Since I started this page, I’ve heard from several of the people I knew at Fort Campbell, and I’m finally getting around to doing an update. Dan Heglund filled me in on his travels over the last couple of decades, and Gary Royster filled me in the history of some of the officer-types over the ensuing years, and I just heard from Rob Hughes, who I was at DLI with (pardon the lousy grammar – I’m a finance professor, not an English professor). He sent me an email out of the blue, which immediately started me writing more stories down. His official name is Eldon R. Hughes, but he was always “Ali” to me at DLI and beyond, because that was his Arabic name. (Those of you who attended know that the first thing they do is give you a new name in the language of study to get you acclimated.) Ali had been in the 101st in Vietnam, and he was one of the few guys in our slice of Fort Campbell with a screaming eagle patch on both shoulders. Good to hear from him and the other guys and I hope to hear from more of you as time goes by.
I arrived at the 265th in September 1977 after graduating from language school. I departed in April of 1979. In between were some of the most intense times of my life. Many of the friends I made there are still with me, after all these years. Brian McKenna was best man at my wedding and I still talk with him regularly. (He is a lawyer now... go figure). Here is a picture of me and Brian at my wedding in 1987 -- about 8-9 years after Campbell, but he still needs a haircut.
I lost most of my pictures from Campbell when I got out of the Army. I left a photo album in an end table in my apartment in Fayetteville, NC, and the landlady threw it out. Oh well. The ones I still have are included here, but I sure wish I had more of those darn pictures.
Ken Allen was a Spec-4 in the Third Commex platoon and was always writing on his book. I took this snap of him in action during one of our jaunts out in the Fort Campbell countryside.
I ran into Ken Allen by accident about 20 years later. At the time, I was working for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (an association of state insurance regulators) and I was attending one of our quarterly meetings in Detroit or some darn place, and I got into an elevator and Ken was standing there. He looked at me and I looked at him, and I started to say "I know you from somewhere..." when he said "You're Mike Barth, aren't you?" Caught dead to rights, I acknowledged my identity and he said "I'm Ken Allen, one of the Deputy Insurance Commissioners fromPennsylvania and we were at Campbell together." As soon as he started speaking, I knew who it was, but I was stunned to run into one of the old Campbell guys in such an out-of-the-way place.
He told me that he had seen my name on various articles/publications over the years, but figured "Nah, gotta be a different Mike Barth -- this one's gone to college and can spell." Anyway, we got together during the June 1996 quarterly meeting in New York City and spent several hours telling Campbell stories and catching up. If any of you tune in and remember Ken, he left the government regulation business right after that to pursue the almighty dollar in the health care insurance industry (an HMO, really, but it sounds better the way I said it). I also met his lovely wife Janet, who was wonderful and helped Ken with some of his stories (by the way, my wife can tell Fort Campbell stories herself, as she's been hearing them for the last dozen years or so). I asked Ken about the book, and Janet chimed in "The BOOK!..." so I'm not the only one who remembers. I keep meaning to ask Ken what the hell ever happened to that darn book, but I figured it might be a sore subject and I just dropped it.
Ken, by the way, went through OCS and got a commission. He got out, went to law school (Campbell turned out a lot of lawyers, it seems) and stayed in the reserves and rose through the ranks to LTC, if I remember correctly. He's up in Pennsylvania still -- got a Christmas card in 1999 from him and Janet --thanks, guys!
That's me in the area between the two barracks buildings where we held formations, did PT, and parked jeeps prior to driving them out into the training areas. Damn, I looked good! Below is another picture of that area, with a bunch of jeeps parked there. Maybe we were getting ready to invade the training area -- I don't really remember.
This is also the area where the Roach Coach would drive up every night. There was this PX truck that sold pizzas for only a couple of bucks, and I damn near lived off of those things. I'd hear that truck pull into the courtyard and I'd be bounding down the stairs to get dinner. I've heard a lot of ASA guys talk about how good the grinders were at that sandwich shop in Ayer, Massachusetts, and those PX pizzas from the Roach Coach start the salivation process in me just as quickly as the memory of those grinders. Nice and greasy and hot -- oh baby!
Here I am getting promoted to SSG by Major Seaver, the commander of the 265th during my tenure there. Over his left shoulder is the first sergeant James Greer. Rob Hughes (“Ali”) emailed me his name, which had eluded me over the years. Tip of the hat to Ali! Any time that someone jogs my memory like that, I think of some new old stories. I remember Top coming to find me one day and asking me if I had inspected my platoon’s barracks lately. I was a little apprehensive, but what the hell, how bad could it be. Just goes to show you how much you can underestimate things. Top was beyond mad, he was bemused. One of the troops (Penton, it was YOU!) had left his room in a shambles. And I do mean shambles. There were clothes all over the floor (if my wife reads this she will wonder what the big deal is, because that’s how my room looks today), and the clothes were DIRTY. I mean filthy dirty, like they can only get on field problems over the course of a couple of weeks without laundry facilities. Top just looked me over, shook his head, and quietly said “fix it.” Which I did, but I wasn’t near as calm as he was. If the company commander Major Seaver had seen any of that, it would have been curtains for me.
Next to me in the picture is Sp4 Christine XXX (can't remember her last name). She was a very good troop -- very dependable and solid -- and in someone else's platoon. Notice the blue berets we were wearing. They were optional (unless you were an officer or an NCO, and then it was optional like saluting or doing PT were optional). They made us stop wearing them after awhile, but I looked so good in mine, I can't understand that decision. Eventually, I earned a green one, but I looked better in blue.
Major Seaver was an interesting guy. I, for the most part, got along well with him. He was profane, I was profane. He had a temper, I had a temper. He wanted me to do something, I wanted to avoid his profane temper. Anyway, I got along with him just fine (until the end, anyway). He held a meeting once a week-- Wednesday afternoon, if memory serves -- where all the officers and key NCOs had to brief everybody on how well we were doing. We would list our vehicles and point out which ones were screwed up, and the motor sergeant would tell us they weren't broken but we were knuckleheads, etc. Anyway, we also briefed personnel needs, and at that time, we were always chronically short of people.
I had the Third Commex, which was our direction finding platoon, and we were gearing up for Gallant Eagle 1978 (more on that later). I told everybody that I was so short of people, I was going to have to send off for a mail-order rubber love doll in order to have enough "people" to man my positions. I knew the doll probably couldn't generate a lot of line bearings, but it would keep the seat warm. Well, I really did send off for that rubber love doll, although it didn't come back in time for Gallant Eagle. Anyway, we put a "Death From Above" t-shirt on it and used it as a throw pillow on my bunk in the barracks. It also came with this 20 minute sex tape ("oh baby, oh baby, you are too much of a man..." and so on). We put that sex tape on the stereo, put the speakers in the window, and then cranked up the sound. A couple of MPs showed up after 10 minutes, but they just wanted to see what the heck we were up to. We shared a barracks building with the MP company, and they were pretty good guys at times.
One day we had a big, formal inspection planned. I lived in one of those NCO rooms that had two sergeants and its own bathroom -- sort of an efficiency apartment. I was rooming with another platoon sergeant, Ray XXX (I'll look up the name somewhere), and we figured we weren't going to get inspected because we were platoon sergeants, for God's sake! The evening before, we had the party in our room because all of the troops had to keep their areas clean for the next days inspection. Well, our XO, Lt. DeLong (female) conducted the inspection, and she walked into our room as Ray was bagging up all the previous night's beer cans. She looked over at the rubber love doll (complete with "Death From Above" t-shirt, so its not like it was naked or obscene or anything) and then at the trash bag and then snapped, "Sergeant Ray, Sergeant Barth, I want to see both of you in my office, NOW." Ray went in first and got an ass-chewing, but he was leaving anyway and took it in stride. I went in, and the lieutenant started out with "Sergeant Barth, I know that you are not responsible for all that -- its got to be your roommate" and I replied "Nope, its OUR room, whatever goes on in there goes on with the two of us." Nothing else said, but maybe I was no longer the golden boy I had once appeared to be.
I was in the ATSE when I first got to Campbell, but I migrated to Third Commex as the platoon sergeant during Summer 1978. Ken Lovett was the platoon sergeant for the 2nd Commex, and those were the only two "field" platoons. The other platoon was cannibalized for the Peacetime Utilization Program (PUP) slots and other commitments. Our linguists were supposed to go to PUP every other week and then take care of regular platoon commitments (read, maintenance, motor stables and keeping the platoon area straight) during the other week. Ken and I had a standing joke that I was the best platoon sergeant because I made sure my people were in PUP during their PUP week. Someone once said that to or about him, and I'm pretty sure it pissed him off, but he didn't hold it against me. We had both been to the same Arabic language school class at DLI in 1976/77 (he was an SFC and had been in the Army for a lot longer than I had) and you build a bond after a year with Mr. Mary, our instructor. He was still "Kareem" (his Arabic name), and I was still "Mi-KHA-EEEL" (my Arabic name). Anyway, my people were in PUP when they were supposed to be, come hell or high water, even the ones that didn't have any language skills, because when they were out of my hair I could get things fixed on the jeeps or in the platoon area without their "help and I didn't have to worry about someone catching them screwing off and then reading me the riot act. Ken, on the other hand, had a couple of guys who did not want to go to PUP and he was kind of lenient with them. There was Mo (real name Anthony Morris), for instance, who was a farmer from McMinnville (I think), Tennessee, which was about an hour or hour and a half away from Campbell. He wanted to finish up and get back to the farm, and studying Arabic was probably his lowest priority. Anyway, Ken Lovett was the bad platoon sergeant and I was the good platoon sergeant when it came to the PUP thing. Of course, we both knew who the best platoon sergeant really was. Hats off to you, Kareem, wherever you ended up.
Now, to be sure, I had some damn fine people in my platoon -- Jim Finn, McGinty and "Uncle Steve" Clayton, to name a few -- but at the same time, I had some guys that were less than enthusiastic, especially about the motor pool. Man, I loved that stuff, but I guess I was in the minority, and you couldn't really blame them. Lonnie King, who I truly loved like a brother, didn't want to be in the Army and was short to boot. I remember one morning when he was down to only WEEKS to go and I pulled him aside and said, "Lonnie, as a personal favor to me, just tone it down for a couple of weeks and this will all be some kind of memory." He did, too, making my life a little less hectic for a couple of weeks, anyway.
There were a lot of people in the company that I still think of from time to time. Al Butts was a black man who was the company clerk, and he and I got along famously. There were a lot of parties up in my room in the barracks (there is a certain amount of invincibility that goes along with being a platoon sergeant -- I wasn't exactly bullet-proof, but I did have some armor plating). Al and I would be talking about something and be finishing each other's sentences as we went along. We just seemed to know what each other was going to say. I really liked Al. He ended up wangling orders out of Campbell to Greece -- seems there was an Artillery battalion, part of NATO, over there and he knew who to call. Plenty slick!
Greg Bey was one of my roommates for a while, and he and I were pretty good friends. He was married, but during the time we were rooming together his wife had not yet joined him. He played a little guitar, and we were as different as night and day, but we got along great. Opposites attract, I guess. If memory serves me correctly, he had aspirations to go into the ministry after he finished his time at Fort Campbell. I hope he made it. I remember he had a brother with Downs Syndrome (I think) and I remember all his stories about how normal of a life his brother actually lived (up to a point). That comes back to me these days because one of my kids is autistic, and when I get to fretting about the future, I sometimes think back to Greg and his stories about his brother and I am reassured. When Greg’s wife joined him, they got a job together as house parents for a dorm at Austin Peay State University there in Clarkesville, TN, which is just down the road from Campbell. It was a religious school, meaning that it was affiliated with some non-drinking branch of Christianity, and I went to visit him one day with a six pack of Bud under one arm. Well, I didn’t know! I showed up at the door, and he grabbed me and said “get that stuff out of sight” so we did – drank it up clear out of sight right then.
There’s another guy that I remember but can’t put a name to, so I’ll call him Benny because he reminds me of the character Benny in the old Top Cat cartoons. He was from Indianapolis and was a Sp4 in 2nd Commex (I think). Benny sold me his car, a 1970 Pontiac Bonneville with a 455 engine, power everything, cruise control, “climate control” (not just a heater/air conditioner), and all the comfort that Detroit could cram into two tons of steel. I loved that car and had it for years, until finally everything broke and it died an ignominious death on St. George Island, Florida, broken but unbowed. Damn, I loved that car – second best car I’ve ever owned. Anyway, back to Benny, he was connected with one of our funnier escapades meant to relieve the boredom of barracks life. On the strip of highway between Fort Campbell and Clarkesville, there was not a whole lot of choices for late night dining. One place that would be open at night was called “Elaine’s” (just like that fancy place up in New York City, but that’s where the resemblance ends). Elaine’s was the home of the Yummy Burger, which was sort of similar to a White Castles/Krystal type of burger – postage stamp-size slab of meat, lots of onions, fluffy bun, and not very yummy. One night sitting around the barracks, somebody came up with the concept of a Yummy Burger Eating Contest. That was a hoot and a half, late at night with a couple of beers under the belt, and a half dozen of us in Elaine’s competing for the World Title. I did not win, I remember that, although I think I ate around ten of the little buggers. Benny couldn’t participate because he was on the overweight list, but he was there cheering the rest of us on. That night is one of those little slices that made the rest of the time at Campbell so bearable.
Jim Finn, sergeant-extraordinare, is on the right of this picture, with the cigar in his teeth. On the left is McGinty and that's Ken Allen behind him I think, although it could be Joe XXX. They are posing at the "One Lane Bride" sign on the road to the training areas. Some civilian didn't finish third grade and screwed up the sign, and you would of thought someone would fix it, but it never happened while I was there. Anyway, the sign was a sort of landmark -- "Meet me at the bride sign at 1400 hours" -- and the guys are profiling during one of our training trips.
Like Uncle Steve Clayton, Jim had a few years on him and he had a personality that wouldn't quit. He was bright, energetic, outgoing, always smiling and had charmed everyone on Fort Campbell. Last I heard from Brian McKenna, Jim had gone through OCS and was a captain somewhere in California, but that was a while ago.
Here's a funny story about Jim Finn. I was armor-plated, but Finn was truly bulletproof. As I was preparing to leave Fort Campbell (like two weeks short), I was assigned to be the Company Staff Duty Officer. Officers and NCOs E6 and above pulled that duty, which was essentially to make sure the motor pool was secure and to have a second layer of command around if the Charge of Quarters needed it. You would also go get people out of jail, etc., but that didn't happen a lot. On my last night as SDO, it almost did. Finn came by my room and said "Let's go out -- you're short and I want to buy you a beer." I replied, "No can do -- got the duty." Well, Finn was persuasive -- "Just ONE beer..." Anyway, off we went. Jim didn't usually drink when he was driving because drunk driving at Fort Campbell was essentially a capital offence -- the Army came down on you with both feet and then some. Anyway, Jim had a few and I had a few, and then a few more, and then we were going back to post, because I still had to check on the motor pool, etc. As Jim pulled into Gate 4, the MP waved him over to the side. Uh oh... They administered about a dozen field sobriety tests on Jim while I sat in the passenger seat watching my career go up in flames and fall about my feet like so many ashes. Guess who they were gonna call if Jim got nailed? The SDO -- me, the drunk guy in the passenger seat. Uh oh....
Jim passed and we drove off. I swore then and there that I would do nothing to jeopardize my last two weeks at Campbell. That was so close, I still sweat about it today. Finn just took it in stride. Classic Finn!
This is "Uncle Steve" Clayton in his hammock out in the field. Hard to make him out, but its the best (and only) one I've still got. Uncle Steve was from North Carolina, a college grad with a degree in political science, and he was killing time in the Army while the economy was in the dumps (this was the 70s, after all). He was in his late 20s, hence the nickname.
During a health and welfare inspection, Steve came down to my room and told me he had a little problem. He had a .45 caliber pistol in his locker, and he thought that that little item might raise some eyebrows. The lieutenant doing the inspection skipped right over it, maybe on purpose, and nothing happened, but there was always something like that going on. We were loading up to convoy down to Gallant Eagle and they ran the dope dogs through the vehicles, and the dog alerted on Steve's jeep. I got that "uh oh" feeling, and Lt. Fugate the platoon leader at the time, gave me his glare and said "what's that all about?" Dog didn't find anything, so I said, "dumb dog." Me and Lt. Fugate weren't the best of friends, and that kind of thing didn't help, but time heals all wounds so he was probably okay -- just anew lieutenant trying to be a sergeant.
Uncle Steve was running errands in the jeep one day when he spotted one of the flying roadblocks that they set up to inspect jeeps and the trip tickets. Unauthorized driving around or an oil leak on the jeep would earn the company commander a trip up the chain of command to explain the transgression, and after that the rest of the crap would roll back downhill -- picking up speed as it went. I had told Uncle Steve that the only mortal sin was to get caught --everything else was a venal sin, which meant you did some penance but still got into heaven. Anyway, he cuts cross-country (in the middle of Fort Campbell) and eluded those guys, ducking into someone else's motor pool to throw everyone off the scent. What a guy!
Another time, we were trying to return a borrowed jeep trailer that we had trashed. We had repainted the bumper numbers to hide our company markings, but nobody remembered what the original numbers were. Anyway, Steve got some paint and hid all the rust and dirt and painted on some logical bumper numbers (COSCOM #3 or something) and gave it back. Their first sergeant went out of his way to say how well they had treated his property, although he thought that we had borrowed trailer #10 instead of #3. I guess by the time the rust worked its way through the paint, they were so confused about which jeep trailer they had lent to who (or whom), we never got dinged for it. Clayton was a hell of a sergeant and a damn good friend.
This is McGinty -- a stereotypical New York boy who talked like they do in the movies. He and Clayton were like peas in a pod and always kept my butt out of trouble when they could. They both went to the Division Support Command (DISCOM) E-5 promotion board at the same time. All the units in DISCOM had the same E-5 promotion board, and the sergeant major of DISCOM put out the word that any question that the candidate could not answer would be asked of the candidates immediate supervisor (that would be me). They asked one of them (I can't remember whether it was Clayton or McGinty) some question, and the reply was something to the effect that "Page 17 of FM 39-72 says that this is the answer, but there is an apparent contradiction on Page 24 of FM 47-20..." and the sergeant major, who was the board president, just threw his pencil in the air and said "no more questions". Damn, those guys made me look good!
Gallant Eagle was a big exercise we went on down in north Florida on Eglin Air Force Base. Well, most of the participants were on Eglin. Somebody had told Major Seaver that he was NOT to go off the reservation, but he quoted one of his favorite sayings -- "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying!" and the other one was "I'm as serious as two dogs [having sex]" --and Third Commex set up its direction finding sites on a high ridge just north of the reservation. We were on this farm and living in a trailer house and in our little pup tents/hootches. The farmer lived across the street in his own house and owned a little helicopter. There was an airstrip right down the middle of where we were located, but we figured it was out-of-bounds, so nobody would be bothering us. We sort of camouflaged anyway, because you never know....
The picture above is a broken-down shack that contains a big old Gamma Goat with a commo rig in it. Looks like a broken down shack, doesn't it. Damn, we were good! The rest of the area had four jeeps, a couple of common vans, and 20 or so soldiers and you could never see a thing.
The picture below is a picture of the airstrip, complete with cows which wandered through our campsite as they pleased.
Its a good thing everything was hidden, because an Army helicopter, containing the bad guys from the 24th division, landed and walked over to the farmer's house to ask him if they could borrow his airstrip for an operation. THOSE CHEATERS!!!! NOBODY WAS ALLOWED TO BE OFF OF THE RESERVATION!!!! Anyway, we were quiet as mice and they left without a confrontation.
That afternoon, while I and the platoon leader were off on some mission or other, McGinty put on a pair of track shoes and jogged down to a tavern -- one of those rural Florida honkey-tonks -- and bought a case of beer. He just put the beer in a rucksack and jogged back. He was a pretty impressive runner, and running a couple of miles in the Florida heat with a case of beer on your back is pretty harsh. That night, just to be on the safe side, me and Uncle Steve and McGinty set up a listening post on the other side of the airstrip. Since we were pretty sure that even if there was an air assault by the opposition into our airstrip, they would be shooting blanks and wouldn't really hurt anyone, we drank the beer and snoozed. Damn, that was tasty! We had been out in the scrubs for several weeks, so a cold beer was real welcome. Thanks, guys! I can still taste it.
There was another minor incident that happened during Gallant Eagle, but it was one of those things that stuck with me for life. I still use this incident as an example in the risk management classes I teach. It is an example of an "accident" that ended up not having any monetary cost, but could just as easily have killed three people and totalled a jeep. The lesson I get across to my class is that any single incident can be costly, so the risk you want to control is the risk of THE NUMBER of accidents, rather than worrying about average cost. Does that make sense... probably not, but then, this is a page of memories, not a college lecture hall, so screw it.
Every couple of nights I left our platoon site and travelled by jeep to our two outlying DF sites to resupply them with water, touch base, provide needed items, etc. Since there weren't supposed to be any military people on the north side of the river (off the reservation), we tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. And if anybody was in the vicinity of our base camp when we got back, we would just keep going and try to lose them in the woods. I was driving down the dirt road leading to the turnoff for our little slice of the farm when I noticed there was a set of headlights following us. I slowed down and they slowed down, I sped up and they sped up, I pulled over and they kept going but then the headlights reappeared right after I started down the road again. Hmmmm.... Somebody was tailing us. Instead of turning off at the farm entrance, then, I drove past it and kicked the accelerator in the ass. The trail/dirtroad went over the top of a small rise and then down a short hill and then split into three different dirt roads. After I crested the ridge, I sped up and was going to do one of those fancy-dan bootlegger tricks. I got to the junction of the three trails, killed the lights, gave it more gas, and turned a hard left, all simultaneously. The chase car had not crested the hill yet, so I figured we would slide down the trail under cover of darkness and slink away (it was perhaps midnight at the time). Everything was working well until about 12 nanoseconds into the swerving turn after I had killed the lights, when I realized I couldn't see a damn thing -- no night vision, in a jeep with a trailer, being chased by the bad guys, going 20-30 miles per hour and in the middle of a slipping, sliding turn. Uh oh....
When the jeep shuddered to a halt, we were 25-30 yards up the side trail, right smack in the middle of it, big pine trees on either side, and all three of us were still alive. Someone jumped out as a ground guide and we drove a little deeper into the woods and shut down. I could not do that again on a bet, even in daylight, and I damn sure wouldn't ever try it again. It scared the be-jesus out of me. I don't know how my two compadres felt about it, but I was shaken. And to top it all off, the car following us was our own 101st Division counterintelligence guy. He thought we were the bad guys, scouting on the out-of-bounds side of the river. Damn. We ran into him one other time when we pulled the jeep behind that honkey-tonk that sold cases of beer (the one McGinty sprinted out to and back) to pick up some goodies for the guys in the outlying DF sites. He didn't drop a dime on us, though, so that was cool. Anyway, we delivered some cold beers to the troops, drank a few our ownselves, and kept driving on.
By the way, during Gallant Eagle, we worked pretty damn hard and generated a bunch of useful intelligence and a whole potfull of line bearings, so it wasn't all fun and games. But it was certainly memorable.
Perhaps the most memorable part about Gallant Eagle was getting back to Fort Campbell. Our platoon was part of a larger convoy and one of our jeeps had an accident in the middle of some podunk town in Florida. The accident spun the jeep around so it was pointed the other way, and while the rest of the platoon pulled over, the rest of the convoy kept on trucking. Uh oh.
We were gathered around deciding what to do (sort of) and Lt. Fugate started firing off about the wrecker truck that should have stopped and rendered us aid (every convoy serial had a tow truck or something similar assigned, for just this type of situation). I was leaning against a jeep with my arms folded just musing on the situation, when the lieutenant started firing on ME. We had a strained relationship -- personalities or whatever, plus the lieutenant had some family concerns at the time -- wife was having a baby and we're in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, it escalated. Clayton was staring at me in shock, and I gave him the high sign to get the troops the hell away from here and go buy a soda or something. I thought the lieutenant was going to duke it out with me -- he had his fists balled up and that was the body language, amid the shouting. I wasn't the best platoon sergeant around, to be fair (yes, Ken Lovett, that really WAS you), but one thing I did know was that you didn't duke it out period, and you didn't do any of that crap in front of the troops. He ended up the "conversation" with a promise to relieve me as platoon sergeant and make sure that my EER (enlisted evaluation report) reflected that fact. Whatever.
The next convoy serial hooked up our jeep and towed it to a national guard armory in Opp, Alabama, which was a holding station for vehicles with mechanical problems. The lieutenant announced that I was going to stay with the vehicle. Fine by me, and in retrospect, perhaps the right decision, although I think that at the time it was intended to be some kind of punishment. Whatever. I had two dollars in my pocket, all my stuff was in another truck, and I just didn't care by then.
The guys with the wrecked jeep were pretty happy to be off of that piece of crap, and they left me a footlocker with C-rations and some cigarettes and off they went. The full-time sergeant at the armory showed me the shower room and amenities such as they were (coffee pot, coke machine) and bid me good night. I walked into the shower fully clothed and started washing everything, peeling it off a layer at a time (we had been out for a month, after all). I was there two days and got picked up by the last convoy serial heading north. The NCO in charge of the serial told me he didn't know he was supposed to be collecting me, but told me to jump into the wrecker and they would haul my butt up to the RON (Remain Over Night) site in the middle of Alabama. Hubba hubba!
We got up to the RON and I got a hot meal and talked with the mechanics. They were a good bunch, as all mechanics are if you talk to them like they are people instead of treating them like motor pool trash or implying that you are better than them because your hands are clean, and they said they could slap in a new radiator and hook up some hoses and get that sumbitch rolling again by dawn, if I really wanted to drive it. Alternatively, they offered to let me ride with them on the wrecker when the last of the convoys pulled out. I explained my situation, and they said they would fix it overnight. They didn't have to -- they did it as a favor to me. Shoot, that kind of thing doesn't happen to me anymore, but it was common in the Army. Anyway, they worked on it all night, but when the convoy serial I was supposed to link up with took off, there were still pieces of it on the ground. Darn! The mechs slapped the pieces on over the next hour, revved her up and checked for leaks, and proclaimed it fit to drive -- but BE CAREFUL! A convoy serial was getting ready to leave, so I just tagged along. Hey, we all look alike -- guys in green suits driving camouflaged jeeps -- so I must be one of them, right?
That worked to my advantage, because I kept moving from one convoy serial to the next. Every hour or so, the serial would pull over for driver rest (10 minute break) and I'd just keep right on driving. If I ran into another serial, I just tucked in behind the tail-end vehicle and rode along like I belonged, until they pulled over for a rest, and I scooted on ahead. I got back to Fort Campbell as a convoy of one. The company area was empty, because the troops had been given a long weekend for a job well done on Gallant Eagle. Suited me just fine, as I was now a platoon sergeant without a job, having been fired so unceremoniously by the side of the road.
The mail room was still open, though, and I picked up my mail and there was a big box waiting for me. The mail clerk told me he was hoping I'd get back before he had to shut down, because everyone knew what was in that box. Yessir, it was my mail-order rubber love doll! After dropping my jeep off at the motor pool, me and my bubbas took it up to my room and put the sex tape on the stereo and put the speakers in the window and started playing it, and a couple of MPs came up there to see what the hell was going on, and ... but I've already told that part, haven't I. Anyway, we drank a bunch of beers and bonded. What a platoon!
Come Monday morning, I found out I wasn't fired after all. Whatever.
On one of our practice runs for Gallant Eagle or some such, we deployed out to the Campbell backwoods for a few days of practice war. I was new to the Third Commex, having been transferred over from the ATSE after a long, fun-filled TDY trip to Fort Meade. I was the new platoon sergeant, replacing Rob Hughes who took over the Peacetime Utilization Program duties. He had been an instructor at Goodfellow, so this was actually a smart move on someone’s part, which always makes you suspicious.
One of the first things me and the third herd did was go out to play in the woods, which was fine by me. Our jeep convoy of four, plus a commo van and a deuce-and-a-half, went barreling down the back roads looking for our camping spot. The platoon commander was Lt. Poulan. She was ROTC from somewhere and had been at Fort Riley, where she had had a good platoon sergeant (as she was quick to point out and to share with me). One of the first things we had a misunderstanding about was the “herringbone.”
See, they don’t teach you tactics at Fort Devens or DLI – they teach you the spy business, and I had no real clue about operating a SIGINT platoon. I had been out in the woods before doing Army-type stuff during my year at Fort Stewart, but when we were doing our thing down there we were in groups of either one or two people, not in groups of twenty with six freaking vehicles and guns and such. I fought the gentleman’s war mostly at Fort Stewart – we’d put white engineer tape on our arms and turned into umpires – that way, nobody could kill you or yell at you or throw tear gas at you (well, they weren’t supposed to, anyway).
So anyway, we pull to a stop on the tank trail near where we are going to set up and Lt. Poulan starts yelling “Herringbone! Herringbone!” I was clueless, but she wanted us to stagger the vehicles on each side of the road while we were stopped. Made sense, and if I had known what a “herringbone” was I probably could have figured it out. I’d heard the word before and I assumed it was some kind of civilian jacket or dress slacks or something (e.g., “he was wearing a herringbone jacket”), and I didn’t really understand how a sports coat was apropos to our current situation. (By the way, I still don’t know what a “hounds’ tooth jacket” is – you see, I grew up poor and never grew out of ignorant). So anyway, Lt. Poulan is rolling her eyes and wondering where I came from, and I’m rolling my eyes and wondering what was coming next.
Wasn’t long in coming. The commo section sergeant attached to our group pulled out a porta-potty, the kind that you take camping. Although we didn’t go in for platoon tactics at Fort Stewart, I had learned how to shit in the woods, so that porta-potty was a bit of a stretch for me. Lt. Poulan liked it though – showed lots of initiative.
To be honest, I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the 265th, but I had a knack for getting stuff done. Tell me what you need and I’d see to it that it got done. That’s pretty simple. I had a fair amount of common sense and I understood the soldiers fairly well, so things brightened up as we went along. Mostly, I tried to get the soldiers to do what they knew how to do already and I’d work with them to come up with any solutions for the things they didn’t know how to do yet. The secret of leadership, I’ve read since that time, is getting the hell out of the way and I knew when to do that. I also like to think I was pretty good at knowing when to get behind someone and push, but we all like to think that about ourselves. Oh what the hell, its my website, so I’ll say it – I was a hell of a guy!
Anyway, we held our war games for a few days and started working out the kinks that needed working out prior to our deployment on Gallant Eagle. The whole company was deployed in various spots (the whole company being the company headquarters group plus the two Commex platoons), and after several days of serious work, somebody decided to start playing grabass. The motor pool sergeant lead a raid on our unit, turning off generators and banging on stuff and such, and before long everybody was wanting to get in the act. One night, it was decided that we would raid the company headquarters and capture Major Seaver (oh yeah, Big Bob would go along with THAT…drag him in chains behind the chariots, why don’t we?) Myself and a couple of other volunteers went out cross country (harbinger of things to come at Fort Bragg, actually) and I had a wonderful time doing a night cross-country navigation to find the company headquarters location. The weather was beautiful, the moon was out, and it was a high-high wandering the woods and fields for hours on end. Unfortunately, when we got ready for our sneak-assault, they was a-waiting for us. Seems that we weren’t the only set of commandos creeping around after Major Seaver, so everybody was pretty alert.
Anyway, it was about 3 or 4 in the morning when my squad was annihilated at the entrance to the headquarters area, and I was pretty content to just lay back after our long hike and take it easy. Major Seaver came up in the dark and said something to the effect that “Okay, Sergeant Barth, you’ve had your fun, now go out there and call off the rest of them dogs.” Don’t work like that, though. “Sorry sir, no can do. I’m dead.” And I just sat there kind of grinning in the dark, careful to stay out of range of that temper of his. He went back towards his tent cussing. The rest of the company showed up just before dawn, though, driving all the vehicles through the area and honking their horns. Nobody was going to back to sleep, that was for sure. After all, this was Cold War!