I am a lucky vet. During my 4-year tour in the Army, I did not see combat, did not get any innoculations which impacted my health, was not part of any experiments like the 'Atomic Vets', was not exposed to Agent Orange, or DU. I got out healthy and sane. I don't mean to sound unappreciative, so don't get me wrong. My time in the military was an important part of my life that gave me many things. I got an appreciation for the tradition of service in this country, for our decent citizen soldiers, neighbors, family members, friends, colleagues, and for the professionals (like NCO's Warren Johnson, Wales Davis and other grizzled NCO's who are the backbone of our military).
My time in the Army helped make me the person I am today, and for that I am grateful. I'm just saying: I'm a lucky vet.
This page shows scans and photos of my tour of duty in Germany, both as a soldier and as a civilian employee of DOD. I also have scans from a manual my Dad had during German occupation, and a brief homage to my Uncle.
In Frankfurt, there was a pretty nice Officer's Club. Defense-related civilian personnel could attend as well. One of the activities there was a Ski Club. I joined the ski club because I was enamored of someone; that petered out, so I never did ski; one good outcome: my knees are solid still.
Some coins I picked up during my stay. Top row are three coins from Vichy France.
Bottom row: first two are East German coins; next one is Hungarian 20 Filler coin, last is from Yugoslavia.
One of the agreements that constituted the Cold War was the definition of protocols about the behavior of liaison missions between the sectors/alliances of the occupying powers. Liaison teams were rightfully severely constrained. Here is one of the informational cards US forces carried in Germany; sorry about clipped content:
More scans here
My tour of duty was in Germany, during the so-called 'Cold War', given that monicker due to lack of direct combat between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and their allied military alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I served from March 1975 through Oct 1979 in the Regular Army in a couple of units, finally ending up in a multi-national headquarters. I spent a lot of my tour in the Frankfurt area.
I would have rotated back to the 'Land of the Round Doorknobs' in October 79, but chose to get a European separation, and worked in the Frankfurt CPO on Hansa Allee near the Abrams Building. I lived in a number of apartments, and came to know the city of Frankfurt very well, considering it my second home at the time. I stayed there until March 1982, when I and my household goods took a plane and a ship (guess which went with what) back to Phoenix, where I had enlisted. I therefore experienced the military and civilian counterparts of DOD service. Since I lived mostly 'on the economy' (outside the barracks) whether I got a housing allowance or not, I was also immersed at least part of most every day in the host culture; I was somewhat fluent in German, thanks to an interest in languages, and courses in High School and College. The way I used to put it: "I'd get off of work, and I was in Europe" --- good duty for a history major.
When I enlisted, I had not signed up for Infantry, not that I didn't respect that crucial role, but rather that I wanted to be a linguist, namely to learn Russian and eavesdrop on their communications. I would have been sent to Monterey to the DLI (Defense Language Institute), but I did not get my security clearance due to some college-age indiscretions; (think 'inhale', for those who remember a recent President). Oh well. They assigned me to Infantry, which finally translated to 'Fort Polk', Louisiana. I remember the drill sergeants laughing when they found out where I and others in my situation were going.
Fortunately, AIT was in December, so it was pleasant most of the time. Saw a couple of armadillos, joked about Leesville, (though I never got there; was it like that town in Biloxi Blues?), got to yell 'Take that hill', called in mortar fire (pretend), learned some useful skills, met some interesting characters and gained a broader perspective.
The culmination of Infantry AIT, at least at the time, as TRADOC changes the 'curriculum', was a two-day bivouac where we actually got to use our 'tent-halves' to build a small tent we shared with a partner; usually we just lugged them around, perfectly safe and dry and folded all neat and all.
This excursion from the barracks had a day-long 'final exam' of sorts, where we marched to various stations which offered multiple tests of our skills, such as gas mask, first aid, fire and maneuver, orienteering, and ended with a 26 mile overnight march with equipment back to base. (We had been trucked out to the site). It was raining, guys were exhausted, some dropped out, losing their weapons , crying --- all in all a challenging physical experience. I got through it, though, and that experience, along with others during my military service, gave me such a level of confidence in my resilience and stamina, that the benefits have rippled through the rest of my life. I believe that the mental dimension to performance and success is the crucial dimension, certainly at least the most controllable variable, and that mindset and its benefits first became apparent to me in the Army.
I enjoyed infantry training, and thought briefly of Airborne, but at my age of 26, thought better of it. We were given our assignment, to our first active duty unit. Many of us were surprised to learn that almost every one of us had been assigned to the same unit, but it was not so-and-so Armored Division, so-and-so Infantry, so-and-so Artillery, but rather a small 'intake' unit, whose administrative purpose was to collect newbies into a pool of transients, and parcel them out locally to whatever unit in USAREUR, pronounced "Yoos-a-yurr", needed a particular skill, (MOS) at the time. We were not immediately assigned to a unit; this is standard behavior, so we just hung around. This was in Gutleut Kaserne, the 'Kaserne' being German for 'barracks' essentially, although the Kaserne was self-sufficient usually, with guard shack, mess hall, transportation, administration and medics within the walls of the small bases, often no more than a city block in size.
I came into Europe via a short stop in Iceland, to the 'repo depot' in Frankfurt on Gutleutstrasse, near the train station, and its temptations on K-Strasse, the redlight district. While we were hanging in the barracks, a request went out to us newbies about volunteering for company clerk school. I figured, why not. I passed the training, part of which was typing. I had actually taken typing in High School, trying to meet girls; well, THAT part didn't pay off, but who'da thunk that down the road that skill might get me out of infantry? I mean, I enjoyed the AIT, but if I had my druthers, I'd rather be elsewhere than a unit out in the boonies, so the MOS of 11B stayed for a while, but I got assigned to my first job as a Company Clerk.
First assignment was with the 32nd Signal Battalion, the Voice of V Corps (and that's pronounced "VEE CORE", my son/daughter/whatever). This unit was based in a small barracks (we used the German word 'Kaserne'), in the nearby town of Hoechst, which had a huge industrial plant, outside of Frankfurt. We used to go for morning jogs through the nearby streets, and at dusk, the flag would come down to the sounds of the National Anthem. Due to the disgrace of their recent history, the Germans used to NEVER sing their national anthem, 'Deutschland Ueber Alles', so our overt patriotism was rather unusual. The barracks and other buildings were arranged essentially into a 'quad', with a central square, with the motor pool outside that quad. There were a couple of hundred troops there, male and female; the sexes were segregated into separate barracks. It was on the quad that we would have morning formation and do our PT.
Shortly before I arrived at the 32nd, some lieutenant had been put in a foot locker and thrown down a flight of stairs, or out a window; don't recall. He survived, at least. Racial tension was prevalent, as it was the 1970's not long after riots in major cities and National Guard troops patrolling the streets; it was the waning days of our Vietnam involvement, and the morale of the draftee-based Army in some units was very poor; the term 'fragging' was added to our language, sadly. Leadership could only do so much to address the many endemic problems. To those living today who hold our troops in such esteem, it is hard to imagine the difference between the two eras, but the difference is real.
Vietnam was linked indirectly to Germany (although Germany was BY NO MEANS equal to the experience
on the other side of the world). Both were seen as a part of a worldwide containment policy, formulated by George
Kennan and promulgated by George Marshall (of the Marshall Plan), luminaries at the State Department during the
onset of what came to be called the Cold War. The book 'Present at the Creation', by Dean Acheson tells it well,
as our National Security State came into being, and the US rose to eventual unparalleled military power.
Part of the containment of the USSR was deterrence - affecting the opponent's decision-making by providing evidence
of readiness, through good logistics and training exercises. As far as the European command, the biggest of these
was the annual ReForGer, or 'Return of Forces to Germany' exercise, where stateside units were flown to Germany
to take part in the war games. In an actual war, strategy and positioning could only do so much; over the long
haul, logistics are always crucial, so we had to prove our determination and ability to move troops from Stateside
to Europe. Pre-positioned weapons and shipped weapons were both deployed. Here we were, with these Abrams Tanks
trundling across farms and meadows, through towns, sometimes clipping the corners of buildings in the narrow streets
of villages; for this a G5/S5 Maneuver Damage unit reimbursed the aggrieved townsfolk, part of the Status of Forces
agreement (SOFA), I suppose.
Like most of the troops in Germany, I took part in a number of large military exercises. The most important was REFORGER ("REturn of FORces to GERmany"). In this exercise, troops from the US would fly over and take part in maneuvers through the German countryside. Due to the SOFA we had with Germany, we could use certain fields and towns to practice moving forces through an area. There were occasional instances of a tank clipping an old building's corner, for example, for which you had a function in your S5 or G5 to compensate the local citizen. Although expensive, such operations to my mind were necessary at the time given the looming and heavily muscled Warsaw Pact forces arrayed no more than a few hours drive time from any place in West Germany. Defense in depth was a scarce commodity so better never to have a war, for central Europe and good portions of western Europe would be a wasteland.
You see, by exercising annually and on a large scale, and effectively, you prove your readiness in a very public way. Such a show of strength, resources and resolve served the aim of peace by exercising a deterrent influence on the Soviet nemesis, and its Warsaw Pact alliance which included every Communist/Socialist country behind the Iron Curtain but renegade Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, held together by the power of Tito, and to disintegrate shortly after his death, permitted its citizens to travel, one result being that a lot of waiters I came to know during my six years overseas were Yugoslavians; actually did a week there on vacation (Croatia, near Split).
From there, I interviewed for and got a job as a driver, clerk and translator for the V Corps Liaison team to Central Army Group (CENTAG). My German proficiency, which I had assiduously cultivated, paid off, as that was a big factor in my getting that plum job.
We were stationed in Mannheim-Seckenheim, meaning 'the Seckenheim suburb (township?) of Mannheim', a town with some majestic architecture, near Heidelberg. Heidelberg has a huge castle looming over the old town, is on a lovely bend of yet another lovely German river. It is the university town that was the setting for the Operetta "The Student Prince". Got to visit there a lot, as one could take the tram there easily. It was good duty there in that small Kaserne, as we shared a space with a German contingent, so I spoke German daily. We could have conversed in English, but why not practice a second, or third, language, when immersed in that culture?
In the war exercises we would drive toward the French border (defense in depth again, so the further from the Fulda Gap, the better, plus mountains gave a more useful location for a bunker). Near the border was a small town, and a large interior space carved out of a mountain. There were the various functions needed by an army at war, ops, intelligence, logistics, the whole nine. I had one LTC and one S7, who was German-born. We were largely a liaison, so I didn't do much more than drive and wait around, on occasion typing some stuff. During this time, I had been involved in a Master's program from USC, who along with several other universities, sent faculty over to teach. It was a great way to expand and learn, and hang out with intelligent people. I took several 'class trips' tied to credit courses, which meant that I went to Rome twice, Garmisch, and Brussels for multi-day conferences. Between the courses and the conventions, I was treated to a very interesting detailed perusal of topics such as arms control, deterrence theory, dependencia theory, European integration, multi-nationals, etc.
After my European separation, I remained in Germany, as I was engaged to a German woman at the time. That did not work out, but I stayed for a year longer, as I was employed as a civilian at the local Civilian Personnel Office. There I worked with career civil servants, local hires (German, English, Indian) dependents of military and others in a busy office environment. I got into computers during this civilian stint, with a Wang VS system that used COBOL, as opposed to the coding sheets I had transmitted at first to a set of keypunch operators, who would then pass the deck of cards to a person in a white coat behind a counter that would schedule your run on the mainframe. The next day, you got back results and error listings. Just to get an error message the SAME DAY, now completely expected and routine, would have been a revelation to us back then. Lots of change in that industry, and I've been able to surf along with it now for over three decades.
I never had a car the whole time I lived in Germany. I could essentially, when in Frankfurt, walk out my door,
take a bus that eventually (through transfers to other modes of transportation) took me to the main train station
in Frankfurt (near the Gutleut Kaserne). This 'Hauptbahnhof' was one of the biggest, most active, and best connected
train stations in Europe, and therefore in the world. From there one could go anywhere in Western Europe. Or twenty
minutes on the train takes one to the airport (Flughafen, 'hafen' being like 'harbor'). This airport, like its
terrestially-constrained counterpart, takes you anywhere in the world. Very 'connected', and took advantage of
it, visiting 14 countries all told. The trip to Spain, and thence to Morocco, was enabled through the excellent "Space
A" (space available) flights going out of Rhein Main airbase, again also very busy. The Iranian hostages came
back home through Frankfurt and its nearby hospital.