out making peace.
“That’s a problem we had in Iraq,” he continued. “We were able to go in and bomb the heck out of them and become victorious as far as warriors, but that’s something I think we lack – we don’t understand really how to make peace.”
Jacobs explained the mission of the Guard is extremely successful when it comes to making peace because the Guard is made up of civilians.
“We may have sanitation engineers, bankers, lawyers, welders, agricultural people who can help them put their society back together,” he explained. “The National Guard is ideally suited to that.”
Jacobs finally took off the Guard uniform for the last time in 2006, retiring. But he was fortunate a female colonel had asked him to think about taking a job at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka. He had a boring experience in high school working at the Coronado Museum to earn a Boy Scout Merit Badge, but after talking it over with his wife, he took the job and hasn’t looked back.
He is now the Command Historian for the Kansas National Guard and its public affairs specialist.
Jacobs will be a guest speaker at tonight’s program at the Mid-America Air Museum, where he will talk of peacekeepers and of the importance of the Guard to Southwest Kansas.
After spending more than three decades serving his country, Jacobs doesn’t feel he’s done anything special. But one doesn’t have to be shot at or return fire to be gauged as a patriot.
“It’s really kind of strange to me that I spent 34 years on active duty or in the National Guard,” he said. “I came in during Vietnam, and I didn’t go to Vietnam. I left in the middle of the Iraq War and didn’t go to Iraq.
“You never know – you go with the whim of the government, and they can send you here or send you there. It’s the luck of the draw,” Jacobs added.