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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal



The End of an Era

J. D. Pendry

In March of 1994, I stood on the Campbell Barracks parade field, Heidelberg, Germany along with the units of the 284th Combat Service Support Battalion. We were there to case the color. The occasion caused me to reflect on an important period for my family, the Army and me. For my family and I, the organization we grew up with was gone. It also meant many changes ahead for the Army.

The US Army in Europe stood as a guardian of freedom and provided a long period of peace in central Europe, allowing destroyed nations to rebuild. It watched the Berlin wall come and go. The Army in Europe and the Army as whole would never be the same. Forward deployed was evolving into power projection. Our steadily downsizing Army could see base closures, personnel reductions, realignment, restructuring and something called Force XXI in its future. With those, and many other thoughts going through my mind I reluctantly slid the case over the color all rolled up and held there by the battalion commander. Tying the drawstring on that case was akin to saying good-bye to an old, dear friend.

The 284th CSS Battalion, only a couple of years old as a flagged battalion, served faithfully as a provisional battalion for more than a dozen years. In one role or another I was a part of the battalion for nine of those years.

I was to leave Heidelberg in the fall of 1987. As often happens it didn't work out that way. On my scheduled rotation date I would have ended 42 months of working for the Force Modernization Division of Headquarters, United States Army Europe (USAREUR), Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff For Operations (ODCSOPS). I was fortunate to share that time with many dedicated professionals. As it turned out their work provided real thunder for the soldiers in Desert Storm. I learned much about the force modernization process during that time. There is still information floating around in my mind conjuring up thoughts of working in the window-less attic behind cipher-locked doors in building 14 on Campbell Barracks. The H building, so called because of its shape, housed ODCSOPS on one side and ODCS for Intelligence (ODCSI) on the other. ODCSI was called Dixie until someone decided ODCSINT sounded better and added NT to the end of the acronym.

When I hear someone talking about force integration, new equipment training, new equipment fielding, in progress reviews for all that, Management of Change windows, MTO&E, TO&E, and TDA documentation, or the command plan, memories of that time are strong. They get stronger still when I picture some of the equipment systems fielded or in various stages of fielding while I was there. Many of them hailed daily for their performance in the desert. Names like Abrams, Bradley, HMMWV (never called a Hummer, but always called a Hum-Vee), Patriot, Ground Emplaced Mine Scattering System (Gems), Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), the Mine Clearing Lane Charge (MCLC, called Miclic), The (sand berm busting) Armored Combat Earth Mover (ACE), The Stinger, The Copperhead, the ill-fated Sergeant York, Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment (TMDE, pronounced T-MOD), Mobile Subscriber Equipment, STU II and III, and some exotic things like Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR), Joint Strategic Targeting Acquisition Radar System (JSTARS) and many more.

I also met some important leaders of our Army. I don't claim to know any of them personally, but with few exceptions they were inspirational leaders. One DCSOPS, then MG Joulwan, etched a permanent spot in my memory when I watched him reenlist a sergeant who worked for me. Without hesitating he recited the oath of enlistment from memory. I thought all officers should take note. A General administering a soldier's oath of enlistment from memory gave more dignity to that simple ceremony and showed more concern for it than I had ever seen before. Ever since, I have had a difficult time accepting an officer reading the oath. If the General had time, or made time, to memorize it then everyone could. I remember thinking Hooah! General.

The training exercises I experienced as an operations sergeant in the Central Army Group (CENTAG), Tactical Operations Center (TOC) also came to mind. There were plenty of twelve-hour shifts in places affectionately called RUF and KUF by CENTAG personnel. RUF is the Rupertsweiler Underground Facility and KUF the Kindsbach Underground Facility. CENTAG, like the 284th, is history now - replaced by an outfit called LANDCENT.

On exercise with CENTAG, I learned what the Leap Frog element of a war headquarters is. This was not a job highly sought by permanent members of CENTAG. That is why, I suppose, augmentees like me filled most of those positions. We leaped around to different locations while monitoring and staying current on the war. We stood ready to fulfill our role as an operational war headquarters if either the alternate or primary headquarters was knocked out of action. It was like being the third quarterback on the depth chart. We had to stay in the game mentally, the reality being that we may be moved up to number two. I never could figure out why CENTAG regulars would want to chance augmentees suddenly being in charge of the war.

On one exercise we called ourselves leaping by relocating from our hole in the mountain to Sembach Air Base. We were put up in bachelor enlisted guest quarters. The rooms had television with piped in movies. We all agreed it was a tough deployment, but someone had to do it. The morning after we got there, we went into an Air Force dining facility, ala Carte no less, with load bearing equipment, weapons and the works. Our selection of dining attire did not impress the Air Force, but they fed us. We all guffawed in unison (the kind of laugh that causes your cheeks to bulge and scrambled eggs with bacon to go spewing out across the table), again disrupting the ambiance, when we heard a young Airman complain about his omelet being runny. It was clear to us he had not stared a tray-pack ham and egg brick in the eye, or had cold Meals - Ready to Eat Chicken Al-a-King for breakfast recently.

I learned a lot about running tactical operations centers, decision briefings, map symbols, the forward line of troops (FLOT), blocking positions, counter attacks, combat air patrols, the Fulda Gap, echelons above corps (sometimes humorously called echelons above reality) and tons of other information required to enable a commander to fight an Army Group. More than I could have learned in a dozen battle staff courses.

I met some soldiers during these deployments whose minds and craftsmanship impressed me. Watching them operate I felt secure the leadership and the organization knew its job.

BG Gordon Sullivan was my duty General on at least one night shift (or maybe it was day, if it's dark when you go in the bunker and dark when you come out little details like was it day or night get confused). We needed a duty General because some decisions required a General. He expressed concern that officers charged with keeping the CINC current did not know the terrain they were briefing about. In some cases they had never seen it at ground level. He expressed that an officer in the TOC was an extension of the corps he was tracking and he ought to have a feel for the terrain they were on. A feel gained by standing on it and seeing it. At least that's how I received his message. I hope I wasn't too far off track.

General Otis, in his wartime role as the CENTAG Commander, being absorbed in the battle depicted on the huge map board during a briefing in the TOC is a clear memory for me. Just as clear as the foot-pounding sounds of the running CENTAG G2 echoing down the bunker passageway is. That happened right after the G2 briefing officer failed to answer the third successive question from the General.

After the briefing, the General got up and gave us a class on the counter-attack briefed by current operations. It was clear to all of us he fully understood the complexities of the operation. Afterwards we also knew the intricacies of the hammer and anvil maneuver choreographed to cut off and destroy a unit of the opposing force. Like a craftsman describing intricate woodcarvings on a piece of furniture he helped us see and appreciate the fine detail.

In October of 1987, I became a First Sergeant and moved across town to the 26th Support Group at Patton Barracks. I have memories of many great soldiers and commanders over that nearly four-year period of my life. Thinking about what we done together causes me to picture all their faces. Thoughts like physical training on the usually muddy PT field at Patton and the day my commander showed up in white sweats (before we had Army gray). We had circuit training on the field that day. His wife threw those sweats away. Battalion road marches up the Konigstuhl bring back familiar aches. Battalion runs through Campbell Barracks calling cadence at the top of our lungs as we passed the Keyes Building (USAREUR HQ) and the CINC's house are also good memories.

Deploying USAREUR headquarters (our mission) to Camp Lombardjside in Ostende, Belgium and walking down the road face-first into the cutting wind and sleet blowing in from the North Sea is another memorable experience. Just as taking cold showers because the hot water supply on the old Belgian Casern was not adequate to support our numbers is another. I also remember toilets constantly backing up because the diameter of the antique sewer pipes was just not ready for the volume they got from Tray Pack and MRE fed Americans.

There is an old submarine base there in Ostende. It's where the best Engineer Platoon in the Army worked constantly to keep the sand from taking down our generators. Generators that kept the required smooth current of electricity running into the operations center they constructed very nearly from the ground up.

The same engineer platoon laid miles of electric cable into the old hospital at Neubrukke near Baumholder. Again, providing the electric power USAREUR Headquarters needed to meet known amperage requirements of equipment. All too often though, someone (a knot-headed REMF if you asked my engineer platoon sergeant who) would plug in an unplanned-for coffeepot and take down an entire circuit. Other soldiers of my unit carried a thousand beds in and out of old hospital wards so the soldiers and officers assigned to the headquarters and a supporting signal battalion would have a place to sleep. Three female platoon leaders led the Military Police, Truck and Headquarters Platoons for that site support company. They produced the smoothest running site support operation I can recall. My supply sergeants delivered daily miracles meeting unusual requests. I had an old, crusty maintenance sergeant who could always scrounge up a needed part. The dining facility crew would take a shell of a building and turn it into a place capable of putting a smile on your face when you didn't have a lot to smile about. They even made T-Rations tolerable. Then, by some miracle that only mess sergeants can pull off, they would turn up one night with steak and lobster for supper. I remembered the military police, cooks, clerks, mechanics, truck drivers and engineers, although exhausted from their normal twelve hour shifts, being very serious about training to man their base defensive positions.

We ran a REFORGER support site at a casern called Dolan Barracks in Schwabish Hall. The same soldiers put those same thousand beds in an old, drafty aircraft hanger, a gymnasium and a few dusty attics around the casern. One night dense fog caused a major accident closing the Autobahn. All the REFORGER convoys, diverted off the Autobahn by the German Polezei, followed the familiar American flag markers on the roadside and turned up at our doorstep. Smiles and relieved expressions replaced frustration on the faces of those soldiers when we told them we had beds, hot showers, hot chow and fuel so they could get back on the road in the morning. Pride beamed on the faces of the soldiers in my unit when the American Forces Network named them the first REFORGER unit of the day for the work they done taking care of our unexpected guests.

My battalion chaplain always walked around with a pocket full of candy. He would toss me a piece and tell me to use it to sweeten my language whenever I let loose a string that was a little less than sweet.

A Lieutenant General with a difficult to pronounce name visited us at Dolan Barracks. He said we could call him General Shali. We felt a lot more comfortable calling him sir so that's what we did. He was the Deputy, Commander in Chief (DCINC) for the peace time USAREUR and of course CINC, USAREUR in his war time role. The General showed a real interest in talking to me, my soldiers and the soldiers we were taking care of. The good ones have a knack for asking the right questions to find out just how good the life support really is for soldiers. Computer simulation I'm told will replace many of these large exercises. I'm just not clear on how you simulate some experiences.

In the spring of 1985, I helped coach my son's little league baseball team there in Patrick Henry Village. To say I was proud in the summer of 1990, when I watched him pitch and win the Senior Boy's USAREUR championship game, would be a severe understatement. He went on trips to France, Italy and Holland to play soccer. We went on family trips and saw the Alps in Switzerland and the Tulip festival in Holland. I recall not being able to explain, comfortably, to my son what the Red Light District in Amsterdam was all about. I remembered the somberness of our visit to Anne Franke's house together and the stark contrast between the clean, wind mill-dotted Dutch countryside and the graffiti covered walls of Amsterdam. There are many other cherished family memories. The kind you have of a place where your family grew up. I supposed the time when families and soldiers grew up in Europe was long past. CONUS-based power projection was the future. The places we'd visit from now on would not be very hospitable or conducive to family outings.

When the wall came down, my son brought me a few pieces of it back from a trip to Berlin with his basketball team. Although I had many opportunities to get large chunks of it, none held more meaning for me than those few little pieces. After the wall came down, I guess we all knew the casing of some unit colors wasn't too far into the future. I wondered if all the training and exercises over the years really contributed to the wall coming down. Our feelings were mixed about whether we should be proud that we won the cold war or whether we should be concerned about our future. All of those thoughts were put on hold of course, right after F-117s and cruise missiles started flying over and into Bahgdad.

I remembered how good I felt when one of my closest friends and mentors brought me the news that I had been selected for promotion to sergeant major. My feelings were torn between happiness by leaving in the summer of 1991 to go to the Sergeant's Major Academy and sadness of leaving a unit and some very close relationships. I was thrilled when I was asked if I wanted my first Command Sergeant Major assignment to be the battalion I had spent so much of my life with. I wasn't too sure though, how I felt about the deployable Support Group I had always known becoming something called an Area Support Group and with a whole different mission. It was a mission that did not need a CSS Battalion. I thought about the challenges of the past few months and working through the draw-down.

The cased color being carried off the field by a solitary soldier signaled the end of this chapter in my life and my Army's. I guessed that I had better become more familiar with this Force XXI business. It would still be the Army. It would be good, maybe even better, but it would never be the same. I was a part of something that was now history to be learned from. It was the end of an era.

Copyright© 1996 J.D. Pendry All Rights Reserved