Ok, I’ll start commenting on the quotes now.
I think they just wanted to ask again whether we objected to working with nuclear weapons or whether we’d dropped acid on the ride from Frankfurt.
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I think they were trying to flush out any permanent, non-waiverable disqualifiers to PRP (see below). I don’t think they cared as much as they wanted CYA in case something went sideways.
Don’t know about the infantry guys, but we were piss tested so often we stopped waking up fully for it. Next day: ”did we have a piss test last night?” “Yeah.” “Good. I thought I was dreaming.”
Note: From here on out I’ll leave out the “SAT & BAF! Memories of a Tower Rat (Doug DePew)” lines and just leave in the page and location info.
It was a big incident, but I don’t think the news ever made it out of the battalion.
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Yeah, there was a lot of that. We used to say “I’m glad the guys from 60 Minutes aren’t watching [whatever trouble we were instigating].”
The exchange rate was about 2:1 Deutsche Marks to US Dollars at the time. He said it was a lot better a year or two before. It got above 3:1 for a while.
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I think it was above 3:1 when I got there in early 1985. The highest exchange I ever got from the on-post ATM was 3.41:1, which meant we were drinking .5L beers downtown for less than a dollar. We were KINGS, I tell you. By the time I left in 1988 I think it was below 2:1.
And, yes, we did all currency exchange estimages in terms of beer.
The countryside in that part of Germany was absolutely beautiful. There were a lot of rolling hills and farms. It’s a very rural area. Nearly every piece of property had a vineyard. Once in a while we’d see an old manor or castle on the top of a hill.
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I agree. It was heart-achingly beautiful. I have been told that the literal meaning of nostalgia in Greek is “pain from an old wound” and that’s just how I feel. I miss the people, the food, the beer, the culture, the fests, but it’s the land that gets to me where I have no defenses.
We shared BK with a couple batteries of “missile maggots” or Pershing missile crews to be more polite.
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Yes, we overheard that term a few times. We just referred to ourselves as Pershing. Beyond that we identified (and segregated to a degree) between 21g and 15e MOS.
Don’t ask me why. It’s a really spit and polished unit. I guess it’s because we’re so high profile.
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IMO the political stakes were high enough that Pershing units were continually subjected to visits from VIPs. They used to get in our way sometimes, make it hard to do the job. Sometimes they were actually up on the erector/launcher with us an there is no extra room up there to start with. Add in a fat NATO general and ya might as well give it up.
If we get caught in there, we’ll probably get hurt. Of course, if an engineer gets caught in here they’ll get hurt worse…” I saw a smile creep across his face as he trailed off the threat staring into his swirling beer. “What’s wrong with engineers?” “We don’t like them.” “Why?” “Who knows? I just know we fight with them every chance we get.
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That’s pretty much what we thought the mindset was. At least we weren’t imagining things.
Most of my time, I stuck with hefeweizen which is a heavy, unfiltered wheat beer. It was sweeter and less bitter. It had yeast in the bottom of the bottle that the bartender would swirl as they poured it in the glass.
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Weizen is the beer of the gods. At that time there was not (AFAIK) any commercially-available wheat beer in the US so it hit me like an epiphany. Weizen really isn’t heavy, per se, the ABV% and body are on the light-medium side. Even weizenbock like Aventinus. You are right in that it is less hopped than the average beer.
She was drinking this strange drink with Pepsi and crystal weissen mixed. German girls liked that drink. Crystal weissen is a filtered wheat beer.
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Cola-weizen. I never saw it made with Pepsi. I did see it done with Coca-Cola, Afri-Cola, and whatever the local was.
It’s actually quite good, and a neat way to freak out the barmaid at your local American bar. :-) It’s just 50:50 coke and weizenbeer. I think it worked best with hefe but it works both ways.
“What’s a PRP?” “It’s a Personnel Reliability Profile. They’re interviewing people to see if you’re stable and dependable.
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Personnel Reliability Program, I think.
He interviewed people who knew me back to kindergarten. I hoped he wasn’t talking to my high school principal.
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It certainly happens. I came home on leave after Basic/AIT and random people I hadn’t seen in years came up to say they’d been questioned about what I was like in elementary/junior/high school.
I didn’t ask what the questions were and they didn’t volunteer.
| Added on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 10:56 AM
we started drinking doppelbock. It’s a nearly black beer that’s around 20% alcohol.
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Black, yes. But most doppelbocks are closer to 7-8% alcohol by volume. Ayinger’s Celebrator doppelbock, widely regarded as the best of its type, is ~7%. I’m drinking one right now, as it happens…
Then the M-249 SAWs arrived. They came in just after I met my platoon.
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I only saw one, and that was in the loving paws of an infantryman in our chow line. It was a thing of beauty. We coveted it but had no practical use for it in our unit. We didn’t get the 9mm for the same reason. We did, however, get some of the first HUMMV.
We also studied terrorist groups such as the Red Army Faction extensively.
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I remember the small posters hanging all over the guard shack walls and check points.
I still look at the bottom of any vehicle I approach and sit with my back to the wall, facing any door. D’oh!
There’s a movie about the Faction on DVD and streamable from Netflix, btw. Haven’t watched it yet but it’s in my instant queue.
If the US went to war with the USSR, we were probably going to die in the initial wave. Odds were high that a mushroom cloud would go up over our site and there’d be nothing left to guard.
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SAT & BAF! Memories of a Tower Rat (Doug DePew)
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I don’t recall us ever talking about any kind of follow-up action if it ever went down; we assumed we would be vaporized.
We weren’t supposed to have anything in the towers except our flack vest, LBE, helmet, and weapon.
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I’d forgotten all about that.
Walkman with earbuds running up the back under the helmet liner.
Watchman, a tiny TV that would only get AFRTS (“a-farts”) because of the different format. Hard to use with stealth because it glowed a bit.
Food, food, food.
We had a small, radiator heater that didn’t really heat.
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You could heat water in your canteen cup if you disassembled it to put the cup right on the heating element. Cocoa or cup-a-soup. This reduced the convective efficiency of the heater, though.
I ended up with this cold-defeating setup:
Synthetic skiing thermal underwear underneath, pretty techy at the time. Baggy/itchy army wool thermals over that, then BDU. And one of those zippo lighter fuel handwarmer thingies on a lanyard around my neck. It hung down around mid-abdoment and just cranked the heat. Would overheat and the vapors would eventually cause irritation, though, so I often had my field jacket / parka open on top to let it breathe. I think it saved me from hypothermia a couple of times.
They tried putting geese out there for a while as an extra alarm, but they wouldn’t stay off the fence.
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We still had geese at Mutlangen and they were loud.
“The radio’s coming in,” I heard Alvie say. “What channel?” Drew asked. He gave us a PRC-77 channel and we all tuned in to someone singing in German for the next couple hours until we were relieved. Egghead would tell us if anybody called us on the radio.
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I don’t remember how the two overlapped, but what was happening here is the military radios could tune in part of the German broadcast band. Maybe shortwave? But you could listen to music that way sometimes.
“Yeah, a missile burned off. I think four or five guys died. It was just before I got here,” he said matter of factly. “Is it radioactive?” “Am I glowing?” he grinned. “No, it was just fuel. They got burned.”
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This happened a few days after I arrived at my first duty station.
Even the guy in the shower was part of BAF, so showers were quick. Some people forget to eat or shower. That’s why they had a relief commander. He had to monitor their mental state as well. It’s a grind.
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We had a different set of duties on those sites, but the upshot was the same: you couldn’t know that you’d have an uninterrupted 3 minutes to take a shower in, or eat a meal, or write a letter. I do think it’s hard on the human mind. There were also a few odd moments given that you could be in the shower when the klaxon went off and we were co-ed. :-) Blankets were sometimes deployed to cover and warm half-showered soldiers that were manning their duty stations as the klaxon required.
“What the fuck was that?” Cooper yelled in the bitch box as a couple F-15s came just over his tower and dropped down below us to buzz the bunkers. “Air Force. They make passes over the site as practice runs. If we lose control, they’re supposed to take us out,” he yelled into the box as the jets passed over my tower. A couple times a day, jets would come just over a tower, drop down into the middle of site below us, and raise back up to disappear. It was awe inspiring and disheartening. The engines were so loud and close that they shook the windows in my tower.
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This was the other thing that messed with our heads. You’d be standing out on the tarmac and WHAM this jet would be over your head, skimming the treetops. Incredibly loud and fast; made everybody flinch when it happened. By the time you could look up he’d be gone. When the wind was right you could smell the fuel and feel heat off the jet. If any of us got PTSD it’d probably be from that sudden “jet out of no-fscking-where” noise. And that damned klaxon.
| Added on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 11:27 AM
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I didn’t think much else about it for the rest of the shift. As we turned the corner by Tower 3, I saw a large snowman on the top of Tower 4 near the spotlight. It was three or four feet tall.
Sounds familiar. We made a snowman on the sergeant major’s quadrangle and he apparently flipped out. There was also a snow penis at one point. More on that later.
Incidentally, the roof of the guard tower was impossible to see if you were climbing the stairs under the tower. This meant that if one (theoretically, of course) had contraband you could pop the window, wait until the SOG/OOG was on the stairs, and reach out and stick something on the roof. There was a little lip that would (usually) hold stuff in place. After s/he left on the way down the stairs, reach out and grab it again before s/he can see the roof while walking away. :-)
We also took a couple trips to Stuttgart where there was a much larger PX.
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Stuttgart was the nearest major PX near us, too. I tried to go there about 1x/month. I loved the walkable part of that city, Koenigstrasse and all that.
German women loved Bon Jovi.
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“Loved” may be an understatement. ”Were batshit crazy for” is closer. I do not understand this, but we did leverage it a bit with the judicious application of booze and invitations to bon jovi concerts.
“I asked her if I could drive her like a tractor. She didn’t understand me, so I said drive…you…like…a…tractor…and I moved my hands like this.” He made a steering wheel motion. “She just screamed at me to get the fuck out. Then the bouncers started chasing me.”
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This was the funniest line in the whole thing to me. His request is funny, but her whacked out response is even better. I wonder what she thought he was asking for? I have no clue, and I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff in my life.
We cleared our weapons ten or fifteen times a day, and I didn’t think anything of it.
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This happened in front of me one day. Some dude a few steps up was doing the clearing thing after a guard shift and the sequence got a little off. It gets to be so automatic that it’s easy to space it out. You’re right; that’s exactly what the barrel is for. Better a barrel of sand than a buddy, right?
That was around the time we got awarded the Army Superior Unit Award. It’s a unit citation. It would be a permanent award because I was in the unit when it was awarded.
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Grrrr. They typo’d my DD214 so it says “Army Security Unit Award”. WTF? That shit doesn’t even exist. I could have it corrected but it I don’t think anyone cares. Plus, I probably have been awarded the rarest army medal in the world; I’m the only one as far as I know. :-)
Apparently, he climbed the fifty foot flag pole at the city hall and cut it down.
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We did lots of similar drunken idiotic things. On our uphill, post-drunk stumble home there were lightpoles with globes on top of them. The lights were photoelectrically controlled, but if you climbed up and slapped one hard enough it would turn out until it reset a few minutes later. Apparently it was hilarious to do this to about 10 in a row until you couldn’t climb anymore. The locals must have hated us.
we noticed that a lot of people were leaving half-full bottles of wine on the tables as they left. That would not do. We both grabbed a bottle and started filling them up. We had full bottles until they ran us out around two.
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We did this with the beer mass (the liter mugs). After a while you quit caring how people look at you. We were also eating leftovers from the table. I think all we had by that point was the last half of a round-trip ticket. Gotta get home…
We snuck down a stairwell just inside the door to the basement and found a laundry room with dryers running… then we walked up the back stairs to the top floor. Nobody was up there, so we laid down at the end of the hallway and passed out.
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I know that one. We slept in the stairwell of a parking garage one night. I don’t remember the other nights.
At night, we would often go to another squad’s perimeter to see if we could infiltrate it. One squad left a “Bang, you’re dead” sign on another squad’s missile once.
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Hmmm. This is possible, but it would make more sense if the sign were somewhere in the perimeter but not on the missile itself. There was the inner perimeter and there were always two or more armed soldiers around the missile proper in the field. Hanging a sign on a round at night would be an excellent way to get shot.
Hell, we worked on the things every day and there were still rules about how you approached it (some times more than others) and interacted with it. Example: I had round chambered on me when an idiot stepped out of a two-man-rule area and left me hanging in there one time on CAS. I was in violation through the actions of another soldier. I didn’t realize he walked out until I heard the charging handle of the rifle one of my platoon mates drew down on me. We had gotten hammered together, chased women together, told life stories to each other, and he would have put me down like a dog if I hadn’t backed out. So what would they do to an unknown intruder under cover of darkness? If it happened that way, I’m glad the guy got away with it. No one wants to pop off rounds near that much propellant.
The barracks looked good, but nearly everybody had a lot of contraband.
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Sounds familiar. We had so many alcohol-related problems (injuries, fights, arrests, etc) that they tried to restrict how much hooch we had at any given time. We were hanging racks out the window by ropes, shuffling stuff from room to room as Health And Welfare got closer. Ah, the ingenuity of young drunks.
They also didn’t like it when we sang in PT: ”I wanna be a CDAAC ranger”; it was a reference to the Community Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling center where they would send us if we had alcohol problems (ie, got caught).
Injured-while-drunk was an automatic referral, so you just didn’t go to sick call to get stitched up. If you could wrangle a medic with butterfly bandages and antiseptic that was best. The rest of the time you’d hold the wound together and get someone to apply a strip of duct tape. Worked great, but did leave some nasty scars.
We had a habit of disappearing whenever we could. It was a smart thing to do. With so many field problems and so many site tours, people in the barracks always risked being pulled to work from a day off.
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We referred this as the Pershing Fade. It was an excellent incentive to see the local countryside.
“It’s true. They’re getting a divorce because Mommy’s a bitch and Daddy’s an alcoholic,” she said.
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Our Sgt Major was a drunk, too. We wouldn’t mind it so much but he was also a screaming asshole who would do completely irrational stuff. He used to drive his big BMW 7-series around like a madman, completely hammered.
One day he came up to MSA and was screaming at everyone and acting like an idiot. He was particularly abusive to the 15E manning the front gate, a fellow who he had busted for some kind of alcohol-related infraction.
Bet that. The guard kept his cool, then when the Sgt Major left the compound he picked up the phone and told the MPs he’d observed a big BMW, with such-and-such license plate (reading off the guard log) driving erratically and suspected the driver was intoxicated. ”Payback’s a bitch, motherfscker.”
Shit went down. Sgt Major was arrested for DUI, busted a rank I think, and was reassigned away. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. Don’t fsck with the little people.
He then took a chamber brush and hammered it through my bore with a boot heel. A chamber brush isn’t designed to go through a bore.
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I’m not surprised at all.
We had a new know-it-all captain show up and start telling one PFC how to do his job. He took the crane controls away (not trained or certed in) and promptly dropped a multi-ton rocket stage. A lot of feathers flew on that one. Finally got it packed up and had to send it back to the US for inspection by the manufacturer (Martin-Marietta, I think). The captain didn’t try to tell any more enlisted men how to do their jobs after that.
He was only a few months from retiring, so they put him in a pencil pusher job to the finish
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We had an E-7 who was so intensely stupid he could not do anything right. Really. Total moron. Like “wino beside the intersection” level of mental functioning. He may have been functionally retarded when judged on a medical test. They timed him out to retirement by having him check out scrub brushes and hoses to people at the truck wash rack. That’s a PFC job at best. It was embarrassing but he was too stupid to know.
The most shocking part of this entire story for me is how fast it all disappeared. In 1988 when I left Heilbronn for the last time, it seemed like the Cold War would never end. Within five years, it seemed like it never happened.
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Same here. I think the whole world has forgotten. Cold Warriors don’t seem to count. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who knew what a Pershing was, or knew what the INF treaty was, or remember the constant reminder that nuclear fireballs were only a few minutes away.
Not looking for any atta-boys, but it would be nice if folks knew we existed, that we did a stressful job with protesters taunting us in the background, that we loved and succeeded and screwed up and acted like idiots sometimes and acted like real men sometimes and spent all our paychecks and hammered our young livers in what may be the most beautiful land in the world. I wouldn’t do it again now but I’m sure glad I did it then.
Thanks for writing your book.