Boles is still listening to chatter on the radio. But the incoming messages have little to do with events on a green-hued island over the ocean. Rather, they have everything to do with what is coming across water, and in the air, to another small country thousands of miles to the east of the United States.
Vincent E. Boles is now a brigadier general, the commander of United States Army Field Support Command. The field currently in need of his support is in the desert, just north of Kuwait City.
Should a war actually start against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Boles will be responsible for ensuring that American servicemen and women are fully equipped to do whatever their commanders order them to do.
It’s an enormous responsibility but one that Boles appears to bear cheerfully.
“This will be a logistics war,” Boles said this week.
By that he means a certain U.S. victory, but also one within a time frame heavily dependent on his command’s ability to ensure that all the necessary weaponry, ammunition and equipment is in the correct place at the crucial moment.
Boles is one of the youngest generals in the U.S. army. He just recently turned 48. The decision to promote him from full colonel to brigadier was set in motion when he was just 45.
His has been a rapid rise through the ranks. A good job in the desert should mean that the rise is not yet over.
But that’s for another day.
Boles, a veteran of the Gulf War a decade ago, has been more or less on his military toes since Sept. 11, 2001.
When the attack against the U.S. was unleashed from a clear blue sky, Boles was based at Rock Island Arsenal, close to the Quad Cities in Illinois.
While the world remembers America’s response to the attack weeks later in the skies over Afghanistan, few are aware that the trigger in the battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban was first pulled in the American heartland.
That trigger was a series of orders issued by Boles and his staff.
While it seemed to take the U.S. military many days to gear up for a response to the 9/11 attack, the actual time lapse before a full-fledged response was possible just about anywhere in the world was only about six hours. This state of near instant readiness is due to a number of factors, among them the efficiency of Boles and those working under him.
There has been little cause or opportunity for Boles to relax that state of readiness since that awful day.
“I packed a big bag,” Boles said of his recent move from the Midwest to the fringes of the Arabian peninsula. “I’m now based permanently in Southwest Asia.”
As Boles explained it, Field Support Command is charged with moving military stocks around the world while ensuring that the equipment is in good working order.
His primary area of responsibility covers 15 countries in Europe and the Gulf region, including Kuwait and Qatar.
Boles has 51 technically trained officers under his command who are ready, he said, to deal with any and all problems affecting the full gamut of U.S. military hardware.
In addition, his unit also deals with the army’s lengthy list of civilian contractors.
“I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, but it is my job to be ready for it,” he said. “The job is to keep all our soldiers and formations in a state of readiness and to keep track of all the equipment that they need. I really believe that this is a logistics war and that no nation in the world can project power in the way that we can do.”
Boles’s family history is a story of projection all by itself. He was born in Manhattan and, like most Irish Americans, remembers the name of his birth parish, Good Shepherd in Inwood.
His father, James K. Boles, came to New York from Gevagh, Co. Sligo. His mother, Margaret Taffe, emigrated from Ballintogher, Co. Sligo. The two met in their native county but it was not until they met for a second time in New York that they decided to get married.
Together they would rear four sons: Vincent; James J., who works in the music business; Kiernan, who works for Hyatt Hotels in Puerto Rico, and Kevin, a restaurant owner in East Hampton, L.I.
James Sr. passed away a number of years ago but not before he became one of the best-known Sligomen in the New York area. He was for many years involved with the Sligo Gaelic football team and was at one point the Sligo person of the year.
His bar restaurant business, J.K. Boles, was situated for many years on 39th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan.
Margaret Boles is still hail and hearty and living in Bronxville in Westchester County. Her son gives her much of the credit for his success in one of the more demanding career choices anyone could make.
“She is the key to my success,” he said. “It was her example of selfless service, raising four boys in a fourth-floor walkup, that made the difference.” Boles is married to Cheryl Smith, a native of Buffalo.
Like just about everyone else in the nation, both the mother and spouse of this soldier are keeping a concerned eye on developments in Washington, the United Nations and the Gulf.
General Boles reckons that he is surrounded by the kind of people that both his mom and wife can have faith in.
“Much has been said about the kids who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s being the ‘me’ generation, but from where I see it the young servicemen and women here are soldiers who just want to serve,” Boles said of those directly under his command and based elsewhere in Kuwait and the Gulf region in daily growing numbers.
“Their enthusiasm is just infectious, and when it comes to meeting the challenges ahead, I simply have no doubts.”
Boles would appear to have had few doubts about his own decision to entrust his life and career to the military.
With attendance at four military schools and two universities behind him, the rise of Vincent J. Boles through the ranks was steady and sustained.
Early on, he had reckoned that to make the rank of major would be enough to call his army career a success.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 1976, Boles made first lieutenant exactly two years later, captain in 1980, major in 1987, and lieutenant colonel in September 1992. That was after serving in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
By April 1998, Boles was a full colonel. He received his brigadier general’s star in May of last year. Along the way he won a Bronze Star along with other decorations and insignia, including the Army Commendation Medal and Parachutist Badge.
Boles comes across in conversation as being both precise when it comes to his work and easy humored about most else in life. He laughs easily. Then again, the really serious part of his present mission might not have started yet.
“We know more about what we are facing here than we did in 1990-91,” he said.
“Obviously we are concerned about what we don’t know, what the [United Nations] inspectors will find. We want to get this one right. But we’re ready if our nation calls upon us.”