Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I don't want to write my autobiography (it would only put people to sleep anyway), but “Anonymous” posted here a couple of times and it seems likely that we know each other, so I'll give away some clues about where I've been and maybe write a bit of a story while I'm at it. I just hope it doesn't turn out that he couldn't stand me.

I started my military time in the 20th Special Forces Group, a National Guard unit. At the first drill I was remanded to the tender ministrations of someone I initially regarded as a fat old man. It turns out the fat old man had done what we call “running recon” in Vietnam and had worked with Air America. Running recon is regarded reverently. Those guys had stones the size of a Buick station wagon. The recon units had a 100% casualty rate. Every man who ever did it was killed or wounded at some point. The fat old man damn near killed me. We would run for what seemed like hours, then do pushups for another couple of hours. Every single day of basic training, airborne school and SF school I thought of how he had prepared me to succeed.

After 15 straight months on training status I graduated the Special Forces Qualification Course with class 5-81. I started with class 3-81 in a brutally cold winter and we lost so many guys that they simply eliminated class 3-81 and made us wait for 4-81 to catch up. Being a radio operator, I then had to take what was called BROC (basic radio operators' course), which was eight weeks of Morse Code from sunup 'til sundown. Talk about inducing psycosis...So that left me with class 5-81. (medics had it worse, maybe I'll write about that some day)

I probably didn't think much of it at the time, but all these years later the field phase of the SF radio operator course seems like it was pretty cool. We flew low level on a C-130, bouncing around (several guys lost their last meal on the flight) and jumped into a drop zone so small that only five guys could jump at each pass. As always, I'd been screwing around during the preflight briefing and when I jumped I couldn't see the drop zone and didn't know which way to steer to find it. I finally saw it and almost made it, but a tree got between me and the drop zone at the last minute. Some of the guys went off the mountain into what the instructors called “Lost Cove”. One guy, who later made the cover of Time or Newsweek after the Grenada invasion, tried to climb down from a tree by pulling his reserve. Unfortunately, he climbed down inside the reserve—sort of a guy in a bag thing. The instructors called the mountain Bee Mountain. At first I thought maybe there was an “A” mountain and a “C” mountain. Nope. It was Bee Mountain. One guy actually ran across the drop zone with his 'chute trailing behind him trying to get away from the bees' nest he'd dropped on.

Anyway, I graduated and went back to 20th Group where I was assigned to an A-team. I guess I was there about three years before I decided I just liked it too much and needed to transfer to active duty. During that time I managed to dislocate a shoulder on a jump in Minnesota in January and break my back on a jump at Ft. Bragg. But those are stories for another time.

I went off to 10th Group at Ft. Devens, MA. 10th Group had (has?) a policy of assigning all new radio operators to the Signal Company (in which most guys aren't SF qualified) rather than sending them to an A-team. The reason is that the communications we used at the time, high frequency single sideband with a spring-loaded tape to burst Morse Code, is pretty iffy and they wanted guys who had something in common the A-team guys there so that they'd go the extra mile and beat the transmissions to death until they got them right. Signal company also had teletype vans for HQ communications, but I didn't know jack about teletype vans. I got assigned to a teletype van.

Eventually an opening came up in a line battalion, but it wasn't on an A-team. It was the battalion communications staff, which was all SF qualified. I was so desperate to get out of Signal Company that I jumped at it.

I suspect that my only distinction during the Signal/battalion staff period was having a bad temper.

During this time I got married (still have the same wife). She works for a three-letter government agency in the DC area, so she stayed down here and I went back to MA. Probably didn't help my temper any. But on the other hand, I had one hell of a bachelor pad in Nashua, NH.

Eventually I did find a slot on an A-team and was loving life until I hit a rock or tree root while skiing (10th Group does lots of winter.mountain stuff) and wrecked my left knee. Right after that I transferred to 10th Group's first battalion, which was located in a place in Germany called Bad Toelz.

Everyone wanted to go to Toelz, but I had an extra reason. My wife's agency had a field station not far from Toelz, so we could actually live together and I could, ahem, reap the benefits of marriage, so to speak.

Bad Toelz was probably the absolute best assignment in the entire history of armed forces. Because of my wrecked knee I ended up on battalion staff again, but I loved the place. I started out with the best NCO room in known history. They had just built a new medical clinic and turned the fomer clinic into NCO rooms. I was actually given four boxes and painting supplies when I moved in. I had to put together the two lockers and two bunks and paint the room. But that was ok as it kept me occupied in the evenings until we straightened out housing through my wife's agency. But the room was directly over the club and actually had a sink, left over from when it had been part of the clinic. The proximity to the club was quite nice, and the sink meant I didn't have to trek down the hall to the latrine, if you know where I'm going there...

I ended up living in a real live German apartment that the government leased. No barracks, no living off a noisy stairwell—it was wonderful. It meant I had to drive 45 minutes or so to Toelz while all the other married guys lived right across the street, but it was worth every minute.

The Army preventive maintenance paperwork doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I guess I'm a bit twisted, so I actually grasped it. My job at that point became to check on the team guys and make sure that their paperwork was properly filled out. I suspect that a lot of the guys regarded me as a pain in the ass, but that was never my intention. Officers, in particular, would get incredibly defensive at battalion staff meetings if I would say “Team number such and such had some problems with the paperwork...” At that point they'd go into big time defensive mode and never let me finish the sentence with “but I talked with the radio guy and we squared it away”.

The knee injury eventually finished me off, but we stayed in Germany for several more years, maxing out my wife's allowable overseas time. I spent the rest of the time working at my wife's place in the outdoor recreation office, but went back to Toelz regularly and made it to the beer fest when Toelz was given back to the German government. I even managed to meet Colonel Aaron Bank and get his autograph in a book. Shook the man's hand, even.

All in all, I had a great time in the Army. I don't regret a minute of it, even the times I ended up bleeding all over myself. I'd do a few things differently, but I'd still go SF. The mission, the guys—best in the world. Shortcomings I had in abundance, but for ten years I walked among giants.


Toni said...

Good grief, whodathunk you could write that much about yourself? It was interesting. Broke your back? You'll definitely have to expand on that story. We have something in common.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, well I thought maybe Conrad Yunker but no that ain't right. I was pretty tight with the boys in the attic during my time in Tolz(can you buzz me in?). I remember wasting time in your office playing early computer games while ditching work. Of course this was the time when code ruled during the night, and you had to have a friend in BN commo who knew how to work PROFFIT(sp?) to pick the good antenna for in the field. SATCOM and PRC-137 have put that time waaaaay in the past. I was first assigned to the B-team in B-Co taking over from Tom Christman and so I was always hitting you guys up for info and what not. Where you there when we had that one S-3 SGM that we called "The Anti-Christ of TDY?" PMCS at the B-Team level WAS a pain in the ass. I remember we had to keep that whole big tabbed file of 3x5 cards showing B-D-A weekly monthly annual inspection logs. Then there was that period where that one black E-6 NCOIC in the EMS shop was hoarding lithium batteries like they were his kids. He'd only issue you a battery if the volt meter read zero. We all tried to tell him that you needed to put a load on litiums to get an good reading at there end of life but he would have nothing of it. I was on one of those MEDCAPS to Africa and I needed a couple cases of 5590's for the PS-3/KY-57. He refused to issue me the two cases. We eventually had to get the Company Commander to talk to the BC, what a joke. For me the best part of Tolz was the PT. All the runs had great names, Elbach, stations of the cross, the damn run, short Muhl, long Muhl, etc. Fresh clean mountain air (except for Muhl and the infamous cow barns in the morning). When we moved to Stuttgart we had the Dump run, yeah the run around the city dump.

Here's to old times.

Snakeeater said...

Good God. We definitely know each other. I worked for Conrad, and before him,Tom Mitchell. Tom Christman, if I remember, was on the round side but was Ranger qualified and spoke excellent German.

I remember PROPHET well, and every once in a while I think maybe I'll search the internet for it just for grins. A guy named Larry Ross went to frequency manager school and brought PROPHET back with him.

The antiiChrist of TDY was SGM Duchow, if I remember correctly. He'd bust your stones for every penny.

And oddly enough, I remember the issue with the batteries and how the guy didn't know that you couldn't get a proper volt reading without a load on the thing.

And wildest of all, I was on a MEDCAP to Africa as well. I spent most of the time sleeping on the hood of a Land Rover while the medics treated people for every STD known to man.

And then there was CSM Mohs. I'll leave that one alone for a while.

Anonymous said...

Mickey Mohs and his leg tattoo. Those were the days of wild spandex. Larry Ross, I'd forgotten about him. I got to know Larry back in Devens when he was at GP commo. I remember him showing me PROPHET at the office next to the nautilus gym on Devens. We both got to Germany at about the same time. He went to SOCEUR and I went to Tolz. He would come down and hang out. Did you know Jeff Edwards? Of course I knew him from SigCo. Jeff retired and went to work at SOCEUR (so did Larry I think) as their Computer guru. Jeff was, I think, the only guy to know the 26 van(?). Buy the time I showed up at Devens we had the 99 van. I became quite the expert at that beast. When I did my SWC tour in 92-95 I ran the base station committee for a time and my expertise came in handy.

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