Texas Tech University

Ron Milam

Associate Professor of History
Department of History
College of Arts and Sciences

Interim Executive Director
Institute for Peace and Conflict

What are your research objectives and interests?

As a military historian, I study those men and women who fight in wars and how leadership, both good and bad, affects success and failure. While most military history deals with the performance of admirals and generals, my research focuses on junior officers and enlisted personnel, because wars are not fought by upper echelon people, but by lower echelon soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Thus, I examine diaries and memoirs, letters home to parents and siblings, husbands and wives, and oral histories of those who served their country or ideology. And while my scholarship is generally focused on 20th century wars such as Vietnam and World War II, my teaching and service is broad and includes all areas and eras. Military history is unique as a discipline in that it usually deals with at least two belligerents from different countries or regions, thus requiring a researcher to understand at least two cultures, languages and customs in order to make sense out of the conflict.

ron milam at deskHow do you feel your research impacts the globe?

As a Vietnam War scholar and combat veteran of that war, I was asked to present my work in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam where I taught The History of U.S. Foreign Policy as a Fulbright Scholar. This was a real challenge for me as I was teaching about a war that caused considerable damage to the country and to the parents and grandparents of my students. They were very supportive and showed great respect for my dilemma of having served my country, yet I was teaching there to provide my expertise through my research. Portions of my first book, "Not a Gentleman's War" had been translated into Vietnamese and published in the national security newspaper An Ninh so my students had an idea of my position on the war. Hopefully, this generation's understanding of the mistakes made by many countries during the Cold War will enable future generations to avoid conflict based on ideologies.

What types of service projects have you been involved with?

Wars produce veterans and many of them will deal with their experiences in various ways. I have taken my scholarship on the Vietnam War into the Lubbock community in several ways, working particularly with Hospice of Lubbock in dealing with Vietnam veterans who are nearing the end of their lives. Hospice volunteers are not prepared for the admissions of guilt and struggles with buddies left behind, and my seminars on this subject have been well attended and helpful. I also work with the Interim Healthcare Foundation conducting seminars for families of dying Vietnam veterans, serve on the David Westphall Veterans Foundation Board of Directors, which is the organization that assists in managing the Vietnam Veterans State Park in Angel Fire, New Mexico – the first Vietnam memorial in America. We also administer a wellness and healing program for victims of post traumatic stress (PTSD) utilizing sociological and psychological methods developed through the support of Pueblo Indians in neighboring Taos. And I taught a service learning section of my Vietnam War course in which students went out into the community and conducted oral histories with Vietnam veterans, concentrating on their attitudes toward moral injury, which affects those veterans who struggle with what they did to the Vietnamese people.

What are you currently working on?

I am conducting research on one of the largest, most significant battles of the latter stages of the Vietnam War. The working title of the manuscript is "The Siege of Phu Nhon: Americans and Montagnards as Allies in Battle" and as a participant I witnessed amazing stories of leadership and bravery among Jarai and Behnar tribesmen as they became the target of a North Vietnamese attack on the district headquarters and Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) compound. Three hundred and seventy five enemy and friendly people were killed, including one of my men. The study deals with anthropological issues associated with using local indigenous people as allies. I have also assumed a new leadership role as founder of the Institute for Peace & Conflict (IPAC) at Texas Tech, which will allow me to further extend my scholarship and that of others out into the national and international spheres of military history. This umbrella institute includes the world renowned Vietnam Center and Archive and tangentially includes the Army and Air Force ROTC programs, the Graduate Certificate in Strategic Studies program, and a fellows unit of Texas Tech professors from many disciplines who conduct research and present papers on peace and conflict.

milam talking with students in his office

Where do you find your inspiration?

As I tell my students, I am sort of new at this, having been employed in the oil and gas industry for many years previous to earning my doctorate. Thus, I am of an academic age similar to my newly hired colleagues even though I am much older. So my inspiration comes from the realization that I am contributing to the discipline of military history by creating the next generation of Vietnam War scholars, not just making money in a volatile industry. I am also inspired by the opportunity to teach study abroad courses in Southeast Asia every other summer and to introduce students to the wonderful people and culture of Vietnam and Cambodia. Finally, I am inspired by the number of former students who seek me out at sporting events in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Lubbock to tell me that my Vietnam War course changed their lives, and that they now see Vietnam as a country and not a war. It doesn't get much better than that.

What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research, and service—in their careers?

My advice to newly hired faculty members is always to be themselves, and if they entered the academic world to influence students' lives, they have a chance to do that through their teaching, research and service. I have never understood how these functions can be bifurcated in that good teaching becomes great teaching if elements of cutting-edge research can be brought into the classroom. And service to the community, nation and the world is a natural outcome when you put the classroom and laboratory or archive into the mix. For me, all elements of the education process impact each other and the synergy created is what the students experience.

More about Ron Milam

Ron Milam is an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University where he teaches courses on military history, World War II and the Vietnam War. He also teaches study abroad courses in South East Asia each summer. After 27 years in the oil & gas industry, he earned a doctorate in history at the University of Houston. Ron is the author of "Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War" (UNC Press, 2009), and the editor of "The Vietnam War in Popular Culture," (Praeger, 2016). He has been invited to lecture and conduct research in the People's Republic of China, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia. He is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War where he served as an infantry advisor to Montagnard forces in Pleiku Province, Republic of Vietnam. Ron is a Fulbright Scholar to Vietnam where he taught the History of U.S. Foreign Policy. He serves on the Content Advisory Committee for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Education Center at The Wall, and the David Westphall Veteran's Foundation at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park at Angel Fire, New Mexico. He is also interim executive director for the new Institute for Peace and Conflict (IPAC) at Texas Tech, which includes the Vietnam Center and Archive. He serves on the board of directors of the Texas Aviation Heritage Foundation (TAHFI) and the Music From Angel Fire Chamber Music Festival. He was recently inducted into the Army's Officer Candidate School (OCS) Hall of Fame at the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia.