“Be Competent, Take Care Of Your Soldiers, And Get Buy In”: An Engineer And Olmsted Scholar On Service In Vietnam And In Foreign Relations

Tony Smith


BG Tony Smith was born in 1936 in Kansas City, where his father, C. Rodney Smith (USMA ‘26), was the Assistant District Engineer. When Tony was in high school, his father was transferred to NATO Headquarters, then in Paris, and his experiences as a teenager in France were life-changing. He tapped into his natural abilities, and blossomed as a student, athlete, and class leader. After high school, he attended Sullivan’s Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., for a year before entering West Point with the Class of 1958. He felt that he was well prepared for the rigors of the Military Academy, based on lessons learned from his father, and his older brother who graduated in 1953. As a Cadet, he participated in a summer exchange with French Cadets, enabling him to continue to develop his skills as a French speaker and learn from a military that had recent experience fighting in Algeria and Vietnam. He commissioned as an Engineer Officer, like his father and brother before him, and his first assignment was in Germany with the 3rd Engineer Battalion. He appreciated that assignment because it was the tip of the Cold War spear, and he learned important lessons about his chosen profession. After commanding an Engineer Company, he was selected to be in the second class of Olmsted Scholars, and he studied International Relations in Paris from 1962 to 1964, graduating with honors from the prestigious Institut d’Etudies Politiques. In 1965, he joined the faculty in the USMA Department of Social Sciences and helped start an honors program for the top Cadets in that discipline. Simultaneously, he was working towards his PhD from American University. After leaving West Point, he deployed to Vietnam, where he served as the Deputy G3 for the 4th Infantry Division before taking command of the 92nd Engineer Construction Battalion, possibly the largest in Vietnam, which included two port construction companies. Among other projects, his battalion built the Headquarters for USARV (US Army Vietnam) and a compound for the Royal Thai Army. Returning from Vietnam, he attended the Armed Forces Staff College and finished his PhD. From 1970 to 1971, he worked for his old boss from the Department of Social Sciences, BG(R) “Abe” Lincoln, in the Office of Emergency Preparedness, where he served as the Acting Special Assistant for Oil and Energy. He then transitioned to the Office of the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff when the focus was on reforming the Army in the wake of the Vietnam War and the transition to the Volunteer Army (VOLAR). From 1972 to 1974, he served in NATO Headquarters at a time when tensions were not as intense as they had been, and nations were looking to reduce their forces. Returning to America, he attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces before being assigned to what he considered to be “the best job in the Army” as the Army Corps of Engineers District Engineer in Tulsa from 1975 to 1978. He realized that water resources were the key to the economy, and many of his projects focused on the Arkansas River and the Red River. His next assignment was at Harvard University from 1978 to 1979 in the Center for Diplomatic Affairs, where he analyzed America’s role in NATO. He then was assigned to the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, working for Air Force General David Jones, where his responsibilities consisted of analyzing Europe and the budget. In 1981, he returned to Europe, where he was the Executive Officer for SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe), working for General Bernard Rogers in a job that was more diplomatic than military. In 1983, he transitioned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he was the subject matter expert on NATO, but a hostile climate in OSD led to his retirement in 1985. He entered the business world, working in a variety of international and domestic positions for the Otis Elevator company before transitioning to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a “middle of the road” think tank, where he worked on Polish and Russian issues. From 2001 to 2005, he served as President of the French-American Foundation, and in 2005, he took over as the Chairman of the Olmsted Foundation, managing a program with a $40 million dollar endowment that allowed him to expand the number of scholars. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his family, and his West Point and Army experiences. He highlights his work both as an engineer and in international relations, ranging from his graduate program in Paris to teaching in the Department of Social Sciences and working at the highest levels of the U.S. government. He discusses his career after leaving the military, and concludes by describing what his service means to him.


name Tony Smith
institution USMA
graduation year 1958
service Engineer
unit 3rd Engineer Battalion; 4th Infantry Division; 92nd Engineer Construction Battalion; Tulsa District Corps of Engineers
specialty Department of Social Sciences / Olmsted Scholar
service dates 1958 1985