Gen. Robert M. Shoemaker (Feb. 18, 1924-June 21, 2017) served as the III Corps and Fort Hood commander from March 1975 to November 1977.
One of the most recognizable figures in the Fort Hood area for decades, Shoemaker spent 36 years in the Army and led two 1st Cavalry Division units in Vietnam: 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment and 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment. He served as chief of staff for the 1st Cavalry Division during his third tour of Vietnam, and later, the assistant division commander.
After commanding III Corps and Fort Hood, he was assigned as deputy commander of U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) before becoming U.S. Army Forces Command commander, a four-star position that only few Army officers achieve.
According to an oral history transcript from academic year 1987, US Army War College/US Army Military History Institute’s Senior Officer Oral History Program, prepared under the auspices of the Institute’s Oral History Branch, Shoemaker was proud of his time commanding the “Phantom Warriors.”
And one of his first acts was to establish actual deputy commanders for the corps.
“The Army always had more requirements for general officers than they had, so III Corps, most of the time did not have a general officer for both deputy and chief of staff,” he said in the oral history interview. “As a matter of fact, when I took command of III Corps, the Chief of Staff was not a brigadier general; he was a colonel. When they were dickering about that, I said I thought it was time for a Deputy, for a lot of reasons.
“Maybe for the first time in its history — at least since the early 1960s — I saw as one of my first missions to really get III Corps to be a tactical headquarters.”
One of the immediate missions Shoemaker said he went through was an analysis of what the corps’ command post should do. He tailored it with a great deal of his own time, “but with some very talented people from my staff, into a corps headquarters to do what I wanted it to do. I never saw another corps headquarters that looked like what we created.”
Shoemaker always drew a very great distinction between readiness and scores on actual unit readiness reports, he said. In fact, no division or corps that he commanded was ever reported as a Readiness Condition 1. Readiness Condition is used to refer to a unit’s readiness to respond to and engage in combat operations, with a 1 meaning the unit is packed and ready to deploy anywhere at any time.
“I would never let anyone be more than a ‘2’ at best, in training. Our training doesn’t begin to approach what it ought to be,” he said. “How can we possibly call it ‘1?’ I think we, at Fort Hood, were probably a great embarrassment to the FORSCOM staff. The monthly reports are very important management tools at FORSCOM ... (t)he Fort Hood units that were reported were far and away much the worst of any post in the Army in terms of meeting their (readiness condition).”
However, none of Shoemaker’s superior commanders ever talked to him about his readiness report scores.
“They may have talked to me about them, but no one ever said, ‘Hey, you have to do something, Bob, to improve those,’” he said.
Shoemaker said he was attempting to get units to really focus on actual training, maintenance and supply instead of ensuring the reports looked good — admitting that he was not as successful as he would have liked at getting his commanders to focus on his priorities.
“I was telling division commanders and separate brigade commanders this and, at the same time, there was a warrant officer talking to a new company commander down in the motor park who said, ‘Hey, you have to do so and so. You have to meet your REDCON,” he said. “So I would say that was one of my great frustrations, and I think real failures, was that I was never able to make them fully understand, at any level.”
Shoemaker said a commander’s first duty is to figure out where he’s going and design a program, but in order to do that, commanders have to find a way to get information and some feel for what’s going on.
“A technique that I used at Fort Hood as a division and corps commander, both, just at random without any pattern or any reason, at lunchtime I would always try to go to some troop mess hall — I think there were about 47 at Fort Hood,” he said. “I would get into line, get my lunch, sit down at a table with some soldiers, and just talk. Other forums talk about this sort of thing, but I think talking with soldiers is one of the great privileges that we have while serving in the Army and talking with our contemporaries.
“The other thing I did as a corps commander was, 95 percent of the time I drove my own jeep when I was cruising around the post,” he added. “Sometimes, of course, when I left the headquarters I had a purpose that was a specific destination, but often I didn’t. What I wanted to find out was what was going on. I wanted to see if I could get some clue that the soldiers down at the company level who were doing the work had some idea of what I was working on, or telling their bosses. I wanted to know whether or not things moved downhill.”
Shoemaker retired from the Army in 1982, and remained an active community member in the Killeen-Fort Hood area. He served as a Bell County commissioner and helped lead the community’s efforts to bring a four-year university, now known as Texas A&M University-Central Texas, to the area. In 2000, Killeen Independent School District named a new high school after him, which he continued to support until his death.
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