As a young boy in Maryland, Sam Anderson never envisioned a military career, but a fourth-grade field trip to the U.S. Naval Academy planted the seed.
“I just thought that that was the coolest thing ever. And so, I was like, I want to go to the Naval Academy,” he recalled.
When he was a little older, he realized how difficult it was to get into the Naval Academy, but a move to Virginia opened another door. To the Virginia Military Institute.
“When you get accepted to VMI, they ask you what ROTC program you want to go into. And so I said, “Well, you know, I always wanted to go to the Naval Academy. So, I’m just going to circle this little three by five card that said Navy,’” he said.
Fate had a different plan. On his first day, he was told to stand in the Army line. He followed the order.
A week later Anderson told his adviser there had been a mistake, that he had requested NROTC. He was told it was too late to change.
“I came to enjoy what it would be like to be in the Army, I decided that I would go do a tour. I had no intention to make it a career, but I got commissioned as an active-duty officer. And so ,I’ll go do that for three years and go see the world. Then I’ll go back and be an engineer at department transportation in Virginia. That was what I thought,” said Anderson.
Once again, Fate had another plan. He discovered he enjoyed the Army. After ten years, he decided to make it a career.
His first duty station was with the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry division, at Fort Drum, N.Y.
On Christmas Day 1992, then-First Lt. Anderson and the 10th Mountain left Fort Drum, headed to Somalia.
It was a humanitarian mission called Operation Restore Hope to make sure food got to starving people.
“These warring clans inside of Somalia were basically hoarding all the food. And so, 300,000 people in Somalia died of starvation. It was an international crisis. The United Nations went in there to try to convince the warring clans to distribute the food, and that mission failed. So, then the UN asked for the military to step in. So, the military was deployed to Somalia to basically secure the transportation and trade routes, so that the food could be distributed to the population,” he said.
Anderson described Somalia as austere, with no infrastructure.
“I remember literally, we strapped wood and toilet seats to the tops of our Humvees when we when we deployed in there because, you know, we had to make our own toilets out of, you know, cut up 55-gallon drums and the toilet lids that we brought, because, I mean, literally, there was nothing there,” he said.
They also set up a communications network so military vehicles could talk to each other.
“I would get on the road with three vehicles, my gun truck, my fuel truck and my wrecker. I was like, 22, 23 years old, and I had three or four kids with me that were 19 or 20. And we get out on the road, drive all over Somalia, delivering food and fuel. We didn’t have air support; we didn’t have fire support. Our comms were probably mediocre at best. I mean, looking back on it, in hindsight, it was pretty risky,” he said. “I look back on now, fortunately, I got to see the whole country because I drove everywhere. But, towards the end of the mission, you could tell that the militia was getting more bold. They were anxiously awaiting for us to leave, they could get back to doing the bad things that they were doing.”
By the spring of 1993, Operation Restore Hope accomplished its purpose, and 10th Mountain came home. The United Nations took over and more American soldiers left Somalia.
In June 1993, just over 1,000 U.S. troops remained, but then 24 Pakistani soldiers were ambushed and killed. U.S. and U.N. troops searched for Mohammed Farah Aidid, the leader of one of the warring clans, believed responsible.
Operation Gothic Serpent began with Task Force Ranger sent to Mogadishu. The mission culminated in October 1993 with the Battle of Mogadishu, perhaps best know by another name – Black Hawk Down.
“I was not there as part of that. Kind of legendary mission. I obviously I know a lot of people that were because after my time in 10th Mountain Division, I actually was assigned to the Ranger Regiment, and then spent the rest of my career in the special ops,” said Anderson.
He met, and in 2000, married Jana Yancey. He says he could not have been as successful in his career without her.
“You know, the commander’s wife has a very unique role in the military, run the family support group, she has to kind of keep the team together, while all the military members are deployed,” he said. “She has to be the strong-willed person, strong face to the of the organization, even though she’s scared, worried about her husband, just like everybody else.”
Ultimately, Fate stepped in again and brought him, now Col. Sam Anderson, and the family to Fort Gordon when he served as garrison commander.
“When I got elected to be a garrison commander, I didn’t even know what that was. I didn’t have any idea what they were responsible for. I started learning about it, and I couldn’t believe that the army was giving me that much responsibility,” he said. “Power, childcare, schools, ranges, infrastructure. Human resources, the press, the public face of the installation.”
He discovered he enjoyed the challenge and the interactions with the Augusta-area communities. When it came time to retire, the family decided to stay in Augusta and be a part of the community they had come to love.
He is vice president of a cyber-security business and participates in the Fort Gordon Regional Management Plan, a project of the CSRA Regional Commission. He’s also part of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon.
He’s excited by the growth that’s been happening over the past decade and looking forward to more of the same in the future.
“You know, I’ll be 90 years old sitting on the porch, and there’ll be kids that aren’t even born yet going through the cyber school in world class facilities that started being envisioned in 2013 and 2014. So, it’s pretty cool,” he said.