Vietnam Era Special Forces Vet Receives Medal
TAMPA, FL - Geoff Barker received his second Outstanding Civilian Service Medal in a ceremony Sept. 10, in the Donovan room at USSOCOM’s headquarters, paying tribute to his work with the Special Operations Memorial Foundation from June 1997 to July 2012. Although the medal recognizes his work from the past 15 years, he has had a remarkable career for more than 50 years.
Born a British citizen in Leicester, England, Barker became interested in the military in high school and served in the Air Training Corps wanting to become a Spitfire pilot in the Royal Air Force. That dream did not pan out, however.
“I attended the RAF Aircrew selection center. After three days of mental and physical testing, I attended the exit-briefing when I was offered any job in the RAF except not for flying duties,” Barker said. “I had recently lost two teeth playing Rugby football for my school, resulting in a lisp when I spoke, thus disqualifying me for flying duties ‘as I would never be understood over a radio.’”
Disappointed, he went home and visited an Army recruiting office and enlisted for 21 years with the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps. However, Barker faced yet another set back.
“It was my understanding that I could train to fly small spotter aircraft. In reality the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps had long been disbanded and I had been enlisted into the Parachute Regiment,” said Barker. “After multiple weeks of mental and physical assessment, I was nominated for a commission through the War Office Selection Board, and then reapplying for the pre-para course after two years with a line regiment. I opted to remain enlisted and remain with the Paras. I became the radio operator for the 1 Para battalion commander controlling the battalion command net - despite the RAF claims that I could never be understood over a radio!”
In 1957, Barker was serving as a section commander with ‘1 Para’ in Cyprus fighting against the Greek terrorist organization Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston or the EOKA. During that campaign he was riding in a jeep and was hit by a command detonated mine in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus. Wounded, Barker spent Christmas 1957 in an RAF hospital in Akrotiri, Cyprus.
“I returned to combat duty in Troodos, but was unable to continue ski patrols around Mount Olympus where we were safeguarding a critical radar station, and returned with 1 Para to the UK in 1958, assigned to the company headquarters,” said Barker. “While enlisted for 21 years there was always an option for discharge every three years. Company headquarters duty was not for me so I elected discharge.”
Barker emigrated to Canada, and tried to join their Army, but they turned him down because of no vacancies. Determined to have a military career, Barker went south and joined the U.S. Army.
“I enlisted into the US Army, and again became a combat-qualified paratrooper and attended jump school at Fort Benning, Ga.,” said Barker. “Vietnam was going on and I was eager to go, but at Fort Bragg I was told the North Vietnamese had shot down a couple of 'green-card' [Barker was still a British citizen] carrying pilots, and there were accusations that the U.S. was using mercenaries to fight their war of aggression in Vietnam. As a green card carrying non-citizen, my chances of deploying to Vietnam were zero.”
Always one to persevere, Barker decided to try the very American tactic of calling a congressman to help him get to Vietnam.
“I had enlisted in San Antonio, Texas, and I discovered that my congressman was Henry B. Gonzalez who had chaired the President Kennedy assassination investigation,” said Barker. “My request for assistance in getting orders to Vietnam was immediate, and I was on my way within a month.”
Upon arriving in Vietnam, Barker requested an assignment with Special Forces, but was turned down.
“I was met with disdain, and told ‘I had made the system work to my advantage’ and the rear-echelon folks at Replacement Depot, Long Binh, assigned me to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division,” said Barker.
Barker was selected to provide personal security and driver for the incoming new brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Salve H. Matheson.
“Despite being somewhat dubious about this assignment, I could not have asked for a better assignment.” said Barker. “Brigadier General Matheson had served in the original Band of Brothers as a lieutenant with Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry during World War II, and later as a colonel he commanded the 10th Special Forces Group [Airborne] at Bad Tolz, Germany. What a great officer.”
The brigade sergeant major was Sgt. Maj. Paul Huff, the first U.S. paratrooper to earn the Medal of Honor during World War II. “The reason we became buddies may have had something to do with me having the general’s Jeep, and him not having one,” Barker continued.
Matheson was reassigned to be the chief of intelligence of Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Forward in Da Nang. Matheson asked Barker to come with him which Barker did, but he was only there six weeks.
“Gen. Westmoreland [MACV commander] arrived to tell Brigadier General Matheson that he was needed back in the states,” Barker said. “Gen. Westmoreland asked me what I wanted to do and I said ‘I would head to Saigon for reassignment to the 1st Brigade.’ Everyone was happy with that, except that my intention was another shot at a Special Forces assignment.”
After hitch-hiking a flight to Saigon, Barker headed to MACV personnel to see where he could go. He found an accommodating personnel sergeant and the sergeant checked his records and noticed Barker had conducted anti-terrorist missions in the Middle East with ‘1 Para.’ This is where Barker’s career makes another interesting turn.
“He [the personnel sergeant] asked me to stay where I was while he made a phone call. When he returned me he told me that he had an assignment that I could fill, but he could not tell me where I would be assigned, to whom I would be assigned, and what I would be doing,” said Barker. “I admit he piqued my curiosity and I agreed to an interview. He then gave me a street corner to meet my contact in Saigon. In response to my question, he assured me that we were not on Candid Camera.”
I made contact at 0900 the following morning, and literally over a beer at 0915, I was briefed and accepted an assignment as a military assignee to the Central Intelligence Agency with the Provincial Reconnaissance Units. This was a classic Special Forces mission, recruiting, training, organizing, equipping, and leading indigenous forces in combat. I ran small unit operations; raids, ambushes, surveillance, intelligence collection, prisoner snatches and elimination of the Viet Cong Infrastructure.”
Initially a Staff Sergeant during his assignment with the PRU, Barker received a commission to first lieutenant. After being commissioned he took over the PRU along the Demilitarized Zone in northern I Corps, and from there he was assigned as the Province Officer in Charge of Camau, a no-man province at the southernmost tip of in the Mekong Delta.
“A no-man province is where no other CIA assets are assigned, just the military assignee,” Barker said. “Camau was where [then] Lieutenant Nick Rowe, Captain Rocky Versace, and Sgt. Daniel Pitzer were captured. Many times it seemed like I was just one day behind VC proselyting camps where I would find photos of Nick Rowe in captivity. Many years later at Fort Bragg I showed them to then Lieutenant Colonel Nick Rowe after I had initiated his return to active duty process.”
Barker became responsible for six provinces throughout Vietnam and was promoted to Captain where his last assignment was to Can Tho, the regional headquarters for IV Corps as the Chief of PRU for the entire Mekong Delta. At Can Tho he had a team of 16 people, primarily SEALS; three Special Forces personnel, and one USMC Force Recon gunnery sergeant who he had liberated from the DMZ.
“After being a ‘bag-man’ in Can Tho it was time to head back to the states where I was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group,” he said.
Barker would go through various Special Forces assignments until he retired in 1987. He then would take a job at the fledgling U.S. Special Operations Command, serving 19 years until he retired in 2007 as a Senior Operations Analyst with the Joint Operations Center.
While assigned to USSOCOM, Barker became involved with construction of the Special Operations Memorial.
“The Special Operations Memorial was conceived in 1995 by Dick Leandri who coordinated construction of the Ranger Memorial at Fort Benning, Ga.,” said Barker. “He organized local business entrepreneurs and retired Special Operators to serve as board members because he felt USSOCOM needed their own memorial. After two years of raising funds and construction, the memorial was dedicated in May 1997 by General Schoomaker (5th USSOCOM commander).”
The memorial is the only joint Special Operations Memorial in the United States. The walls contain the names of SOF Medal of Honor recipients and the names of Special Operations Forces killed in action or training. The memorial also lists SOF legacy names, friends of SOF and major contributors. Because of Sept. 11, and the ensuing wars, the memorial was expanded and changed into the shape of a spear mirroring the original Office of Strategic Services’ crest. The memorial was rededicated Dec. 7, 2007.
Today, Barker is instrumental in the maintenance of the USSOCOM Special Operations Forces Memorial Wall. He orders engravings of the names, and has personally installed more than 1,200 engravings to the memorial since 1997. Recently, he helped install the 24-carat gold leaf engraving of the USSOCOM logo to the outer wall of the memorial. Because of his extensive knowledge and experience with SOF, Barker still provides guided tours to visiting dignitaries, organizations, and family members.
Barker’s remarkable career and affection for SOF is self-evident. However, he humbly said “I consider it a privilege to help memorialize our fallen Special Operations warriors, and an honor to assist in maintaining a memorial that is worthy of displaying their names.”