People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
George Orwell

War Stories -- Adventures in the US Army


I spent a total of 23 years in the US Army. If you've ever seen movies or TV shows that depict the craziness that goes on, let me tell you it's true. I would say I've seen it all, but one thing I learned in the army was to never say that. If you do you are bound to find out just how wrong you are.

But I have seen a lot! And some of it might actually be funny or interesting or otherwise worth reading. So I thought I would share

The Dragon

After I finished basic training and advanced individual training, I was sent to Germany. I was stationed on a fairly large but sparsely populated compound that stored and performed maintenance on nuclear warheads. We had quite a few square miles of land, but there were only two companies and a small detachment there. In total, maybe 500 people were stationed there. I was in the ordnance company that was actually responsible for the warheads. There was an MP company that provided security. And the detachment handled conventional ammo that was stored there. And it was pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, right on the French border.

The culture and environment on that depot were, uh, different. If a writer for a soap opera came there for ideas he would leave shaking his head, muttering something about "nobody would believe that crap."

We got in this young, pretty, second lieutenant. After some period of time she became the company executive officer, second in command. But alas, rumors were flying that she was dating a corporal in the MP company! Fraternization between officers and enlisted was forbidden. And, since in time of war the two companies would each break in half, with one half of each merging with one half the other to make two mixed companies, it was quite possible, even likely, that she would be his commander. Not good. So our commander decided to send her to a different installation, an hour or so drive away.

She was not happy about that, and fought against it. In the meantime, the company headquarters was being remodeled and they moved all the offices into the barracks. Her office was about halfway down my hallway. I knew she had lost the battle when I walked by her office and saw this picture posted on her door (I've recreated it.)

Fall of the Wall

After Desert Storm, a lot of units in Germany were deactivating or redeploying to the US. The process had started a couple of years before, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. But Desert Storm had caused it to be put on hold. My unit was one deactivating. Those of us who still had six months or more left of our tour were reassigned to other units in Germany if there was a need. Since I was infantry, there was always a need! The unit I was in had around 70 or so intantrymen and about a fourth of us got orders to go to Berlin Brigade. That included me and my roommate and friend Dylan.

Now the Berlin Brigade was affectionately known as the "speed bump." West Berlin was completely surrounded by East Germany, including Russian soldiers. Had the Russians ever decided to take West Berlin, we wouldn't have been able to do a lot more than slow them down a bit: like a speed bump in a parking lot. So we trained and stayed ready as best we could. But we also didn't have a lot of resources. We often trained in public parks. One of those included a topless beach lake, but that's another story. We ran PT on public roads, through crowds waiting on trains and busses. We did a LOT of parades so we looked good for the Berliners, both East and West, and the cameras, and especially for the Russians.

And we partied. A lot.

McNair Barracks, the main army installation in Berlin, had been an electronics factory before, during, and after World War II. The building(s) had four floors, the bottom one being half under ground. But there was a sloped concrete wall that went down below the windows of the bottom floor from the ground. It was about four feet high and sloped about 45 degrees. A lot of strange things happened in those barracks.

One night, while in a friend's room on the third floor, we began to discuss rapelling. Someone produced a carabiner. Someone found their issued rapelling gloves. A Swiss Seat rope appeared. And someone magically came up with some 550 cord. 550 cord is often known to civilians as "paracord." It's often sold for "survival" use, which mostly means making braided bracelets. It's called 550 cord because it's rated for 550 pounds. That's static weight. Anyway, somehow I decided that rapelling from the third floor window was a good idea. So I tied the 550 cord to the heater and tossed it out the window. I threw the other end out the window. I tied a nice, perfect Swiss Seat and climbed onto the window sill. I hooked into the rapell "rope" and probably even had someone else check my hookup for "safety." Someone handed me the gloves, but trying to hang on to the window and put the gloves on at the same time, I ended up dropping the right hand glove. I'm right handed, so that would be my brake hand. Kinda need a glove on that hand. I somehow managed to get the left glove on my right hand -- sort of. Now I was ready.

I got into a good L position on the edge of the window. My left glove was more-or-less on my right (brake) hand. My left hand was bare. I got a good grip on the 550 cord behind my back with my gloved brake hand, and wrapped my bare left hand around the 1/4 inch diameter secured end. I took my first bound. It was nicely executed, but... The tense "rope" sliding through my bare left hand burned it quite deep. I managed to brake -- kinda. Then I basically let go. I mostly free fell, with only the friction of this 1/4 inch diameter 550 cord sliding through the carabiner slowing me down. About 30 feet I fell, landing upright on the sloped concrete at the base. I'm pretty sure the Air Assault instructors at Fort Campbell would have failed me for that rappel.

My 200 plus pounds falling from about 30 feet produced a considerable force on impact. My right ankle rolled. Ouch. Luckily, the army was pretty smart. They had put the emergency clinic right next to the infantry barracks. So my buddies mostly carried me there, where an X-ray confirmed that I had indeed broken my ankle. Of course, when the doctor asked how what happened I couldn't tell him I was rapelling out the barracks window with 550 cord. Non-infantry people just wouldn't understand why that was necessary. So I had to tell him I was running down the stairs and tripped. Yeah! That's it! I don't think he believed me.

Of course, the Russians were still surrounding us and training had to go on. So I would hold my M16 and one crutch with my right hand and the other crutch with my left hand, and hobble through the woods in the park, trying to rip my crutches loose from the weeds and bushes for the next six weeks or so, and trying to keep the ants out of my cast. Train like you fight!

McNair Barracks at Platz des 4 Juli, Berlin Lichterfelde (4th July Place)
Photo by Cardioceras, courtesy of Wikepedia, CC BY-SA 3.0