WE SERVED: Army vet George Kaiser credits Army for bettering his life
George Kaiser, of Kansas, Oklahoma, in his Army dress uniform. He served in the Army from 1972-79 after being drafted. COURTESY
George Kaiser returned home after serving in the Army and served as a Tulsa firefighter for 25 years. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
KANSAS, Okla. – At 18, George Kaiser was drafted into the Army and served for seven years.
Now, 66 and living in Kansas again, he said he’s glad the Army propelled him out of a tough situation at home and school and allowed him to see other parts of the country. He said the Army was good for him because he admits he wasn’t a good student in high school and “eeked” by in his classes because they didn’t interest him. He said he also knew he wasn’t meant to go to college.
“The Army offered me an education in something that interested me,” he said. “It didn’t really surprise me (getting drafted) during that period of time. It was just expected that sooner or later, if you were out of school, you would be drafted unless you were going to college.”
He went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training and then was sent to an electronics school.
“I was drafted for two years, but the school itself, which was for air defense, was 53 or 56 weeks long, which was kind of out of the ordinary for being drafted. I was expecting shorter training and straight to something else, but I felt I lucked out getting the electronics school. I went to Fort Bliss, Texas, for that,” he said.
He learned to repair tactical radar and missile-tracking radars for the Nike Hercules Missile System, which was an intercontinental ballistic missile system.
“It has since been made obsolete, but that’s what that training was for,” he said. “I was stationed at Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. Our headquarters was the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and I was assigned to a missile battery there on Chesapeake Bay.”
When his time in the Army was up, he was offered a re-enlistment bonus and that spurred his interest.
“I think they thought they had enough invested in me that they were offering that to try to keep me in the service. So I re-enlisted for Alaska,” he said. “I had made E-5 (Specialist 5) when I was in the school and when I got out of the service I was an E-6 or Specialist 6.”
He said being in Alaska was “good” and an “adventure.”
“There I went through some more training and there was a research range that I was assigned to. (In Alaska) headquarters was at Fort Greely. I was detached to Fort Wainwright and then I was assigned to Poker Flat Research Range as the repair-type technician for the radar system,” he said. “We worked in conjunction with NASA and the University of Alaska and of course the Army.”
During the day-to-day operations, he said, there were 12 people working at the range. He said NASA would run experiments at the range using the Army’s rockets, which required Kaiser and other soldiers to keep the rockets and boosters functioning. The rockets would be fired into the upper atmosphere and use the Army’s radar and equipment to record the data, which would be provided to NASA scientists.
He served in Alaska from September 1974 to April 1979.
“Myself and my wife at the time…I was kind of on the bubble as to whether to stay in the service. My re-enlistment was coming up again, and I was coming up for warrant officer school and/or E-7. I was always strongly family oriented, and with our children the age they were, we decided that we wanted to go back home,” he said. “
He said his children got to see their Oklahoma relations maybe once a year and got a greeting card every so often from home during holidays.
“I felt they needed more ties to the family, and that’s what made our decision to get out,” he said.
He said he and his family have always been “proud” of their Cherokee heritage, and he wanted to be home again to be near that heritage. When he was drafted in 1972 he was 18. In 1979, when he left the Army, he was 27.
He said he had always wanted to be a firefighter, so when he got home he took a test to become a Tulsa firefighter and began his second career. He served as a firefighter for 25 years and retired as a captain.
“I loved every minute of firefighting,” he said.