November 15th, 1994...I was sleeping when the phone rang at the apartment in the wee hours of the morning. I somehow knew what the conversation would be as I gathered myself to answer. Mom's voice was shaking when I answered; my grandmother had died. Granny had become very sick since I last visited and had been completely taken over by Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. I just knew when the phone rang that she was gone. I had a deployment coming within the next couple of days, but knew I could contact the Red Cross and come home on emergency leave at a moment's notice. Mom assured me that it wasn't necessary for me to come back home for the funeral and I reluctantly agreed to stay put in Germany. I felt sad, but comforted in knowing her struggle was over. Granny wasn't the same person I knew that last visit. I watched the video tape that mom had sent me while I was in Saudi Arabia up to the point of seeing Granny in her bed looking so hollow and seemingly unaware of her surroundings. I turned off the video and cried, vowing never to watch it again. Even today, some twenty or so years later, I have a hard time watching that portion of the video.
A few days after my grandmother's death, the battalion had a full scale field deployment to a place we'd never been. We were told our mission was an exercise to do a radar relay and to be expected to be gone for two weeks. Each battery would have a set time to head out so the roadway wouldn't be cluttered with military vehicles in convoy, so Bravo Battery had quite a bit of downtime. Specialist Smith, not Jeremy, would be my field partner this deployment; Martinez was finally on his terminal leave and starting his exit out of 6th Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery. In the downtime, we did weapons checks and made sure our gear was loaded properly. The safety briefing was the usual drive safe, stay in formation, and so on, but the expected travel time was a couple of hours. The battalion would be spread out in different locations within the same area; each battery was assigned a 'sector'. Our usual deployment areas were Kitzingen, Oberdachstetten, occasionally Hohenfels or Grafenwohr, but the sector Bravo Battery would occupy was a place called Randeck, just southwest of Regensburg. I'd heard of Regensburg from World War II history, but Randeck was not at all familiar.
The trip was long and not very scenic for the first part as we passed Nurnberg and on down the Autobahn. As we went further south, the scenery picked up somewhat, some older towns along the way looked like they hadn't been touched since the medieval times. The convoy exited the Autobahn and we traveled through some other smaller towns that were equally as intriguing to me; a shame I couldn't get out and explore these places. The Altmuhl River winded along the
|Essing, Germany with the Altmuhl River in the background|
Setting up the site had become an art by now. Within a matter of thirty minutes, Smith and I had the aid tent ready to go and putting up our camo net. The First Sergeant came by for his usual 'medication'; cough medicine, which was consequently laden with alcohol. The day was dreary and a misty rain had fell most of the day. The air was cold, but not frigid, but there was a stiff wind that came up the mountain side. The nearby town was very small; maybe seven or eight houses and a gasthaus was all that was there. Our tactical site was in a large field, but much shorter than our site at Kitzingen. Other soldiers began off loading equipment and constructing an ECP at the base of the field by the roadway. Some curious farmers watched while their herd of sheep were grazing in a field beside us. I could tell by the reaction of the locals, this site wasn't widely used as a training area for the Army. Some of the local kids rode their bikes to the edge of the field and watched as Bravo Battery went into full tactical mode once more.
Day one was uneventful and we spent the day securing our field site and making sure the kitchen trailer was up to speed. The field was muddy, but not as bad as Hohenfels...yet. The next day, it started to drizzle early in the morning. The temperature dropped some and it was brisk out. Around mid-morning, LTC Geraci and CSM Jameson arrived on our site to look things over. This was unusual for us, since normally the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major didn't come out to field exercises. They never addressed the battery as a whole, just milled around checking the main operations center and radar wagon and then left. Had they came to the aid tent, they would have been treated to Smith and I lounging around reading and listening to music, probably not the most ideal tactical setting. A few days later, during an afternoon formation, we were told that our radar system had malfunctioned and basically we were stuck in the field with no mission. We were told to stay busy in any way we could as long as it was of military importance and that the radar would be fixed as soon as possible. Sergeants would be tasked out to do a review of basic soldier skills to pass the time, so the rest of the afternoon, we did MOPP training with our gas masks and protective gear. It wasn't too bad, considering the cold weather. Smith and I were tasked to do a block of instruction with the combat lifesavers and did combat carry and lift training. The overall training was done in a lightened way, meaning it was mainly for show; far from the usual sergeant's time routine. After supper, some of the launcher and commo guys came to the aid tent to hang out. One guy brought a deck of cards and a furious game of Spades ensued. We played Spades until late into the night the first night. The next day, it rained some more, and we played Spades again. This time, more guys came into the tent and we were full speed ahead, when all of a sudden, the door flap opened and in walked First Sergeant Franklin with the Command Sergeant Major aside him. We all immediately jumped up to the position of at ease, knowing we were busted.
"First Sergeant, what is this?" asked CSM Jameson. We all were afraid to move as 1SG Franklin began to speak.
"These are my medics and some of my other soldiers," he began, "they've been training hard and got some down time." Command Sergeant Major Jameson didn't look amused and quipped, "Well First Sergeant, if they can't find another task maybe I can find one for them". First Sergeant Franklin told him it wasn't necessary, that our break was about over, then ushered him out of the tent. As the pair left, 1SG Franklin shot us a look to kill; the game would be placed on hold for the remainder of the day.
|Life inside the tent, 1994|
After the heat blew over from our busted Spades game the next day, we commenced where we left off, but in a more discreet manner. Before we knew it, the skies turned dark and we had been playing a nonstop game all day long. When chow came late that afternoon, we rushed over to scoop up the fried chicken hot meal and continued the now epic game of Spades. Eventually, the final two players faced off around midnight; the marathon was about over. One of the launcher platoon guys ended up winning around one a.m., much to the relief of us all. We still had one week to go, and dared anyone with their lives if they brought a deck of cards back within our sight the rest of the mission.
The gasthaus in Randeck was a small family owned place and the smells emulating from it was torture as we ate MRE's or food from the field kitchen. What I wouldn't have given to have had a nice cordon bleu or schnitzel along with a mound of pommes and sweet kristalweissen. One night, some of the guys came to our tent with a special delivery; a couple of bottles of heffeweissen beer. The owner of the gasthaus brought a crate of beer to the ECP after dark and the guards distributed it out to our tent and the launcher tent. It was a welcome sight, but very taboo and tasted even better. Then we found out the gasthaus owner would bring plates of food to the guards, who obviously didn't decide to share with us. Another night, some of us were restless and decided to roam about the perimeter and as we were walking, someone spotted a small fire in the field behind the tents. We went to investigate and could make out a shape of a person sitting in front of the small fire. We continued onward to see what was going on rather than alerting the guards or command staff, and found the person was one of our soldiers named Gilliland, who was sitting shirtless with his eyes closed and chanting something, obviously unaware of our approach. We stopped and looked at him dumbfounded, not knowing what was going on. Gilliland was a guy in his 30's that had completely white hair. He was always a bit on the odd side and talked about astrology and mythology, but overall, he stayed under the radar until this moment. His mumbling stopped and he opened his eyes suddenly, making us jump a bit.
"What can I do for you gentlemen," Gilliland asked. We really didn't know what to say, but one of the guys, Amos I believe, broke the ice with, "Gill, what the Hell are you doing?"
"I am praying," Gilliland said with a smile. "I am Wiccan." Now, being a guy from Kentucky where you are either Baptist, Methodist or belonged to a church of God, this was something totally new to me. Gilliland tossed some powder into the fire and it flashed green, again, making us jump a bit. He went on to tell us that his religion was based with nature and how the Earth was the spiritual embodiment. I sat listening, intrigued at his take of things. It made sense as he spoke it, but I wasn't convinced to convert. Gilliland also said he had the gift of clairvoyance and knew a person's thoughts. He looked at me and said, "is this of interest to you?". I was taken aback, because indeed it was interesting, but maybe it was obvious due to my reaction, who knows. We all walked back to the field site a bit more educated with the ways of religion that night. Some would make jokes about it and almost mock Gilliland later on, but that was his belief, and it wasn't my place to judge him.
Life in Randeck became stale after a few more days. By weekend, the radar was still not working and we were running out of ideas for training. Some even did mock promotion boards to pass time, not exactly my idea of a good time at all. Some did land navigation around the site, but the place I wanted to navigate was the old castle ruins. Priester and I talked about going and I figured since there was no mission, what harm would it be to go exploring. Gilliland overheard us and said he wanted to go too, but there was one obstacle; asking the commander for permission. I chose to approach the first sergeant, and explained to him we would be doing 'combat patrol training', of which he saw right through. First Sergeant Franklin gave his blessing and told us to not stay gone all day, so we took off. The ruins were behind the gasthaus a short distance in a thicket of woods, standing on the high cliff edge. The castle wasn't large, but was
|Cave exploring, Army style|
The final week of the busted field deployment began typically and uneventfully. We were all ready to go back to Shipton at this point; that said a lot for how mundane it was in Randeck. A steady little rain had set in and the field site turned into a muddy mess. The truck that routinely came and cleaned our portable latrines even got stuck and needed our heavy tow truck to get it out, causing big ruts right in the middle of the site. Foot travel back and forth was a nightmare through the mud and muck, so we stayed in our tents as much as possible. About mid-week, the rain stopped but the skies stayed overcast and it was cool out. Someone had brought a football, so to pass the time, some would pass it back and forth. Eventually, a challenge was made; Launcher Platoon vs the rest of the battery in an epic game of football. Even the first sergeant was interested, and justified it as 'PT in field conditions'. The teams were split into even groups and the game was on. It was a full on, full contact, exhibition so Smith and I readied our medic bags just in case. Sure enough, someone went down with a twisted ankle. We got her taken care of, then the game continued. Another few plays later, a guy took a hard tackle and came up slow and in pain. He was holding his arm and walked over to us; casualty number two.
Thursday came and we got word that we would load out and move a day early. A collective shout of appreciation roared across the ranks and we pratically ran back to our areas to dismantle the site. The only catch was that the farmer who owned the field had to inspect it and it be to his liking before we could actually leave. All the ruts and dug in positions had to be fixed, which wouldn't be an easy task considering the deep mud that caked the site. Once our camo netting was down and tents stowed away, we could move our vehicles to a more solid place and concentrate on fixing the ruts. One suggestion was that soldiers could use shovels to fill in the deep gouges in the Earth. That worked somewhat, but was a slow process. The ECP bunker was filled in rather quickly, but the ruts were a losing battle. What we thought was going to be an early day turned into an all morning and most of afternoon work detail. Eventually, the farmer was satisfied with what we had done, but the field was still a mess. The trip back to Shipton started late in the afternoon; we were tired, dirty and smelled but we were going home finally.
We arrived in Ansbach after dark and looked like we had all been deep in the trenches. All our vehicles were caked with mud and grime. We did our weapons turn in and had the last formation around 2100 hours, only to be delighted with the word from above telling us to report to battalion by 0800 and no morning PT. I called home, but Christina wasn't there. She had went to her parents' house in Burgernheim so I caught a ride back into town. I had to walk down the hill from Bleidorn with my duffel bags, but I didn't care; I was going to be sleeping in my own bed for once. I dropped all my gear in the middle of the floor and took a long hot shower, just standing in there letting the hot water wash the field funk off me. Christina came home sometime afterward and I went to bed, exhausted but smelling fresh. The next morning, Christina had to take me into battalion, much to her disliking. She didn't like to get up early and prodded me about not having my license or being able to drive her standard transmission car. Of course, I would sometimes utter something about her not having shit to do at home other than sleep all day, just not loud enough for her to hear.
The first day back was spent cleaning our trucks and equipment. The line of vehicles at the wash rack was backed up all the way to the back gate entrance as each driver jockeyed their places. Smith and I emptied our ambulance and started cleaning the equipment while we waited our turn at the wash rack. This was a monster task all around because of the mud and muck that had adhered to everything. It was a sunny day so we could spread the tent and netting out to dry, which helped somewhat. It was a long and tedious process, but we got it done by late afternoon.
|Thanksgiving with the Brightbills, 1994|
Anytime I was downtown, I would walk by the music store and look at that orange Les Paul guitar through the window. Once Christina and I married, her family gave us a substantial sum of money, so I decided I wanted that guitar. I went into the store and asked to see it. I played the guitar and it felt nice in my hands. The price wasn't too bad, around six hundred dollars in US currency. Call it impulse or infatuation, but I walked out the shop that day with the guitar I had stared at many times. I should have maybe saved that money for us, but I was captivated and acted upon it. I spent a lot of time at the toy store and another collectibles shop downtown, buying model kits and Star Wars toys. The MusikBox store also knew me pretty well, I was buying CD's on a regular basis. I don't know if it was something to occupy my time off duty or to cope with the stresses of the day, but at some point, the living room became inundated with toys. Christina wouldn't complain too much about it, but the financial strain was taking a toll and I slowed down on my spending. If there was any look into the future, it was us scraping by and just making it and I hoped it would get better.