Mr. DePew and I were stationed in Pershing II-related units in Germany at around the same time during the end of the Cold War. The stories in SAT & BAF!: Memories of a Tower Rat ring true, including the ones most of us don’t talk about in front of wives or kids.
I’m going to spend a bit of time quoting and reacting to, amplifying, or adding my own memories to some of his experiences. It’ll be a three-part series and I am doing it for these reasons:
- to help clarify my own memories as best I can before they fade away
- to help provide a different POV: I served two tours in one of the Pershing II batteries Mr. DePew’s infantry cohorts were protecting.
- to help folks that weren’t there understand the environment a little better
- to make use of the Notes I made when reading this book on Kindle. I believe these brief quotes with annotation are Fair Use. If Mr. DePew or his publisher disagree I will honor their position.
Here we go. This first post will be based on the first quote I selected; it will lay down some essential groundwork.
“Each company was attached to an artillery unit whose job was the missiles. Our job was keeping bad people away from them.”
SAT & BAF! Memories of a Tower Rat (Doug DePew) Highlight on Page 3 | Loc. 123-24
One of the odd things about the Pershing infantry-artillery relationship was that we rarely interacted with the infantry who we depended on for external security. Due to disparate roles we were usually physically separated. I never even realized infantry were considered Pershing on this assignment at all until I read this book. I wonder if they got to wear the tab?
This will lead to a nomenclature problem: I will refer to “Pershing” soldiers out of habit and when I do I will mean the folks in the Pershing batteries (FA equivalent of a platoon, I think). These folks were generally 15E and 21G MOS at the time. I don’t mean to exclude the 11B soldiers in DePew’s story — there just isn’t a simpler way to describe soldiers in Pershing batteries, except perhaps “missile maggots”, which one might guess is not a name we chose for ourselves.
There were a few different scenarios we worked. I’ll describe the main ones related to the book and what our infantry interaction was like.
- Combat Alert Status (CAS) – I think this is what DePew refers to as “the site”. I won’t go into detail but it was a ready response mode. Infantry provided exterior security and manned the eponymous towers. We focused solely on the missile stuff here. Security within the compound was MP, I think, and security around the actual rounds was Pershing.
- Field maneuvers (“field problems) – we would emplace the rounds in the forest somewhere and hide. Infantry provided an outer perimeter at least; I don’t know what else. Pershing would provide an internal perimeter with M60 and an immediate guard on the rounds themselves. We could hear the infantry in the distance and would see them in the chow line sometimes. They did not seem to be particularly fond of us.
- Missile Storage Area (MSA) – we spent most of our time here. If we had office jobs this would be the office. Maintenance, training, dog-and-pony shows, repeat over and over and over. There was a perimeter with several fences. Pershing manned the guard towers on the inner fence. I don’t remember that much about infantry presence here. There were definitely foot patrols inside the razorwire fences; I don’t remember if these were MP or infantry. There may have been an outer ring of towers manned by infantry but I don’t remember that clearly. I don’t remember bumping into them inside MSA very often.
- base – off duty was here, and most on-duty stuff that happened when we weren’t at the other 3 places. Guard shack at the entrance was manned by MPs. Very rarely would an infantryman show up; sometimes we saw strays in our mess hall or they would ride sidecar on trips to the range or whatever. A story about this follows in Part 3.
And a note about how we perceived ourselves and how we perceived the infantry who was assigned to us.
Pershing was assigned to Field Artillery but we didn’t really have anything in common with actual artillery (“gun bunnies”). We were selected for the unit based on ASVAB testing, clean background, clean piss test and a psych eval close enough to normal to not send up any distracting red flags. As it turns out this is tantamount to saying “all you geeky, question-asking, authority-challenging freaks over here!”. In retrospect I think this was a transitional time: we were young New Army soldiers being led by exasperated Old Army NCOs and officers.
We didn’t see our infantrymen much and when we did see them we didn’t understand them. I am grateful for their support, and still it was two entirely different cultures. We were dorks and they were more what you would think the Army is like. Imagine the math club and the football team looking at each other and thinking the other is both unknown and unknowable. I did have few interactions with them; these will be covered in the third installment.