Chapter 02: Vietnam Trains an Administrator

Title

Chapter 02: Vietnam Trains an Administrator

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Description

In this segment, Dr. Tomasovic talks sketches his educational background and describes the significance of his military service. Drafted as a college senior, his service in Military Intelligence during the Vietnam War not only gave him focus for his later graduate studies, but also strengthened specific characteristics and skills that would eventually suit him to a career in administration.

Publication Date

8-1-2011

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Military Service; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Military Experience; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Well, shall we start with a more traditional approach here? I thank you for that statement and context for this next phase. Well, I wanted to start with the question one usually starts with with these, to tell me please where you were born and when.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

I was born in Bend, Oregon January 5th of 1947. My father was in the military, in the Air Force. And we moved every few years in my childhood. He had met my mother in Bend, when he was stationed near there in the air force. And my mother's family lived in Bend.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Could I interrupt you just briefly to ask what your parents' names were, are?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yeah. They're both passed now. My mother from cancer, and my father from heart disease. But he was Peter Alexander Tomasovic, and she was Barbara Jean Scott. Barbara. Excuse me. Barbara Ann Scott. I'm confusing Barbara Jean my wife with Barbara Ann my mother. And so for the next few years we moved as his duty stations changed. My oldest sister was born in Texas. My only brother was born in Virginia. And my youngest sister was born 16 years after I was in Oregon. When my father was nearing retirement we were stationed in Oregon, and he was asked to move again. My parents were living near the town of Corvallis, Oregon, where Oregon State University is. They decided they would buy a house there, and we would stay there, begin to try to go to college there. And my father took his last duty station by himself, and retired a couple years later, and then returned to Corvallis.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

I missed the name of the state university, the division.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And was yours a scientific family? Were your father's duties -- I'm just curious where your own interest in the sciences came from.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

No. My father didn't graduate from high school. He got the GED type of path in the air force. He wasn't an educated man, although he wasn't an unintelligent man. But he was never well educated. My mother didn't quite complete college. She started college. I don't think she finished. But my family was typical of families in the '30s and '40s that didn't have much background of education. All families at that time aspired for their children to go to college and graduate from college. It was part of that developing American dream. And so from my earliest times it was understood that I was going to go to college, and all of us were to go to college. And we all did. And I was an intelligent boy. I never really had to work very hard in high school. But scientific subjects other than mathematics were easiest for me. And I don't know that I had much particular direction in my intent to go to college. I just went. And my interest and my ease with scientific topics led me to graduate with a bachelor's degree in zoology, which was not a particularly useful degree to graduate with. By that time the Vietnam War was in full swing. And although I applied to graduate school, I was drafted before I could enter graduate school, and went into the army.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What were the dates? I noticed your military service. What were the dates of that, just for the record?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

I'm going to be flipping in my CV here.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

I actually indexed it for you here. So I have US Army operations and intelligence military occupational specialty. Staff sergeant. '69 to '71. And then there's another. The US Rangers, the Vietnam service. L Company. August 1970 to August 1971.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yes. Of course at that time there was quite a lot of -- in the late '60s quite a lot of -- that was the period when antiwar protests were building strength. But my family was military. I never had any thought of not going into the service. And so I did. Because of my familiarity with the military life and my willingness to follow the program I did very well in training, and was selected for the NCO academy, noncommissioned officer academy, at Fort Benning, which is some extra training. They were having a lot of -- they needed a lot of young sergeants and lieutenants in Vietnam. Casualty rates were higher for those groups of folks. So the graduates from the academy were sergeants, E5s in the military designation. I graduated near the top of my class and became a staff sergeant. And so in the traditional military progress it could take you years to do that. But at the time of the Vietnam War these so-called Shake 'n Bake sergeants were being turned out as fast as they could turn them out. And the tops of the classes were made staff sergeant, E6. And then so I went from there briefly to some more on-the-job training in the US, and was sent to Vietnam. My military occupational specialty was -- at that time I think it was called 11 Hotel. 11s were the infantry MOSs or military occupational specialties at the time. The Eleven Series. So 11 Bravo was straight infantry. 11 Hotel was indirect fire crewman. Or was it 11 Foxtrot? I don't remember exactly. But when I got to Vietnam, by random choice, I was assigned to a ranger company. The US Rangers, the 75th Infantry Division, were split into companies, spread up and down Vietnam. And they performed mostly Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol duties, LRRPs they were called using the acronyms the army loved to use, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. They would be inserted. They would be attached to air cavalry units that could insert them in small teams. They'd do ground reconnaissance, sneak around basically in the jungle. They'd be extracted back out by helicopters. And that intelligence along with the aerial intelligence of the air cavalry units was reported to the division level, which helped guide military operations, combined with other intelligence.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Wanted to ask you. I'm sorry.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well, let me finish that train of thought. So I was in L Company, which was a ranger company, which was attached to the 2nd of the 17th Air Cavalry, which had aerial units that were supporting the 101st Airborne Division. So we were providing ground and aerial reconnaissance for the 101st Airborne Division, which in turn was sending out infantry companies. They didn't do very many jumps at that time in Vietnam. And so they'd go in and out by helicopter for the most part. And so that's what I did for a few months. And then I was transferred from the ranger unit to the headquarters unit of the air cavalry, where I worked for the S-2, the intelligence officer for the air cavalry. And I compiled intelligence reports from the air cavalry and from the ranger teams and sent that up to division. And that's how I finished out my tour in Vietnam. So I had 12 months there.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

The question I wanted to ask you. For some reason that military experienced jumped out at me, which is odd, given that I was given a 30-page CV. But I was wondering. Were there dimensions of that experience that developed your skill set? Because we haven't gotten yet to the vast responsibilities that you have as senior vice president. But I'm just curious about how those things go together.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yes, I think very much so. It affected me to quite a large degree. I don't think I had much direction or much maturity in college. I got incompletes and Fs in most of the mathematics. Took French. And my GPA was very poor. It was barely 2.5 going into my senior year. Not that I wasn't intelligent. I did OK on the science courses. But I just blew off most everything else. So I took huge amounts of credits my senior year in science courses to try to push my GPA back up. I had met my wife. We got married just before I went to Vietnam. I was trying to pull it together, because I was thinking I'd want to go to graduate school. But my credentials for graduate school weren't particularly stellar except for that last year. But when I got to Vietnam, as I said, I was comfortable with military life. I was with the program. I was a staff sergeant. I was more organized and more goal-oriented and more educated than most of the other soldiers around me, with the exception probably of officers. They were mostly infantry. Not stupid kids, but they took the ones that they didn't think would be military career people, and they put them in the infantry for the most part. And those that they didn't want to train for specialty jobs, they knew they weren't going to stay in the infantry. So they weren't stupid, there were lots of college kids there, but in the ranger unit in particular they tended to be wild characters. Anyway the officers that I interacted with became interested in me. I liked the intelligence work, because I always liked to know the big picture. So that developed my interest in high level knowledge, knowing what was going on across the field of operations, gathering information, analyzing that, and using that to make decisions. So when I came out of there, I was much more mature, much more goal-directed. The military recommendations, the officers wanted me to go to officer candidate school. They wanted me to stay in the military. But I didn't want to do that. But they gave me very strong recommendations, which probably made a significant difference in me getting into graduate school. And so by then I had much more sense of direction. I still didn't exactly know where my scientific career was going. But I was much more motivated to work at it. And I had that global sense, that organizational sense. I was very aware of chains of command and organizational structures and strategic thinking, and lots of things that they use in the military that I was very comfortable with and could turn around and use. So I came out as a very dependable guy who could deal with chaos and uncertainty and think strategically and was interested in taking on responsibilities and was quite used to saying yes rather than no to people who were above me in the chain of command that wanted me to do things. So that translated into my willingness to take on lots of jobs when people asked me, even though it wasn't part of my job description. I wasn't worried about well what's the reward for me at the time. As with converse, you'll see how that influenced particularly at MD Anderson how I advanced in the organization.

Chapter 02: Vietnam Trains an Administrator

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