It dawned on me earlier today that this year - 2016 - marks 30 years since I first joined the military. In early 1986 I reported to Phoenix, AZ, for induction into the US Army, where I raised my hand and I repeated the following oath:
"I, Robert McMurray, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Little did I know the adventure upon which I was embarking, and what a profound difference the next eight years would have on my life.
During my tenure in the Army, I was sent to a a lot of places where I did a lot of interesting things; there are a bunch of stories which I can talk about, and there are some circumstances which I will never be able to discuss. I had some amazing experiences, along with a handful of terrifying incidents, and there are a few decisions that I made about which I will continue to question whether I did the right thing for the rest of my life.
I spent months away from my wife and children in faraway places - quite often in deplorable conditions - and all for a paycheck which was less than I would have earned if I had stayed home and got a job flipping burgers for a living.
On the other hand, I was anorexic when I joined the Army, and in that respect the military may have saved my life. I weighed less than 114 pounds when I reported for Basic Training, and yet I still thought that I was hideously overweight. By way of contrast, I weighed 135 pounds when I graduated Basic Training eight weeks later, and I had learned how to be thankful for eating three meals a day.
Most of my time in the military consisted of serving at three different duty stations: the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, for a year; the 511th Military Intelligence Company in Fulda, Germany, for 3½ years, and the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Huachuca, AZ, for 3 years. (My remaining six months of service was spent in Basic Training and a variety of other undisclosed locations.)
Despite the passing of several decades, I am still friends with several of the people with whom I served, and I have done my best to regale my comrades-in-arms in other blogs on this website with some of the stories which I had taken the time to write down during our service together. We were privileged to be first-hand witnesses to some amazing times in history; from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.
That being said, moving on to each duty station was always a strange experience. Like everyone else before me, I was always the "newbie" when I arrived; I was surrounded by people who had been stationed there longer, all of whom had months or years of shared experiences, and they all knew how everything worked. By the end of my first year, I was no longer the new guy, and I would find myself teaching the newly-arriving recruits all the same important details which I had learned during my initial months. By the end of each tenure, I was an "old timer," despite the fact that I was only 25 years old when I left Fulda, and only 28 years old when I left Fort Huachuca.
I would love to say that I endured all of my military experiences with a positive attitude, but that would be far too dishonest. Those who knew me "way back when" can certainly attest to the fact that my attitudes about the Army often fluctuated, and usually in a negative direction. (That general attitude is reflected in several of my stories on this website.) Eventually I realized that I was not like some of my brothers-in-arms who could survive 20 years in uniform in order to earn their retirement, so I chose to exit the military after two four-year tours of service.
By the end of my time in the Army, I had graduated with honors from every school which I had attended, earned a college degree, received a bunch of awards and decorations, and served exactly 3,700 days. Nevertheless, it was time for me to go.
I have never regretted my time in the service, although I must admit that I have no desire to repeat most of my experiences. (Rappelling from a helicopter might be fun, though.) Just the same, I am incredibly thankful for the guys with whom I served; it was an honor and a privilege to work with them.
During my tenure in Germany, the Army had decided that soldiers on guard duty would no longer be issued live rounds. Apparently this decision was based on a large number of suicides which seemed to occur when soldiers were left alone all night pulling a miserable duty shift in a miserable part of the world. However, what this meant for me personally was that every night that I pulled guard duty at Sickles Army Airfield, I was supposed to guard an entire flightline of very expensive Army aircraft with no way to defend either them or myself. (Remember that "Military Intelligence" is an oxymoron.)
Actually, I didn't even have an unloaded M16 as some guards had in other areas of the world; apparently some of the locals had discovered that the guards were carrying unloaded M16s and attempted to steal one by overpowering some poor guy on guard duty. After that incident had occurred, no one carried an M16 on guard duty anymore. This meant that the only two things with me which resembled weapons were a cheap, wooden Billy Club and my three-battery Maglite.
However, that was not the case when the 511th deployed to the border; whenever we were within the 1K zone, we always had our M16s, with three live rounds in one of the guard weapons and a sealed case of rounds hidden in reserve. Depending on the deployment site, the guy on radio watch would have the three live rounds in a magazine of his M16, and the roving perimeter guard would carry an unloaded M16. (Once again, this was to serve the dual purpose of cutting down on suicides and preventing a loaded weapon from being stolen.) The three live rounds were supposed to be enough to fire warning shots if a potentially-threatening situation ever presented itself, and the sealed box of rounds was kept in reserve for the unlikely event that full hostilities erupted.
That being said, in all my time at the border, even though one of the guards had three live rounds in a magazine, there was only one occasion when someone ever felt the need to load them.
During one of our deployments near OP Alpha, SPC Terry was on radio watch and I was the roving guard when a group of three nosy civilians bypassed our "You Will Be Shot" signs and started poking around the perimeter of our site. Everything was surrounded by a triple-ring of concertina wire so they could not get close to any of the equipment, but still - we didn't want anyone nosing around our location.
I think it was SGT Bullard who tried to warn them away in German, but they weren't leaving. After a few, tense minutes of arguing back and forth with the civilians, SPC Terry had had enough and started to walk over to our position. And as he did, he pulled back on the charging handle of his M16, and when he released it we all heard the audibly familiar and oddly reassuring sound of a 5.56 round as it slid into the chamber. There was no mistaking what that sound meant; that M16 was now ready for business - all SPC Terry needed to do was to rotate his M16's safety knob to "Fire" and point the weapon.
And yet these civilians still would not leave, so CW2 Klebo ordered one of us to "Hit one of the civilians hard enough to knock him on his ___." I don't recall if it was SGT Bullard or someone else from our group who complied with the order, but someone other than me used his M16 to execute a textbook "Butt-Stroke to the Chest" maneuver and the guy went flying backwards, after which the injured imbecile unleashed a tirade of German expletives as the three civilians quickly hobbled back to their car and angrily drove away.
To this day, I still think that these clueless civilians had it coming; they had walked past several signs which made it clear that entry into the area was forbidden and the use of deadly force was authorized, plus we had someone who was fluent in German explain several times to them that they needed to leave. Despite all of our efforts, we eventually needed to make our point in a more forceful manner; and if the situation had continued to escalate, it was good to know that someone with live rounds was standing only a few feet away.
I saw the following sketch from Monty Python, and it reminded me of a story which I will relate in a moment. But first, take a quick look at the video:
Here's the story: several years ago, (more years than I would care to admit), I was sent to a remote British outpost somewhere in Europe to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) for a few weeks. Although I was working with the RAF, the post was actually shared between the British Army and the RAF, so I saw plenty of people from both services during my tenure there.
The work that we were doing was somewhat secretive, so there were several security checkpoints through which everyone was required to pass in order to get to the building where work was done. This usually meant a lot of time standing in front of locked gates, looking up into a camera, saying your name into an intercom, and then waiting for some disembodied security guard to push a button to let you through to the next checkpoint.
One morning I was waiting at one of the gates when a Sergeant Major from the British Army stepped up beside me, and I swear he looked just like Michael Palin in the video that I shared - complete with dress uniform cap and a riding crop tucked under his arm.
I'm not quite sure how things work in the British military, but in the U.S. Army we were taught to render the "Greeting of the Day" to our superiors, so I stifled my urge to laugh as I snapped to a more formal position, and then I exclaimed, "Good Morning, Sergeant Major!" He made no reply, and his eyes barely flickered in my direction; somehow his expression managed to register no emotion or formal acknowledgement whatsoever.
But as the two of us continued our vigil outside the locked gate, his countenance slowly began to change. It was barely perceptible, but gradually the corners of his mouth began to turn downward, while at the same time his arm began to flex and the riding crop began to bow under the mounting tension. My silent companion was like spring which was steadily wound tighter and tighter, and sooner or later I knew that spring was going to break.
Eventually the buzzer sounded and the gate opened, after which the two of us parted ways as we headed off into our separate sections of the building. In a few minutes I was regaling my RAF colleagues with the tale of my awkward experience with the Sergeant Major, and there was plenty of laughter all around. But that being said, I was quietly certain that my RAF comrades-in-arms were surreptitiously rejoicing over the fact that they were not serving in that Army Sergeant Major's chain of command.
Here's a 4th of July story for you from our days in the 511th...
Anyone who remembers Steve Meyers will recall that he had no fear - although sometimes he had no common sense, either. Steve backpacked across Europe with no cash as a teenager, wandered off in Turkey without knowing the language or telling anyone where he was going, and managed to pull off a two-week vacation using his MAC flight privileges to visit Athens, Jerusalem, and Cairo and still made it back in time for duty. Steve was an amazing guy who simply went where no one else would think to go.
But what some of you who joined the 511th after the Fall Of The Wall may not know is that our unit used to work with members of the British RAF before they rotated back to the UK. We deployed to the border with them several times, and a few of us were sent to work with the RAF somewhere further north (in locations about which we cannot speak). ;-)
Anyway, during one of those deployments along the border, we were having coffee with a few of the Brits, when Steve turned to them out-of-the-blue and asked, "So, how do you guys feel about when you lost the Revolutionary War? Are you guys still upset about that?"
For a flash of a second you probably could have heard a pin drop all the way across the border, then one of the Brits - without looking up from his coffee - replied in his best British accent, "Lost? I think not. We simply left it to you. Have you been home lately? Ah, what a piece-o-crap."
This comment was followed by a well-deserved round of laughter, and all was well in the world. :-D
Happy 4th of July everyone!
Even though the following article was written a couple of years ago, it has been making the rounds lately: The Lovely Little Town That Would Have Been Absolutely Screwed by World War III. It's a great article, and I highly recommend reading it. However, here's a spoiler alert: they're talking about Fulda, Germany.
The topic of that article should come as no surprise to anyone who served in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR); the Fulda Gap had been used as a thoroughfare for invading armies between East and West Europe for centuries. This point was vividly brought to my attention when I was in-processing after I arrived in Fulda in January of 1988.
Part of my in-processing was a briefing with Colonel Thomas E. White, who was the 52nd Regimental Commander from 1986 to 1988. During his briefing Col. White made the following ominous statement:
"If the balloon goes up, we expect 90% of the 11th ACR to be dead within the first 30 minutes of battle. This is simple a fact of life. Get used to that idea; it will make things easier."
Col. White followed up that dire prediction with the following observation:
"Fulda has the highest divorce rate of any post in the military. If your marriage survives your tour here, it will survive anything."
In retrospect, Col. White wasn't the cheeriest guy.
But that being said, I soon learned just how true his second statement was; during my first year in Fulda, I was deployed to one place or other for 40 of the 52 weeks. (Most of that time was on the East German border in places I cannot mention.)
At the time, we knew that the Russians had tactical nukes stationed just across the border, and since it was our job to figure out what the Russians were doing, we coined the following unofficial motto:
"The 511th MI Company: First to Know, First to Glow."
Thankfully, the balloon never went up, and less than two years after I arrived in Fulda everything had changed dramatically: the borders between the East and West were opened, the Berlin Wall was demolished, and Soviet Communism met its inevitable demise. If you had told me during my first few days in Fulda that all of those earth-shattering events would occur during my tenure at the 511th, I would have thought you were nuts. Just the same, it has been almost 30 years since I arrived in Fulda, and I'm still thankful that the doomsday prophets didn't get their way.
I arrived in Fulda, Germany, in January of 1988, which was in the middle of a German winter. In case you ever wondered just how cold that can be, please take my word for it – German temperatures plummet during the winter months. I had barely completed in-processing for the 11th ACR and picked up my TA-50 from Regimental Supply when the 511th was deployed to Wildflecken for a few weeks. I had some experience with snow camping as a Boy Scout when I was younger, but this was my first experience sharing an 8-man squad tent far out in the German woods for weeks on end. As soon as that deployment had ended, we were deployed to Meissner for a couple of weeks, and then I was deployed somewhere else along the border for a couple of weeks, etc. (By the end of 1988, I had been deployed for 40 of the 52 weeks.)
But I noticed one interesting thing about each of my winter deployments: one squad member always seemed to get up before everyone else every morning to face the cold alone, and he made the coffee for the rest of the squad. Everyone loved that guy, and I decided that I wanted to be that guy. It wasn't because I wanted to be liked by everyone; it was because this guy's act of daily self-sacrifice brought a brief moment of joy to an otherwise miserable moment in everyone's lives.
I don't think that anyone ever asked the original "Coffee Guy" to take on the dubious honor of climbing out of a warm [sic] sleeping bag and venturing out into the snow to brew a strong pot of joe for his fellow comrades-in-arms; I'm sure he simply thought that everyone else would like to wake up to the wonderful aroma of caffeine gently wafting through the tent. By the time I had arrived in Fulda, the self-appointed role of coffee steward had been assumed by SGT "Heave" Mauer. (Note: Everyone in our unit had a nickname; mine was "Fred" because of Fred MacMurray, and you can probably guess where Heave got his.)
Heave was a good guy, and he usually hung out with an assorted collection of ne'er-do-wells (Skip, Duncan, Sleazer, Punky, etc.) They had all been in Fulda long before I was assigned to the company, which made me "The Newbie" during the first six months or so of my tenure there. Despite my branded status as a new guy, Heave was always nice to me – he taught me a lot about how the 511th worked, how to organize a deployment, how to keep your vehicle combat loaded at all times, and how he got his nickname.
It was fairly early on when I noticed that Heave was making the coffee every morning, which I attributed to his "nice guy" disposition. But as the months wore on, I realized that a little bit of effort on his part made a big difference for squad morale. I know that it sounds like a line from a bad coffee commercial, but there is something about waking up with a warm cup of coffee that helps start your day with a better attitude.
Heave was "Old School" about his coffee making; he used an ancient, WWII-era portable Army stove – the Aladdin M-42 – and a beat-up percolator to brew his demitasse. Heave's style showed an extra level of dedication; his particular method was a long process which required patience and persistence. As the winter months gave way to spring and summer, I slowly lost my newbie status, and somewhere along the way I started to join Heave during his morning java routine. I'm not what you call a "Morning Person," so getting up when the world was still dark was a bit of a sacrifice for me. But I thought that Heave's efforts were a noble cause, and if he could do it every day, perhaps he could use some company.
Heave continued to use his old-fashioned brewing methods, but I'm not so antiquated – I started to drag my Mr. Coffee machine with us when we deployed to the border, and I'd plug that into the generators that we used for the radios. I could make more coffee in less time, but nevertheless – my approach to coffee-making was cause for repeated scorn from Heave. He would ask me where was my devotion to tradition, and I would be forced to admit that I had none – I simply wanted some caffeine to start my day.
I formed an emotional attachment to coffee during the winter months, because it was the only thing warm that I would have all day. We were usually deployed somewhere along the East German border, and we generally ate MREs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, we were frequently forced to eat those cold, so coffee was almost always my only source of heat for the day. I would fill my metal canteen cup with java, then I would wrap my fingers around the cup and let the warmth seep into my body while I inhaled the wonderful fragrance that is adored by coffee lovers everywhere. I would eventually drink my cup of coffee, of course, but I would do so with a sense that everything was going to be okay.
I think that it was sometime around the end of my first year in Germany when Heave's time in the Army was up, and he headed back to the United States. But I kept the tradition going after his departure – and I continued to get up every morning and make the coffee for everyone else as we headed into another German winter. I may not have used Heave's methods, but I don't think that mattered to anyone else. No one criticized my technique; everyone was simply happy to have coffee.
My morning ritual consisted of crawling out of my sleeping bag at zero-dark-thirty, getting dressed in subzero temperatures, heading out into the pre-dawn blackness, firing up the generator, and brewing the first pot of the day. I'll be honest – no one else was up at that hour, so I usually filled my personal thermos with the initial fruits of my labor, and by the time I finished brewing the second pot of coffee, some of the remaining squad members would start to drift out of the tent. By my third year in Germany, I had amended my morning routine slightly: I purchased a pair of propane heaters, so I would get up in the morning, light the heaters to take the initial chill out of the air for everyone else, and then I would head outside to make the coffee.
I had a lot of amusing experiences greeting the day before everyone else; here are just a couple examples:
- I vividly recall one wintry dawn at the Schlossberg when I was trying to fill the coffee pot with water; I started to pour water from a five-gallon jug, and I had barely poured an inch of water into the carafe when the water froze in motion and clogged the mouth of the five-gallon jug. I grabbed another five-gallon jug and had a similar experience. Three jugs later and I had five useless water jugs with barely a few inches of water in the pot. I held up the carafe, and as I watched – the few inches of water froze before my eyes. I remember thinking to myself, "What in the world am I doing here?"
- On a different frosty morning at our Wanfried site, I was drinking my first cup of the day as Duncan came stumbling out of the tent. He sauntered over through the snow and commented, "You know, it doesn't matter how old you get – whenever you wake up and see snow on the ground, just for a moment you think to yourself, 'Hey, maybe there's no school today…'"
It has been almost 25 years since the events of these assorted memories took place, but I still love a good cup of joe. I no longer have to drag myself out of bed in the hours before dawn and shuffle through snow to brew my coffee for the day, but the emotional attachment is still there. It's not about the caffeine anymore since I gave that up several years ago; there's just something about holding a warm cup of coffee in the morning that still makes me think that everything is going to be okay.
Every few years during my time in the Army, some new regulation would get created by the Pentagon with the hopes of curbing profanity in the military. This was, of course, a ridiculous idea, since four-letter words are as ubiquitous in the armed forces as boots and bayonets.
Nevertheless, as each new regulation was put in place, our company commander would read off the details of the new directive at a company formation. As he finished describing what could and couldn't be said in the future, some random GI from the formation would always respond vociferously with, "F---ing A, sir!"
This immediately put things in perspective; the Pentagon could issue their silly, little missives from their isolated world (which had nothing to do with the real day-to-day life in the Army), while the soldiers who actually lived and worked and breathed the military would carry on like always – cussing and cursing when necessary.
This 11th entry from the annals of 511th MI Company history is a continuation of the jokes that I introduced in my last post. As a quick reminder, these entries were all collected from the voluminous number of utterly useless messages that we sent back and forth between the EW platoons over the ASAS datalink system in the TRQ-32s.
The Official EW2 List of Things "Not to Do with Coffee"
- Don't make oatmeal with coffee
- Don't drink mess hall coffee after eating red lifesavers
- Don't drink mess hall coffee, period
- Don't let Paski near a full cup of coffee while on pos, unless you want to wear it
- Don't pour coffee on your Lt.
- Don't share coffee with your T&A team, unless you plan to resupply them forever
- Don't let Alex, Fred, or J.J. near a full pot of coffee and an ASAS Datalink
- Don't wash your field socks in coffee
- Don't use coffee as brake, hydraulic, or windshield wiper fluid (However, you can use it for rust removal)
- Don't yodel with your mouth full of coffee
- Don't puke, piss, or pop pimples in a pot of coffee
- Don't deploy to the field without lots of it
(J.J. Simmons and Bob McMurray, "Caravan Guard" 1989)
[Note: As if we hadn’t picked on 1LT Stahl enough, I wrote the following story about him. (Of course, D.A.T. means "Dumb Ass Tanker".)]
Once upon a time, all was well in E.W. land. The birds were singing and the jammers were jamming. Happiness just seemed to flow from everything about the EWites. Their lives were simple yet full of good cheer. They truly loved the work that they did and fancied to themselves that maybe it was important for some reason.
But then one day, "IT" came to town. The dreaded D.A.T.-Beast that they had all heard rumors of. There was no way to stop it. No way to prepare. No time to run or hide. It fell upon the helpless EWites and viscously attacked them. It tore at their very hearts as if it derived joy from seeing others suffer. It held no concept of the work that they tried so hard to do. It scarred their precious COMSEC habits. It had no life of its own, and thus it began to feed on the lives of others like some inhuman vampire of man's very essence.
It possessed no concept of right or wrong. It sought only self-importance and personal gain - the incredible irony to the role in which it chose to masquerade itself; an Army officer. By design the title should reflect an attitude of responsibility, accompanied by a genuine sense of caring for the well-being of its subordinates. But the Beast held not one endearing trait as a leader of men. A thoughtless, soulless specter shaped like a man. An empty, hollow shell that somehow tried to crush the will of others to bring itself some sadistic form of pleasure.
In its arrogance and pride, it has the audacity to raise its head in a flare of self-righteous temper and cry, "How dare you question my judgment?" when its imperfections are exposed. But therein lies its tragic flaw; for no puffed up ego that rests upon one's shoulders can lay low enough to duck through every door. Sooner or later it comes crashing to the ground at the wrong time yet in the right place, and if all luck prevails the Beast will die in some strange way. The hope remains that this mass of flesh that torments man will indeed fall prey to the traps that it laid for others, and some as yet unseen force will attack and purge this cancerous ego infection from the Beast, leaving enough to mold into a shape more closely resembling a man.
(Bob "Fred" McMurray, "Bold Lancer" 1989)
The World: Man's Future Foretold...
Life as we know it, has ended.
The nations of the world have all been devastated by a massive nuclear war.
Civilization is no more.
The peoples of the world are massing together in an effort to reclaim their lives.
The leader of the masses has been designated Emperor of the World.
The Emperor has maintained order in America the ten years since WWIII.
Very few oppose the emperor; those who do wish for a quick death.
Damnation of the rebels is personally levied by the hand of the emperor:
Are you damned in this Hell???????
(J.J. Simmons, Caravan Guard, 1989)
Bad DF-Ville (Sung to the tune of Margaritaville)
Wasting away again in Bad DF-Ville,
Searching for my lost OPFOR freq.
Some people say that there's an LT to blame,
But I know, that it's all TCAE's fault.
DF's and fixes, we all know what we're missin'.
We don't have a clue where the enemy stays.
"Gimme a grid square...I don't care where,"
That's all we hear from the TCAE goons.
But it don't matter, ignore the radio chatter.
Don't even bother, you'll be jumping real soon.
Wasting away again in Bad DF-Ville,
Searching for my lost OPFOR freq.
Some people say that the Blue LT is to blame,
But I know, that it's all TCAE's fault.
(Bill McCollum, Hohenfels 1990)
That wraps it up for this post, but I have a few more jokes in my files to post in the future.
This post marks the 10th installment in my series on the 511th MI Company. So far I have posted all of the lists that I had collected, and I've included some stories along the way. Today's post is a little different - I also collected a bunch of jokes that the ESM squads from the two EW platoons sent back and forth over the TRQ-32's ASAS system. I thought that it might be amusing to let everyone see what we thought was funny at the time. ;-]
In the text file that I had used to collect these jokes I had added the following dedication:
These works best represent the attitudes and feelings shared by most who have sat rack upon the "Pos of Sorrow" at one time or another. They are not always intended to offend, though they sometimes do, but rather to show a rare moment of humor in what might otherwise be a dull and boring life.
To all who wear the Blackhorse, I say with the utmost of heartfelt sincerity and emotion, "Get out of the Army while you still can!"
For each of the jokes that were sent, I managed to write down who sent them and what field problem we were deployed on when I collected them.
Selected Titles from the J. Irwin Rumplemeyer Memorial Book Club
There are many titles to chose from when you join the J. Irwin Rumplemeyer Memorial Book Club. Famous authors, quality works.
- Trotting across Zaire
- I suck, you suck (Speak for yourself, Spanky)
- The Spankmeister of Fulda Gap
- Thermonuclear Racquetball: Applied theories
- Opussum Huntin' with Billy Bob Redneck
- The Chairborne Rangers: Tales from the Orderly Room
- How to make two small hats from a brassiere
- John Carter, Warlord of Mars versus Andy Griffith
- Roadkill: It's not just for breakfast anymore
- Tremble your way to fitness
- Eat right, stay fit, and die anyway
- Getting the point across with Plastique
- The Donner Party Cookbook: Frontier recipes with a twist
- It's not easy being a complete Putz: Biography of an XO
- The Black and Decker home facial reconstruction kit
- The Petroleum Jelly Diet
- What every 98G should know, but doesn't ask. (Who cares!)
- Dude, get a clue.
- Coming of age, new NCO's speak out.
- Gandhi, story of an abused child.
- Does Fu Man Chu?
- Thatcher and Reagan: Portrait of a lust affair
- The life and times of 34 extremely short Saints
- True Confessions: I was a Democrat!!
- "Is safe sex in a car, intercourse with the seatbelts on?"
- How to net with a 32(V) and get a date at the same time
- Sex and the 98G, or Wahhh!!
- Spanking: An in-depth study of milk and ************
- Milk: It's not just for drinking!
- Field Duty: It's not just a job, it's boring!!!!!
- Toxic Dumps: A guide to vacationing in America
(By Dave Paski, "Bold Lancer" 1989)
Note: I believe that Paski's "Biography of an XO" book was in reference to 1LT Stahl, who was thrust on the 511th for several months as Company XO until our CO managed to find a way to push him off on some other unsuspecting Company.
The 10 Top Heavy Metal Albums of All Time
- Burl Ives - "Chainsaw Lust"
- Slim Whitman - "Satan and a Six Pack"
- Roger Whitaker - "Dance, Bitch, Dance"
- Boxcar Willy - "Hobo Hell"
- Mormon Tabernacle Choir - "Sacrifice Two out of Three Wives"
- Boston Pops - "Belial's Orchestra"
- Mitch Miller - "Backwards Singalongs"
- Roy Clark - "Even **** Rot"
- Engelbert Humperdink - "Vanity for my Soul"
- Buck Owens - "I hope that Roy Clark rots"
(J.J. Simmons, "Bold Lancer" 1989)
The F.B.I.'s Latest Wanted Dead List
- Lt. McNeil (Alias "Spanky") - Wanted for impersonating an Officer
- Sgt. Smith - Wanted for impersonating a mature person
- Sgt. Degrood - Wanted for impersonating Dumbo
- Spc. Paski - Wanted for impersonating Sgt. Smith
- Spc. Dodge - Wanted for impregnating sheep
(J.J. Simmons, "Bold Lancer" 1989)
Five Reasons Why Not to Yodel in the Woods
- The Boars only like country
- It causes diarrhea in rodents
- It causes spontaneous itching in embarrassing places
- Burl Ives would sue
- It turns Bill Magan on
(J.J. Simmons, "Caravan Guard" 1989)
That's it for now - I'll post more in future notes.
Here's a story that typifies why I liked MAJ Quinn, and it provides a great illustration of the old adage that good things come to those who wait. Sorry that it's a little longer than most of my other posts.
Part 1 - The Mail Run
In October of 1990, the 511th MI Company deployed to Mt. Meissner for the month. Duty was pretty typical: you'd spend a few days pulling rotations in the vault chasing bad guys or on guard duty, and then you'd have a day off. Time off at Mt. Meissner didn't offer many activities; your options were mostly limited to playing racquetball, watching stale videotapes of AFN programming in the lounge, reading a book, playing cards, or hiking. I think that by this time the no alcohol policy might have been put into effect, seeing as how someone from another unit had flipped their vehicle off the mountain in an alcohol-related incident, so the guys that drank were deprived of that as well.
I think that I was reading a book on one of my days off when SGT DeGrood dropped by the room and asked if I'd be willing to ride shotgun back to Fulda for a mail run. The military had a two-person requirement for military vehicles, so DeGrood simply needed someone to fill the vacant seat. Even though it was my day off, I didn't have anything better to do, so I agreed to go along for the ride. Bear in mind, I was married and I lived off-post, so we wouldn't be picking up my mail on this run - this was just for the single guys' mail. I just figured, "what the heck," so I got into uniform and we drove off in MI-59.
As we approached Fulda, DeGrood mentioned that he'd like to drop by the finance office on Downs Barracks to cash a check. That sounded fine to me - I was just along for the ride. After he cashed his check, we climbed back into MI-59 - and the darn thing wouldn't start. We popped the hood and we checked what we could, but we couldn't figure out what was wrong - this day was obviously not turning out as we had expected. We had few options, so we figured that we could walk down to the PX area and catch the shuttle back to Sickels Airfield where the 511th was located, ostensibly to get the wrecker to tow MI-59 to the Motor Pool (MOPO) for repairs. It took us a few minutes to walk down to the shuttle stop, and DeGrood sat down on the bench near the stop while I leaned against the sign for the shuttle.
I had been looking towards the PX, which was in a different direction than where DeGrood was sitting. When I turned around, I saw the Regimental Commander (RCO), COL Bacevich, approaching the shuttle stop. I snapped to attention and saluted as I rendered the greeting of the day, but DeGrood was looking at the ground, apparently lost in thought. The RCO came to a stop right in front of DeGrood, who suddenly noticed that someone was in front of him and he looked up. When he recognized the RCO, he immediately jumped to attention and saluted.
COL Bacevich asked what the @#$% was DeGrood doing there, and DeGrood started to explain that he was waiting for the shuttle to the airfield when the RCO cut him off. I don't remember what the RCO was yelling at him, but I attempted to interject and explain that our vehicle had died and we needed to get the wrecker from the airfield, and then the RCO started yelling at me. I don't recall his exact words, but he said some pretty awful things and made some completely baseless accusations about DeGrood and me wasting time when we should be on duty. Bear in mind - all of this was in front of a large crowd at the shuttle stop and pretty humiliating. Eventually the RCO ordered DeGrood and me to walk back to the airfield and have our CO (CPT Quinn) call him and explain our behavior. I have no idea what expression was on my face, but I looked at DeGrood, and he looked back at me with that half-grin that he always had - that same grin that he made right after he made a joke about your wife or something. We looked at each other for a second, then we both turned back to the RCO and said, "Yes, sir." Then we started the long walk back to the airfield.
Truth be told, the walk to Sickels airfield and the 511th was perhaps a mile at the most, but it was aggravating because there was a principle involved; I was pretty offended, as was DeGrood, but I think that after we got over the initial shock of what had just happened we started to make a few jokes about the situation.
We eventually arrived at the 511th, and as we were walking down the road that led from the airfield HQ to the 511th barracks, we could see that CPT Quinn was holding a staff meeting in the cafeteria. CPT Quinn caught sight of us, and since we were obviously on foot when we were supposed to be in Mt. Meissner, he walked out to greet us and said, "This has got to be a good story." We filled him in on the details about what had just happened, and we let him know that the RCO was expecting a call. CPT Quinn said not to worry about it, and that he would take care of everything.
So now DeGrood and I went back into vehicle recovery mode. We went to the MOPO to get some of the maintenance guys to take the wrecker over to Downs Barracks and pick up MI-59. After we towed it back to the MOPO, we worked with the maintenance guys until MI-59 was back up and running. By this point it was evening - and the one bright point of my day was that my wife dropped by to pick up our mail so I got to see her for a few minutes.
Once we had MI-59 ready to go and we had packed it with the mail for everyone at Mt. Meissner, I dropped by CPT Quinn's office to let him know that we were leaving. CPT Quinn said that he had called COL Bacevich and tried to explain what the situation was, but the RCO had cut him off and said something to the effect that "CPT Quinn's NCOs had AAFES shopping bags," so he was upset that we were shopping in the PX when we were supposed to be on duty. I explained to CPT Quinn that we didn't have any shopping bags - and CPT Quinn had met us as we were walking up the the barracks empty-handed, so he knew that we were telling the truth. CPT Quinn remarked that "in that case, the RCO is simply out to save face - and he'll lie about it if he has to."
Then CPT Quinn advised us to avoid the RCO if at all possible - that's when I had to drop a bombshell: the RCO was scheduled to visit Mt. Meissner within the next few days. CPT Quinn asked if we could stay out of sight, but I informed him that I had already been scheduled to deliver the operations briefing. CPT Quinn told me, "That had better be one damn good briefing," and then he told DeGrood to stay hidden as much as possible.
Part 2 - Payback
After a few days, DeGrood and I were still pretty upset. We had talked a couple of times about whether there was anything that we could do from a legal perspective - but unfortunately the Army is what it is. If someone abuses their power and position, more often than not they get away with it.
Eventually the day arrived for the RCO's visit to Mt. Meissner. At some point they brought the RCO, his staff & entourage, and CPT Quinn to the vault, where I proceeded to give them a detailed briefing on everything that we had been doing at Mt. Meissner. I followed my briefing by giving everyone a tour of the vault area and the antenna fields, then I took them on a brief tour of the main buildings and barracks areas, and I ended the tour in the cafeteria.
COL Bacevich stuck out his hand and thanked me for a great briefing and tour, then he turned to CPT Quinn and asked, "So this is where your NCOs claim that they're making their mail runs from?" I was momentarily speechless, which wasn't like me in those days - usually I spoke without thinking. But the statement caught me totally off guard. Apparently it had caught CPT Quinn off guard as well, and he asked, "What?" The RCO cracked a smile and said, "You know, those two NCOs that I caught goofing off on duty the other day." I could not believe this - not only had the RCO completely failed to notice who I was - but he was now recounting his warped version of the story to CPT Quinn right in front of me.
At this point - I have no idea what came over me other than a complete lack of respect for my sense of self-preservation and I said, "Sir, I was one of those two NCOs." COL Bacevich was momentarily surprised, but then he picked up his story again by saying, "So you're one of those two NCOs that I caught shamming on duty?" I was suddenly emboldened by his arrogance, and I managed to keep my cool as I said something like, "No, sir - I wasn't even on duty that day. I was only in uniform because I volunteered to ride shotgun so that the single guys could get their mail." I continued to tell the real story of how MI-59 had broken down next the the finance office, how we wanted to take the shuttle to the airfield to get the wrecker, how we were humiliated in front of our peers by him, and how wrongly he had treated the entire situation.
The more that I spoke, the lower COL Bacevich's eyes sank towards the ground, and the further his staff and entourage backed away from him. I don't recall how long I spoke or everything that I said - but I know that I chose my words carefully (for a change) and I did my best to say everything in a respectful manner, even though I was making it clear to everyone in attendance that the RCO had behaved like a complete ass.
Once I had finished, COL Bacevich stared at the ground in front of me for a little bit, then he looked up at his entourage for help - but no one would make eye contact with him. He resumed staring at the ground, shifted in his feet a little, then he mumbled, "That's not the way that I understood the story the other day."
And then, before I could do anything about it, my mouth opened on its own and the following words spilled out: "That's okay, sir - let bygones be bygones. I've gotta get back to work. Thanks!" And I left the cafeteria. I swear that my brain was not involved in that final process - which is probably pretty obvious to everyone who reads this. It wasn't one of my most eloquent speech endings - but once it was said there was no taking it back.
I went back to the vault, where I met up with DeGrood (who was now out of hiding) and everyone else. As I was telling everyone what had just happened, CPT Quinn entered the vault. He walked up to me and kind of cocked his head to one side - like a dog trying to figure something out. After a brief pause he asked, "'Let bygones be bygones?' What the hell does that mean?" I replied, "Honestly, sir - I have no idea what that meant." CPT Quinn laughed, then asked if I still wanted to pursue anything against COL Bacevich. I replied that my desire for retribution had been satisfied; the RCO had humiliated me without cause, and I had humiliated him with cause.
Part 3 - Epilogue
In another of those weird, full-circle occurrences - the story didn't end there. DeGrood and I had orders to PCS back to the states when we finished up at Mt. Meissner, but fate was about to play a dirty trick on us. The Army was gearing up for the first Gulf War, and I was days away from having my household goods picked up and shipped to the states when the Army issued orders to freeze everyone at their present duty station. I did not react well to this news - but CPT Quinn was kind enough to attempt to see if anything could be done. Unfortunately, nothing could be done; this was an Army-wide policy, and the only exception to policy was if your household goods had been picked up - and I fell short by six days.
DeGrood and I were both in the same boat - we were both days away from our PCS dates and our orders were rescinded. But it wasn't just hard on DeGrood and me - there were several people who were about to ETS that were frozen in station as well. SPC Meyer's father had a heart attack, and while his father was recuperating his poor mother was trying to work their family farm by herself. I watched Meyers descend from his normal, outgoing, optimistic, happy-go-lucky self to a person who was withdrawn and quiet. I can't imagine what those months were like for him.
The 11th ACR was not going to be deployed to the Gulf, so we went into a holding pattern while every other unit in Germany that was being deployed started gutting us for everything that we had. (Radios, vehicle parts, etc.) It was around this time that CPT Quinn allowed me to go home on leave for Christmas to help alleviate some of my misery. Since my wife and I hadn't been home in three years, I have always appreciated that gesture more than he ever knew.
Skipping ahead a few months, the first Gulf War had ended, and the military started letting people ETS and PCS again. Meyers was finally able to go home, and I was really happy for him. Eventually the day arrived when DeGrood and I got our new orders - I was going to PCS on something like July 4th of 1991, and DeGrood was leaving within a couple days of my departure.
That was when the Army played its next wildcard - the 11th ACR received orders to deploy to the Gulf for post-war activities, and regimental HQ announced that anyone with a PCS date later than July 1st would have their orders rescinded. I could not believe it - for the second time in my tour at Fulda I was within days of my PCS date and I wasn't going to be allowed to transition. DeGrood didn't make the cutoff date, either - so the two of us went to see MAJ Quinn (who had obviously been promoted from CPT). MAJ Quinn said that he would try to get an exception to policy for the two of us. True to his word, he got back to us shortly after our discussion with good news - he got all the paperwork that we needed; all that we had to do was get COL Bacevich to sign our papers.
(You can see the irony here, can't you?)
So early on a Friday morning DeGrood and I made our way over to regimental HQ in order to see COL Bacevich and request that he sign our paperwork and let us PCS back to the states. We both vividly remembered our history with the RCO, but we were hoping that he didn't remember. When we arrived at the RCO's office he was busy, so his secretary asked us to wait. After a while she said that if we wanted to leave the forms with her, she would make sure that the RCO signed them, and we could pick them up that afternoon. Neither DeGrood nor I wanted to actually see the RCO, so this sounded like a great plan. We left our paperwork and promised to return that afternoon.
The hours ticked by, and the two of us decided to drop by regimental HQ and see if the RCO had signed our paperwork. We arrived at the RCO's office, and only the RCO's secretary was there. (The absence of the RCO was great news.) The secretary said that the RCO had signed our paperwork, and she handed everything back to us. That's when we noticed that DeGrood's paperwork was signed - and mine wasn't. (I swear that I am not making this up.) The secretary remarked that our papers must have stuck together, so she asked if I would leave my paperwork in her office over the weekend and she would make sure that it was signed first thing Monday morning. I hesitantly agreed - but what else was I going to do?
As DeGrood and I left the RCO's office, DeGrood turned to me - and he flashed that same half-grin again. He said, "You know what happened, don't you? I stayed hidden at Mt. Meissner and you pulled that stunt of yours - he's never forgotten your name." Of course that thought was already running through my mind, so I can't say that I found DeGrood's joke all that funny at the time, but many years have gone by and it makes me smile now.
So here's the end of the story - I spent an agonizing weekend worrying what would happen, but I showed up at the RCO's office on Monday to see if he had signed my paperwork. Those who were assigned to the 511th at that time realize that I didn't go to the post-war Gulf with them, so the short answer is - yes, the RCO signed my paperwork.
To this day I do not know if the RCO had actually managed to forget that smart-mouthed NCO who embarrassed him, or if he simply decided to let bygones be bygones.