Writer  |  Soldier  |  Pilot

Bob has a chapter in a military anthology about his time as the commander of an Army Combat Basic Training company at Fort Benning, GA in 1967 and 1968. The book, Untold Stories: Military Writers Society of America 2021 Anthology will be released this fall by the Military Writers Society of America. How to buy details will be provided later, when available.

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Book #3 - From Combat Infantryman to Clinical Psychologist: All in the Army.

Expected release date: late 2022.

In the early 1970s the US Army knew the War in Vietnam was going to end and with it the draft. A non-conscript Army meant that all soldiers had to be volunteers and, to attract young people to join, the NCOs and officers had to be nice. But doing this could be difficult for older NCOs and officers. Thus, the Army thought that bringing former combat arms officers, who now had doctoral degrees in the behavioral sciences (psychology, counseling, social work), back on active duty, they could ease the transition from a compulsory military service to an all-volunteer force. The Army sought former combat officers in doctoral programs to return to active duty while getting their degrees. I was one of those.

In the last semester of my master’s program in counseling and psychology, I applied to a dozen psychology PhD programs, and every one turned me down. One said I had spent too long in the military and couldn’t think; another said my undergrad grades were too low (even though that was 10 years ago and my C+ average was from an Ivy League college); another said I had never worked as a psychologist nor published any research articles; and the reasons went on. Not one school wanted me. So, I graduated, got certified as an assistant school psychologist and a school psychometrist and worked as a counselor where I got my degree.

During that year as a psychologist I continued taking grad courses and now had experience working in the field. Toward the end of my first year, working, I again applied to PhD programs, all over again. But, now I was a different animal, I was a real live, certified, accomplished school psychologist. Also, I had taken the Miller Analogies Test and received a score in the mid-90s percentile. With my work as a psychologist, my state psychology certifications and my MAT score, every school accepted me the second time around. I took a perverse pleasure in telling most schools that after a closer look at their PhD program, I had decided it wasn’t good enough for me. I did accept the offer at the University of Utah PhD program in Counseling Psychology. And after a rocky start, I completed the program (and my American Psychology Association clinical internship as well as my dissertation) in two years with an A average.

While I reapplied to the PhD programs, I also applied to return to active duty as a psychology PhD candidate. Early in the spring of 1971, I was accepted into the PhD program at Utah (to start that fall) and that summer was brought back on active duty, as an Army Medical Service Corps major, serving as a PhD student.

My PhD dissertation was a comprehensive look at the post-service adjustment of Vietnam veterans. My research revealed that those soldiers who encountered problems after their service, also encountered problems in the Army. These same men entered the Army with problems (dysfunctional families, school dropouts, alcohol and drug addictions, job instability, and personality disorders), and left with the same problems.

Dr. Bob Worthington, Army Clinical Psychologist

Upon graduation, I was assigned to the Psychology Service at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at El Paso, TX, for a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in Community Psychology. The next year I was assigned to the Army Hospital at Ft Polk, LA as the only clinical psychologist on the entire post. At that time Polk was an Infantry Basic Combat Training base, so I was delighted to return to the Infantry, but this time as a clinical psychologist.

I had learned that Army hospitals had a budget to finance medical research projects. My behavioral science projects could be accomplished without extra funding, so my request for research funds was only to cover the cost of traveling to conferences to present my research findings. Virtually every research project presented for a conference was accepted so I did a lot of traveling. To get to most conferences, I would fly commercial air, usually taking a lot of time from Ft Polk. Pilot friends of mine suggested I become a pilot and fly myself. I did just that and thereafter, always flew myself (and my wife).

A major Army research project at Ft Polk was to test the concept of combining basic training with advanced individual training. That is, how much time and money could be saved by taking two separate eight-week training programs (and the week or two between for travel and re-orientation) to combine them into a single 12-week program? I was the psychologist examining cohesiveness and bonding related to the soldiers undergoing the training. Other researchers examined the effectiveness of combined training. We determined it could be done, cheaper and with more positive outcomes. It was presented to Army generals and the Army presented it to Congress. Senators from states which stood to lose Army training posts voted it down.

I also continued to research the adjustment of Vietnam era veterans and which soldiers made it through basic training and which ones did not. The findings were the same as my research with Vietnam veterans.

Nine months after arriving at Ft Polk, I was transferred to a new position at the Health Services Command in San Antonio, TX. This two-star command was responsible for all Army medical facilities and personnel across the US. My job, as the staff Psychology Consultant, was to stay abreast of every issue or concern regarding army psychology, be it health care, research, personnel, treatment, or education. I traveled two to four times a month to visit Army psychologists across the nation to follow what they were doing, provide seminars and workshops, or work on research programs.

During the next six years I became involved in numerous major research programs, as well as continuing a clinical practice at Brooke Army Medical Center, also at San Antonio. These included the DOD five year medical and psychological evaluations of all Americans held as POWs in Vietnam. I did all the Army psych evals for the last few years. I was also a member of the DOD Center for POW studies. It conducted research and published numerous papers and books. Another major project was for the US Olympics. The Army hosted and maintained the Olympic Modern Pentathlon Team, so the Army agreed to undertake a project to identify traits or characteristics of world class Pentathlon athletes and then evaluate young athletes to determine if they had world class potential. Most Pentathlon athletes were selected from high school and college running and swimming sports. Once they joined the team, they were taught horse riding, fencing, and pistol shooting. Our research showed there were no traits that could predetermine premiere athletes, but because I was a competitive long-distance runner (in my 40s) and as a former full-time professional athlete (pistol shooting), I became the sports psychologist for the US Olympics Modern Pentathlon Team.

I also became a forensic psychologist and worked with legal teams either defending or prosecuting military members. I would do psychological evaluations of the soldiers and then teach the attorneys how to properly present the evaluation information at the trial.

I continued to see clients and patients as a clinician and encountered several very unusual patients such as the psychotic lady, admitted to the psychiatric ward, because she drank too much coffee or the sergeant with a back injury who complained about his unprofessional treatment by a neurologist. No one paid attention to his complaint until he threatened to hold a press conference. He told the medical center commanding general he was a millionaire and as a sergeant he was being treated unfairly. The general thought the “millionaire” sergeant to be delusional and called me at home at 7 am, asking me to evaluate the NCO. I did and learned his complaint was true and he was a millionaire (during his tours in Vietnam, all his money was invested in rural property just outside San Antonio). Fifteen years later the land was now inside the city limits, making him a millionaire.

My wife and I started a management consulting company (she was president) which was doing very well. But working with businesses, I did not have a background nor education in business, which I needed. So, my wife and I returned to graduate school (separate schools) where we both received master’s degrees in business administration.

By 1981 I had accumulated 20 years of active duty and almost five additional years of active reserve service. My service had been Marines and Army, enlisted, NCO, and officer. My wife and I decided we had served enough (in this time I had three combat tours, also) so I opted to retire. This initiated another, different phase of my life. At this point, when I retired, I left psychology and began a new career as a business professor at a university.