WASHINGTON-U.S.Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized Lt. Col. (retired) Robert M. Horn, a Vietnam War veteran who dedicated a career to serving his country, in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series commemorating the military service of Arkansans.
Horn was destined to serve in the military. He grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He learned firsthand about military service from his father who served in the Army Air Corps in WWII. His uncle was a member of the Air Force and was in his first year as an ROTC instructor at the University of Colorado (CU) when he encouraged Horn to participate in his program. “He got ahold of me and said ‘why don’t you give ROTC a try. If you don’t like it you’re no worse for wear.’ I did. I never came up with a good reason for getting out of ROTC,” Horn said. “The desirability of getting a commission grew stronger as I was aware that the draft was getting closer to me all the time.”
In 1970 the military was ridiculed by some of the CU student body; wearing a uniform on campus was at times dangerous for Horn who was then Vice Commander of the ROTC wing. “I had my office blown up,” he said.
He was commissioned as an Air Force officer later that year. His first assignment was at the Air Force Academy. “They parked me right in my mother’s back yard,” Horn said. 11 months later he received orders for Vietnam.
Horn was stationed at Cam Ranh Air Base as an auditor. His primary mission was to monitor the transition of supplies and equipment to the Army of Vietnam and the Vietnamese Air Force during the closure of American bases. His position required extensive travel which likely exposed him to Agent Orange and resulted in health challenges he lives with today.
He made an unwished-for trip back home in the fall of 1970 to accompany the body of his brother-in-law, Captain Halton Ramsey Vincent, a fighter pilot shot down over Laos. “I questioned a lot of things at that point, but nevertheless a few days later I had to get on an airplane to go back to Vietnam,” Horn said.
Later, Horn was assigned to four years in Panama ahead of the U.S. invasion. “What was an idyllic assignment for three years, for the last year I had to have my family ready for evacuation,” Horn said. He saw an increase in the harassment of Americans and on occasion his children were in dangerous situations. Despite the challenges, Horn said his time there was meaningful because of his involvement with operations and groundwork for the invasion of Panama. “I kind of have a vicarious feeling like I did something with that successful outcome. They took out Noriega and Panama is back to having democratic processes today.”
Horn’s final assignment was in Hawaii, but he soon realized he needed to focus on finding a career outside of the military. His time in uniform helped him land his second career in Fort Smith as the Vice President of Finance and Administration for Westark Community College, which today is the University of Arkansas Fort Smith.
“The president was a retired Army officer who was sympathetic to that military experience being transferrable to higher ed,” Horn said. “I’ve had a wonderful second career, in large part because the military trained me up in ways and means that were extremely beneficial in the role that I found in higher education.”
“Lt. Col. Robert Horn honorably served our country in uniform for more than two decades. He is a great example of leveraging skills learned and honed in the military for life after public service. I am grateful for his leadership in the military and in Fort Smith. Preserving his memories for the Veterans History Project is a great way to show our appreciation for his outstanding service to our country,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Horn’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.