Veteran says military career was ‘blessed’

OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Bobby Tillman joined the Army during the Vietnam War in 1966 when he was 17 years old. He was born in Winter Haven but raised in Okeechobee. He did his basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and then went to AIT at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He went in as a gunner on an M-109 self-propelled cannon, a Howitzer. It was a really rigorous training, he said. They were out in the field the whole time except for graduation. They were taught how to fire and make adjustments and an area called FDC (Fire Direction Control). After his training, he was shipped to Vietnam, and he was stationed at Saigon, but he was also in Cambodia and Laos. He spent a year in Vietnam as an artilleryman and also as liaison and fire direction control. In Cambodia, he got to see some of the Buddhist temples which he said was absolutely marvelous for a kid from Okeechobee who had never been anywhere before. “My whole career in the military was blessed of God because I was able to go and see things I would never have been able to see or do,” he said.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Veteran Bobby Tillman joined the Army at age 17 and then later completed high school while in the military. This photo was from his promotion from Staff Sgt. E-6 to Sgt. 1st Class E-7.

He was later sent to Germany where they put him in nuclear surety. Nuclear surety is to ensure adequate security of nuclear weapons and to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized use of U.S. nuclear weapons. He spent a lot of time in what they called the Dungeon which was a secure area underground. They spent a lot of time training and studying.

He left the army after his three year tour in 1969 and moved to Vero Beach, where he attended Indian River Community College and graduated as an emergency medical technician as a volunteer at the Indian River County Volunteer Ambulance Squad.

He re-entered the army in 1977 as a combat medic working in the field, hospital and troop medical clinics at Fort Polk and Fort Hood. “I went from the jungle to the desert,” he said.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
After his retirement, Bobby Tillman became a medical missionary, traveling to Honduras, Peru and Cameroon.

He started out as a combat medic for a fire forward squad that went into enemy lines. He moved up from there to what they call a troop medical clinic, then he became what they call Amosists. They saw their own patients for acute, minor illnesses. They used an algorithm to help them diagnose and treat the patients under the auspices of Amos’ doctrine. From there, they sent him back to Germany. He was sent to the 8th Infantry Division where he was stationed with the 8th medical Battalion in Bad Kreuznach Germany. He became a Far Forward emergency Treatment Facility platoon leader. There, he was put in charge of the 8th Infantry Division’s Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB) course and testing. He wrote the 8th Infantry Division EFMB study guide and was the chief instructor for the program who trained medical staff of the Luxemburg, French, British, Canadian and German military who were going through the EFMB course. This took him all over Europe.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
If he had it to do over again, the only thing he would change would be to stay in rather than to get out of the service after his first tour, said veteran Bobby Tillman.

Later, he transferred to HHC, 7th U.S. Medical Command action officer in Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations (ACSOPS) that covered Europe, Africa and the Middle-East. He was sent to camp Darby, Italy to set up a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) during the Oct. 7, 1985, Achille Lauro hijacking by four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front in the event of a mass murder situation. On April 26, 1986, during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, they had to set up a radiation monitoring station to monitor military officers and non-commissioned officers wives who were on tours during the accident in Russia.

From there, he was sent to Cameroon and Chad in Africa to do state department missions because Chad was at war with Libya. Then he was sent to San Antonio as the 5th Readiness Command Advisor for 77 National Guard medical units and for the Ready Reserve. Following that, he was sent to Saudi Arabia. He was discharged in 1991 after jumping out of the back of a C130 and landing in bunch of trees. He fractured his neck and his spine and left on a medical discharge.


When he got out, he worked for Columbia HCA at Southwest Regional Medical Center as their administrator for certified rural health centers. After that, he became a missionary and has been to Honduras, Peru and back to Cameroon.

In all his travels all over the world, he has never been to Puerto Rico or Korea but would love to visit one day. There aren’t very many places he hasn’t been, he said. If he had it all to do over again, he said the one thing he would change is he would not have gotten out after his first tour.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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