An old Army buddy of mine recently posted the following joke on Facebook:
WHY I JOINED THE AIR FORCE
DoD was conducting an "All Service" briefing and the leader posed this question:
"What would you do if you found a scorpion in your tent?"
A Sailor said, "I'd step on it."
A Soldier said, "I'd squash it with my boot."
A Marine said, "I'd catch it, break the stinger off, and eat it."
An Airman said, "I'd call the concierge desk and find out why there was a tent in my room."
Truer words were never spoken.
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.
An acquaintance of mine recently posted the following image to Facebook, which has rapidly become the central repository for all sorts of stupidity:
Just for perspective, I have traveled to other countries where its citizens cannot build a house - ever.
Or drive - ever.
Or go fishing - ever.
Or do pretty much anything they want - ever.
These unfortunate souls often have to work 7 days a week for less money per month than our minimum wage workers make in two hours. But most-importantly, these citizens cannot speak their mind about how messed up their country is - ever.
Unlike the dude who created that meme.
The schmuck who created that image has no idea just how many personal freedoms he actually has; so now he takes his over-privileged life for granted and believes that a few inconveniences in a free society are some sort of bondage.
What an ungrateful idiot.
UPDATE: See 7 Harsh Realities Of Life Millennials Need To Understand for more information; especially point #4.
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.
During my time in the Army I knew some people with very interesting names for their chosen profession, and here are just a few of my favorite examples.
When I was at DLI our unit had someone named SGT Kill. Considering the fact that the Army's unofficial job description is to "kill people and blow things up," her name was amazingly apropos.
At Fort Devens I knew a German Linguist named SPC Lauscher, whose last name means "eavesdropper" in German; it's like he was born for the job.
There was also a SGT Major at one of my units. He was actually a Sergeant by rank, and his last name just happened to be "Major," so for obvious reasons his name sounded downright powerful, didn't it? I never followed up to see how long he stayed in the Army, because his name could have been a lot more fun as he went through the ranks: Staff Sergeant Major, First Sergeant Major, Sergeant Major Major, Command Sergeant Major Major, etc.
But the following true story is the best:
When I reported to Fort Huachuca, I had already been in the Army over 4 years, so I had seen lots of instances of practical jokes played on new arrivals at each duty station. For example, a lot of pranksters employ "supply lists for newbies" to poke fun at their victims. (Everyone remembers new recruits asking for "Squelch Grease," "Chemlight Batteries," and "Grid Squares," right?) However, on one occasion when I actually needed something specific for one of our trucks, one of my coworkers said, "Go see Private Parts in the Supply Room." I laughed and replied, "Look, I didn't enlist yesterday; who really works in supply?" My colleague quickly responded, "No really - that's his name."
Feeling that I had been duped but still needing repair parts for my vehicle, I headed to supply, where I actually met with a guy named Private Parts. I'm not sure who had the bright idea of assigning a guy with that name to the supply room; that was either a cruel practical joke or a job that he was destined to do. In either case, I took one look at him and said, "Dude, the drill sergeants at Basic Training must have unleashed hell on you." He winced slightly and replied, "You don't know the half of it..."
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 are a pair of photos of my dad and brothers with me, and there is a difference of 25 years in between the two images. I stumbled across the second image as I was going through some old photos, and it was taken in 2011 at my daughter's wedding. The first image I have posted on Facebook before, and that photo was taken in 1987. It's kind of amazing to see what the passage of time does...
I don't know what the deal is with those other guys who all appear to have aged, but I haven't changed a bit.
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!
I received the following notice for jury duty in the mail a few days ago, (although I edited out all of the actual personal data before posting it here):
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that the first thought which came to mind was:
"Crap. I do not want to do this."
The second thought that came to mind was: perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss my 'Civic Responsibility.' I am eternally grateful that I am a citizen of the United States, and trial by peers is one of our cherished legal rights which is not available in other countries around the globe.
But over the ensuing days I thought about this a little more, and I began to form the opinion that I have already fulfilled 2,973 days of civic responsibility during my time in the military. Now, for those of you who have never served in our nation's armed forces, you may think that is an unfair attitude. But let me be very clear: during my eight years of military service, the Army owned my life 24 hours a day, and it often made good on its possession. I spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours working in abhorrent conditions in obscure areas around the planet which the average person doesn't know about, and I did so at any hour on any day - regardless of the weather, physical discomfort, or extended separations from loved ones. During my tenure in uniform I endured countless nights trying to sleep in a makeshift lean-to in subzero temperatures, scorching desert heat, and torrential downpours. I also missed dozens of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So believe me when I tell you - we veterans have already done more than our fair share for society. With that in mind, I started to think that all honorably-discharged veterans should be exempt from jury duty.
But then again... as I continued to ponder the subject, I began to think about what the impact to society would be if we exempted all veterans from jury duty.
As I watch the news, I am amazed at the lack of responsibility that is so prevalent in North America. When someone does something bad, they generally refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. But when society attempts to punish a person who has done something wrong, large-scale riots break out in protest. When these riots inevitably destroy cities, their apologists claim that none of the rioters were at fault - it is their 'oppressors' who are the evildoers. But the worst part is - if someone is ever taken to trial for their part in these tragedies, the courts often let the guilty parties go without punishment. A group of defense attorneys were able to successfully use the following defense: "They were simply part of a mob; individual actions do not matter."
Well - let me be perfectly honest: I do not share that opinion. I whole-heartedly believe that if a person screws up, they are personally accountable for their actions; I do not care about the actions of any moral degenerates who may have been surrounding them at the time. If you individually break the law - you are individually guilty. Period. And when you are punished, it is not the arresting officer's fault - it is your fault. (Likewise, if you are pulled over for speeding, it is not the police officer's fault if you get a ticket; you broke the law, so you have to pay the fine.)
In the end I came to the following resolution: even though I may not want to give up a day of my life to serve on a jury, perhaps I need to. Our society desperately needs more people who are not afraid to use the word "Guilty" when it needs to be used. So even though I will undoubtedly be bored for most of the day, I will be bored with a better attitude.
PS - If you are a lawyer who is selecting jurors and I'm in the pool of potential peers, I believe everyone is guilty of something. Food for thought. ;-)
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.