One of the pieces of advice Dad gave me before I enlisted was, “Never volunteer for anything.” Well here I go again. I never seemed to be able to resist volunteering, especially when it involved a trip, more or less on my own, to anywhere. And I’d done it again.
It all started an hour or so earlier. I’d been sitting in the mess hall, drinking my second or third cup of coffee, when the company clerk stuck his head in the doorway and asked, “You’re operations, right?
“Well, the First Sergeant wants all operations people out in front by the flagpole in 10 minutes.”
“Don’t know, don’t care. Just passing on the message.”
He turned into the hallway and headed to the rear of the building to pass the word to whoever else was back there.
I finished my coffee and wandered out past the bulletin board and the company orderly room. I put on my field jacket and hat, went out the front door and headed towards the flagpole. There were a few people already there. I walked over to the group and asked one or two people if they knew what this was all about. No one seemed to know any more than I did. More people joined the group.
Suddenly someone yelled, “All right, get into formation here in front of the steps.” The First Sergeant. “Listen up. Everyone line up over here.”
After much shuffling and pushing we had managed to get ourselves into a reasonable formation.
“OK. Who all has taken the communications jamming course that was given a while back?”
Several hands went up, mine included. “Third Infantry Division asked us if we could send a team of two people with a jamming rig to participate in a field exercise. Anyone interested?”
I raised my hand. This time mine was the only hand up. Other people looked at me out of the corners of their eyes, wondering if I had lost my mind. Possibly.
“OK, you’re the one,” the First Sergeant said. “Follow me inside. The rest of you can leave!” People scattered as I followed the First Sergeant into the orderly room.
He went behind his desk and sat down, motioning at the chair opposite. “Have a seat,” he said.
I sat down and set my hat on the corner of his desk.
“So what’s this all about, Top?”
“Well, you’d be going to the field with Division Headquarters. They are hoping to try an exercise where someone messes with their communications. They are trying to get permission from Army Europe to use the equipment.”
Since the transmitter puts out 5,000 watts and could conceivably block commercial radio signals, this was an absolute necessity.
“Who’s going with me?”
“I don’t know yet. I have to call the operations site to ask for volunteers and there are still a few people who weren’t here. I’ll let you know. In the meantime go over to the motorpool and check out the equipment.”
“Let me know if you need anything.”
I stood up and picked up my hat. I placed the hat on my head, brim low over my eyes and square on my head. I went out the front door, and as it closed behind me, pushed the hat to the back of my head and stuck my hands in my pockets; a minor rebellion.
The rig was nosed up to the loading dock, a 2-ton 6x6 with a large equipment shelter secured to the bed. The truck looked, well, to put it kindly, used. Looks can be deceiving however. I went up the steps and looked into the motorpool office.
Sergeant J. was sitting behind his desk doing the never-ending paper work and looked up as I opened the door.
“Here’s trouble,” he said. “What do you want?”
“Hello to you too.”
“Well what do you want? I’m busy.”
“That deuce and a half with the hut on it, does it run? It doesn’t look that great.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’ll be taking it to Wurzburg in a few days if it’s running. If not, we need to get it running or switch the hut to another truck.”
“I don’t have another truck to give you,” he said. “For your information however, it does run.”
“Great. Would you check it over to make sure?”
“Take my word for it, it will get you there. Now, can I get back to work, or is there something else?”
“I’ll also need a generator.”
“All I have that’s not spoken for are two 10 kW gasoline powered generators,” he said.
“Only one is running,” he answered, “and someone else grabbed it already. You can check with them and see if they’ll trade.”
“Fat chance,” I thought.
“Okay, I’ll take the best running one. Stick a case of oil and four or five gallons of cans of gas in the trailer.”
“I’ll be back later.”
I walked out of the motorpool office and down the hall to the supply room. I opened the door and stepped inside. J.C., the supply clerk, was sitting with his feet propped up on the desk, and reading a paperback book.
“Hey yourself,” he answered.
“I’m going out into the field in a few days and I need a few things.”
“Like what?” he asked
“Well, C rations, ammo, weapons…”
“You want your handgun?” he asked.
“I don’t think so. It will be one less thing to think about.”
“Okay. If you think of anything, let me know. I’ll take care of the paper work and you can pick up everything the day you leave.”
“Alright. See ya.”
I went out the door and crossed the compound to company headquarters. The company clerk was working on the bulletin board and when he saw me he said, “Top wants to see you in his office.”
Just then the First Sergeant stuck his head out the Orderly Room door.
“Just the man I was looking for. Come on in.”
I entered his office and sat down across from him.
“I’ve found someone to go with you. He’s had the training so and his shift chief said they can spare him.”
“Who is it?”
“Ed,” he answered.
“But Ed doesn’t have a driver’s license now. That means I’ll be doing all the driving.”
“You’ll manage,” he said. “I’ve already relieved him and you from all other duties. You’ll be leaving in two days and you’ll need all the time to get ready. You’ll be taking full gear and you’ll be reporting to the Division G-2.”
And that was that.
Over the next two days, Ed and I loaded up the truck with all of the things that were required (SOP) or that we thought we might need. These included extra clothing and boots, winter gear, field gear (helmets, gas mask, pack and bayonet), first aid supplies, sleeping bags and air mattresses, and extra blankets. We planned on sleeping in the vehicle, so we didn’t bring tents.
Although the hut on the truck was fairly large, it filled up rather quickly and we still hadn’t loaded C-rations, weapons, ammo, and most important of all, beer.
Through all I complained incessantly about having to do all the driving, and Ed, in the calm manner which is sometimes infuriating, puffed on his pipe and smiled through the cloud of smoke which surrounded him, and said very little.
At one point I made a trip to the beer wholesalers located across the road from the front gate and made arrangements to pick up three cases of beer on our way out.
Departure day dawned gray and cold with snow flurries; typical weather for early March. Ed and I went to the supply room where we signed for rifles, ammo and rations, and loaded them in the truck. Then we loaded our personal gear and locked up the rear door with a padlock.