Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chapter 30: Look Into the Future

Fall, 1994, was to be a busy season for the battalion.  We had a major field deployment on the horizon as November arrived, a new commander, and I had a new pay grade.  On the first of November, I was promoted to Specialist, E-4.  It was a good moment for me because for once, I felt I had started being on the straight and narrow as a soldier finally.  I wasn't reporting to duty with a massive hang over like before and I wasn't trying to sham as much; I'd taken my extra duties within the battalion aid station seriously and had matured in some aspects.  My promotion ceremony was interesting to say the least; after I was promoted, the platoon sergeant put the other promotees and me in the front leaning rest position.  One by one, the other soldiers poured water, flour, and eggs on us saying it was "a piece of cake to get promoted".  It was all fun nature and no one had a problem with being 'caked', unlike the politically correct world we live in now.
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
valley as we drove in convoy through these towns.  I wondered if the older residents had visions of the war replaying in their heads.  We arrived at a town called Essing, small town along the riverbank that looked like a classical Baroque era hamlet.  Sheer cliffs dominated the background and atop one, I noticed a castle ruin.  We traveled up the steep roadway leading up the cliff and Randeck was immediately at the top, near the castle ruins.  A HUMMVEE was parked along a field near the town and a soldier was standing beside it guiding us to our destination. After the long drive, then real work began setting up the field site once again.
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
On the field site, representatives from Raytheon were working on the radar system at a feverish pace.  One of the senior NCO's was casually talking to a group of us at chow and said that the part needed would have to be shipped from the United States and could take up to another week to get to us.  We only had another week left, so it looked like our mission was a bust.  The sergeant went onto say that our mission wasn't really an exercise, that the radar relay support was for the ongoing missions in Bosnia; an indirect involvement with the NATO operations.  Whether that was true or not, it never was denied nor confirmed officially.
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
Burg Randeck
impressive to see.  A lone turret and tower stood above the roofless stone structure and a wooden bridge led to the massive wooden doors, which, of course, were locked.  We explored the area in fascination, like we were kids in the Goonies movie seeing the ship for the first time.  We wanted to get inside the ruin, so we started looking for an alternate entrance.  Gilliland said that most castles had secret entrances or escape routes in case an enemy overran it.  There was an old cistern found in the woods that could have been used, but it was concreted shut.  As we explored the front face of the cliff, Gilliland spotted a cave opening just below the castle.  The three of us hurried into the chamber, which was small but had two passages which branched off.  The first passage we explored only went a short distance then stopped.  The next one wound further back and gradually slimmed down to where we had to crawl.  Ahead, there was a glimmer of light shining, so we kept going.  The passage opened into a smaller chamber and the light we saw came from a small crack in the rocks above us, and not an entrance to the castle. 
Cave exploring, Army style
We felt a bit dejected about not being able to get into the castle, but it was a very awesome experience to say the least.  We walked back to the field site and a slight mist started to turn into a steady sprinkle of rain.  The three of us were muddy and scraped up from the castle and cave adventure, but it was worth it.
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.
Mudbowl, 1994
Smith thought the guy had just dislocated his shoulder but further exam showed that wasn't the case.  He was shaking it off as best as he could, so we placed his arm in a sling to make it a little better.  Only later, after we got back to Shipton, did he go to the clinic and learn that he had a broken collarbone.  The game continued and honestly, I don't know who actually won, but it was a load of fun and great stress relief for everyone.
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
Thanksgiving was approaching and I would have some welcomed time off from the field for at least a little while.  Harold and Salina invited us, along with Jeremy and his wife and a couple others from battalion to their home for Thanksgiving.  It wasn't home family, but it was my Army family, and they were just as close to me.  It was a good day full of the usual friendly banter and tons of food.  It would be just a matter of months until I would be leaving this family behind and moving to another Army post somewhere.  For the moment, I just relished on the camaraderie and enjoyed the company, not worrying about the look into the future.
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.




Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Chapter 29: The Way We Were

My second summer overseas was shaping up to be just as eventful as my first, with the exception of a major deployment; and my personal life was about to change in the biggest way imaginable. Christina and I finally put forth into motion a plan to get married. The first obstacle was securing a date. I was spending more and more time away on field deployments and was gearing up for a large scale tactical evaluation with NATO evaluators. The only logical time was during the Fourth of July break when we had a long weekend. Next, I learned that getting married as a soldier in Germany was far different than it was back home. I had to file a formal request through the battalion chain of command to say "I do", then we had to file with the registrar clerk in Ansbach, kind of like obtaining a marriage license but a bit more complicated. From there, we could organize a formal church wedding if we chose. When I called home to announce our plans, naturally mom and dad were apprehensive about the idea; and rightfully so, since they have never met their prospective daughter-in-law. Their concerns were legitimate, they felt we were rushing into everything and that I needed to focus more on my military career. So we had a game plan, tentative date, and the final obstacle was another field deployment in June. Bravo Battery convoyed out to Kitzingen once again to set up field operations for a week long deployment.
 The field deployments were beyond routine by summer 1994.  The worst parts were the drive to and from Kitzingen, although I was fortunate to see some German countryside and some old towns along the way.  Driving in a hot HUMVEE in a military convoy is not a luxurious Sunday drive.  The field exercise was uneventful.  Martinez was back with me and we spent most of our time working on our triage sites and working with our combat lifesavers.  I told everyone in Bravo Battery about my plans to get married and invited everyone to come, knowing most probably would pass it up, still a nice gesture.  When I got back from the field, I focused on getting the nuptials in order.  Christina's grandma wanted her to be married in the Burgbernheim church after our 'official' wedding at the registrar's office.  For that, I would have to put in a leave request due to the hectic schedule at Shipton.  We decided on a date in August for the church wedding, depending on what I was authorized for leave.
Life outside of the barracks was different.  I was used to being around all my buddies and the whole fraternity house type lifestyle.  Even though I was generally happy, I felt I had left the guys behind.  The weeks before the registrar wedding, I admit that I had second thoughts; not because of wanting to be with other women, but just missing my Shipton family.  The struggles on the 'economy' as it was called were trying with rent and utilities always being due, plus groceries and other daily essentials.  I was the only one bringing money into the home and that caused some normal stress, naturally.  One time before the marriage, Oma loaned Christina some money to get us by one month.  Trips out to the Goose and Hai Life were halted, but my luxury items were still CD's and model kits.  Things eventually evened out for us, as they always did early on, and I kept optimistic.  One big inconvenience was the fact we only had one vehicle, a little white Golf compact car.  Most days, I could walk up the hill the Bleidorn and ride with Jeremy, but if he was deployed out to the field, Christina would have to take me, because I didn't get my German driver's license as I should have.  I was allowed to operate military vehicles on official business travel, but not a personal vehicle.  Plus, the car was a standard transmission, so much like the SUV's in Saudi, I wasn't that proficient in driving it.
July quickly came around and my paperwork had been approved for the registrar wedding.  We decided on July 4th, Independence Day, to be our official wedding day.  I wasn't authorized any additional leave because I was due to leave for a field exercise a couple of days after the holiday; so much for a honeymoon.  At the same time, we were preparing for our August church wedding, so to say it was a hectic time is saying it lightly.   The Fourth of July arrived and my life would forever change.
Christina, her parents, Nicole, Oma and I arrived at the registrar's office in Ansbach early in the day.  I presented my paperwork from battalion authorizing me to be married and Christina produced some vital records documents from the Bad Windsheim community where she was born.  There was no ceremony, no brides maids or grooms men, no one standing up with or beside me.  I remember wishing my family could have at least been part of this.  We signed some legal documents, and when the registrar asked about the last name, I was a bit confused.  I always believed that the woman took the man's name and that was it; however, it was not always the case in European cultures.  If a family, such as Christina's, had only female offspring, the male took the female's surname frequently.  We had already decided that the Kiskaden name would be our family's name and told the registrar clerk.  A groan of disapproval came from Gunter and he nearly got up and walked out.  Heidi eased him and he sat there like a kid who had been wronged by having his favorite item taken away.  I don't really know if Heidi was happy for us, Oma started crying and Nicole was, well, just Nicole.  After a few more minutes, we exchanged rings, which was not ordinary for this type of marriage formality; but we wanted to be able to show everyone we were now a family.  In less than an hour, Christina and I walked out into Ansbach a married couple.  I remember looking down at the ring on my finger, thinking "wow...we really did it".
Gunter was visibly upset that the Markert name was omitted and huffed all the way back to his car.  We decided to meet at a gasthaus and eat together, which was surely to be pleasant.  During the meal, Gunter eased up a little, but still would have an occasional smart ass remark fly out.  I passed the remarks over, by that time I had already figured out he could be difficult.  Oma seemed to be the happiest about our nuptials and must have hugged me a dozen times that day.  Eventually, we parted ways and Christina and I retreated to the apartment.  The German-American Fest was going on in Katterbach, so we decided to go there. 
The fest was as it was the year before; carnival rides, food stands and the beer tents.  I remember seeing a group of guys from Bravo and walking up just holding my left hand up to show off the wedding band.  Everyone of them congratulated us and we didn't have to worry about buying drinks the rest of our time there.  A band was playing in one tent and was pretty good.  That took me back to the time with Gaines and Ludeke; that band could have been us.  One of the guys, Manning, went up to the stage and told the band to dedicate a song to Christina and me, so when the time came, the singer announced that we had just been married and dedicated the Eric Clapton song Wonderful Tonight to us.  That would be our first official dance as a married couple.  Halfway through the song, I noticed we were the only two on the dance floor, everyone else was standing back watching us with smiles.  For the moment, the way we were right then  trumped any problems we had been having.  Things felt right and I felt good about us.  If her family or mine wasn't happy for us, it didn't matter; at least 200 people there that moment were happy for us.
 I didn't get hammered drunk like I usually did at the fest, even considering the fact all the drinks were taken care of by my Bravo guys.  After the fest, Christina and I went to the Goose to continue the celebration.  Again, the guys were buying drinks for us, Christina chose to drink lightly so she could drive us home.  At some point, a usual Goose brawl broke out between the Katterbach and Shipton guys.
"They hit Priester," Rich, one of the Bravo guys yelled out.  It was like a flood of Bravo Battery soldiers pouring out to find the person responsible.  The fight spilled outside and as I got to the door to join, Priester was brought to me, bleeding profusely from the head.  He was hit with something and had a huge gash on the top of his head that needed immediate attention.  I sat him down while Christina ran out to get her first aid kit out of the car.  One of the workers at the Goose ran up with a combat lifesaver bag and we started working on Priester.  The laceration was about 3 or 4 inches long and deep; not to the skull, but deep and had started to raise into a large knot.  I told Priester we needed to take him to the krankenhaus, but he refused.  Apparently a guy just walked up to him and clocked him with something for no reason.  Priester was like me; easy going and non-confrontational without an enemy.  For someone to do this to him was uncalled for.  For someone to do this to a fellow Bravo soldier, retribution would be swift for the poor idiot.
I bandaged Priester up the best I could and put ice wrapped in a rag on his head to help reduce swelling and maybe stop the bleeding.  He never passed out, but looked as if he could at any time.  He laid down on the bench seat while I stayed with him.  I was covered in blood, hands, shirt, pants, all over me.  The guys came back inside once the fight broke up and said that a guy from Katterbach saw Priester from behind, assumed he was another person and hit him with a pool stick.  The guy realized the err of his ways when he was pummeled by a group of Bravo Battery's finest.  He, too was left bleeding and very apologetic.  The next day, Priester had guard duty and was working the front gate when I went to check on him.  After his duty, he finally went to the clinic and was treated for the laceration and a concussion.  Luckily there was no brain bleed or cranial swelling.  The morale of this story:  Bravo Battery guys stuck together and we watched each others backs.  If anyone crossed the line, they were dealt with promptly and efficiently.
As soon as the festivities and wedding celebrations ended, I was back in the field again.  This exercise would prove to be the most challenging one since our deployment to Saudi Arabia.  There was an opposition force comprised of NATO troops and some guys from surrounding posts camped somewhere near our position.  Now, instead of imaginary attacks with no other soldiers, we would have simulated warfare.  The first attack came in as we were building our site.  The cracking of gunfire started in a tree line beyond our entry point.  The alarm went off and guys scurried to makeshift defensive positions behind trucks, grassy berms or anything else they could find.  The whole ordeal lasted just a few minutes, but was enough to put us on guard.
After our site was operational, Captain Reynolds and First Sergeant Franklin briefed us about the next two weeks.  We would be under simulated combat conditions at all hours, including air attacks by actual aircraft.  Observers from NATO would be on site watching and, in some instances, participating in the exercises.  We would expect attacks at any time and could expect a simulated mass casualty situation.  Luckily for Martinez and me, our most recent sergeant's time training focused on triage and mass casualties.   We went back to our tents and regulated the fact that we would have no sleep during this field deployment.  One of the lieutenants came to the tent and asked if we had the landing zone set up, of which we hadn't at that point.  I went with him to a location down range and set up bright orange place markers to signify a landing area for helicopters.  I was told that at some point, a VIP would arrive and to be ready.  In the field, a VIP being ferried in by helicopter meant a commanding general or someone higher up the chain of command was stopping by, so we had to be on our toes.  L
ate one afternoon, I was summoned to the command tent and told to go to the landing zone for further instruction.  The medics were always trained in proper hand signals to land helicopters in the event of a medevac situation, and I expected this to be the day a VIP would arrive.  The sergeant waiting for me said that a Chinook (a large, two rotor helicopter) would be 'hot loading' some missile canisters and I needed to guide it down.  The giant craft arrived over the tree line with thunderous force; a Patriot Missile canister was secured by ropes and hanging down under the helicopter's belly.  I made visual contact with the crew chief as the Chinook hovered overhead.  The sound was deafening and the down force of the rotors made it difficult to stand up, but I guided the huge craft down to the ground.  I'll have to admit, it was a bit intimidating to say the least.  When the helicopter took off, the down force of the rotors was like standing in a hurricane.  I quickly bent down and covered my face to shield myself from the debris and grass being whipped around.  The whole operation took maybe ten minutes and was quite awe-inspiring to see.
Our next 'attack' came by air and caught all of us by surprise; especially me.  We had portable latrines in the field and the call of nature hit me one afternoon while  Martinez was at the aid station playing cards with a couple of the other guys.  While I was busy, I heard the distinct sound of a low flying jet coming toward the site and a voice yelling, "air attack! Air attack!"  I started to get my TA-50 back on when all of a sudden, an explosion rocked the portable latrine.  The force was so hard that the walls of the latrine moved with the concussion.  Guys were yelling outside as I scurried to get dressed.  I fully expected to look out and see a crashed jet burning close by.  Suddenly, the sound of another jet filled the air and another explosion of equal intensity rocked the site.  I ran out of the latrine toward the aid tent yelling for Martinez.  There was a gray haze of smoke all around and guys were hurriedly darting from tent to tent.  As I looked around, I didn't see a burning jet or any other destruction I had anticipated, but soon a yell for "doc" rang out.  Martinez and I grabbed our aid bags and ran toward the command area.  There were several soldiers down on the ground with some combat lifesavers already treating them.  My first thought was that the explosions were something that weren't part of the plan and our guys had gotten hurt.  Our fears for the worst were quickly relieved when we got to the 'injured' soldiers and learned they had simulated injuries.  Off in the distance, the swooshing sound of another jet caused us to brace for another explosive report.  The jet simply did a fly by pass and banked off away from our site.
As Martinez and I treated our 'casualties' we were being observed by a couple of British soldiers.  This was part of an evaluation process, but we treated it as if it were real.  With the help of our combat lifesavers, we took our casualties to the aid station and began the triage process.  There were a total of eight or ten if I remember correctly; some with simple wounds and others labeled as expectant, or dead/dying.  We moved our ambulance out of the camouflaged netting and readied it for transport.  Martinez asked an evaluator if he needed to call for Dustoff, or air ambulance support, of which the reply was, "would you if this was real?".  Martinez began the process of calling for medevac on our radio.  We had an assigned frequency to reach the Dustoff helicopters, which were stationed nearby in Wurzburg.  We had a specific way to give information over the radio and kept cards in our field packs that outlined the call procedures.  I gathered up those soldiers who were not as critical and placed them in the ambulance.  I quickly realized that there were going to be more than I could transport, so I sent a combat lifesaver to the command tent to procure another vehicle.  While Martinez and I were focused on this part of the exercise, the rest of Bravo Battery was being evaluated also.  The soldier ran back and told me there were no more vehicles to use,  they had been 'destroyed' during the attack.  Well played.
After Martinez did his radio call for Dustoff, the voice at the other end told us all available craft were unavailable due to real time missions.  The evaluators stopped us at that point and wrote something down on the papers they had, then walked off.  This was the end of our part of an interesting drill.
Several minutes later, a sergeant came to our tent and told us to form up for a briefing.  We reported to formation and Captain Reynolds, along with First Sergeant Franklin and our executive officer, briefed us on what happened.  The explosions we heard were actually remote controlled grenade simulators that were buried in undisclosed areas along the site area.  The evaluators faulted the battery for not recognizing an immediate threat and appearing chaotic.  In my mind, I felt this would have been a totally real scenario like the attack on Pearl Harbor; guys just doing their routine and then all of a sudden, an air attack.  I'm not sure what happened, but according to the evaluation, the radar should have picked up the incoming aircraft and the Patriot launchers should have taken care of the threat; in a real world situation.  Whether it was a failure on the radar, or just simply was supposed to happen, I don't know, but it was a definite awakening.
As the two weeks progressed, more attacks of varying degree plagued us at all hours.  One particular attack was a sabotage type deal where the enemy forces snuck in and placed simulated bombs on vehicles and next to tents.  Another full scale attack resulted in the 'death' of Captain Reynolds, who was removed from the site completely, to evaluate the continuance of command scenario.  We had very little sleep during this field exercise, but all in all, it was very rewarding.  There was only one real injury during the exercise, an ankle sprain, that required us to transport a soldier to the dispensary in Kitzingen.  By the end of the last week, we were all tired, stinking and beyond ready to head back to Ansbach.
The remainder of the summer of 1994 would be busy with more field deployments to ranges, endless inspections at Shipton and another task I was bestowed upon by SFC Taylor at Bravo Battery; eye exams for all personnel in the battery.  Over the course of a week, I had everyone from command down to private do a basic eye exam.  I found out that many of the soldiers hadn't had exams in a long time, so I had to schedule follow-up appointments with the Katterbach Clinic.  The week long task ended up lasting the better part of two weeks.  Christina even said I was spouting off vision ratios in my sleep.
Home life was still an adjustment.  Christina and I spent most of our time together going to and from Burgbernheim or occasionally over to Harold and Salina's.  Salina was expecting their first child and I was just as excited as they were.  Not long after I had arrived at Shipton, Harold had received word that Salina had lost a baby she was carrying, so this pregnancy was very special to them.  I had been there to support Harold after the first baby was lost, something he and Salina were always grateful for.   One night while all of us were together, Harold asked if Christina and I would be the Godparents of their child.  There was no hesitation to the question at all; the Brightbill's were already like family to me.  Personally, I was honored and humbled by his request.
Christina and I planned the church wedding for August 13  in Burgbernheim.  We met with the priest several weeks earlier, before out registrar wedding, and he outlined the ceremony to us.  The wedding would be traditional in the fact Christina would wear a full wedding dress, we would have all the pomp and circumstance, but it would be far different than a wedding in the States.
St, Johanniskirche, Burgbernheim, Germany
The church was a Lutheran based fellowship which reminded me in some ways of Catholic faith.  The church was named St. Johanniskirche and the interior was simply awesome; it was built in the 1110's and remained largely unscathed during World War II. 

The walls were adorned with wood carvings highlighted with gold.  The alter was an impressive wooden masterpiece portraying the life of Christ and a balcony with a choir pit wrapped around the room.  If anything, I could always say I was married in a middle-ages era church that was absolutely breathtaking.
Before the wedding date, it was customary that the priest place a notice on the front of the church, to allow anyone who objected to meet with him.  That would be a sight; already legally married and someone protesting the church ceremony.  Christina, her aunt and mother picked out the dress, which I wasn't allowed to see, and Oma paid for it.  I would wear my Class A uniform and had started to ask people to come.  Christina, however, told me that the wedding would be low-key and she wanted specific people to attend.  Jeremy and Misti were invited, along with Anita and Gerald, a couple we were friends with.  Anita was  sergeant in the unit and her husband, Gerald was retired from the Army.  For whatever reason, Harold and Salina were not invited, and I protested to deaf ears.  Harold was one of my closest friends and had just asked us to be Godparents!  As a matter of fact, most of the people I wanted to attend were shunned.
The rehearsal went smooth, but the whole thing was just foreign to me.  We had the rehearsal dinner at a local gasthaus and for the most part, Christina's family spoke in German the whole evening.  I could understand quite a bit of German language, but couldn't speak much more than simple phrases.  Occasionally, Gunter would say something and they would all turn to look at me and start laughing.  Anita and Gerald were the only others from the wedding party to attend the meal, and I could tell they were uncomfortable along with me.  I talked to them mostly and chose to ignore the laughs, even if they were unintended to be at me.
Our wedding day came, and we started off by taking pictures.  Christina arrived in her dress and looked radiant.  Normally, it is tradition that the groom not see the bride before the wedding ceremony, but nothing so far had been very traditional at all.  Our picture location was in a garden setting at a place in Bad Windsheim.  There were flowers everywhere and it was a very nice place.  I was actually more nervous this time than the registrar wedding.  When we got to the church, several of the people Christina and the Markert family knew had arrived...so much for a low-key event.  Jeremy and Misti came, and I wanted Jeremy to stand with me.  Once inside, however, it was much different than any wedding I'd seen, or rehearsed the day before.  I was seated in front of the priest and alter, Jeremy was told to sit to the side with everyone else.  At that point, I felt a sense of being alone in this journey.  I wished my parents could have been there to see this beautiful church.  We had set up a video camera in the church to capture the ceremony, so at least I could send it back home for them to see.
Christina marched down the aisle and sat down next to me.  The priest began talking-all in German-and anointing us.  We sang hymns like a regular church service, again all in German.  I looked around at one point and caught myself drifting in thought.  On the video, you can plainly see this, all the while as I was twiddling my thumbs.  No traditional vows were spoken, we remained seated as we exchanged rings and only stood when we were presented to the congregation.  At the end of the ceremony, I think I was more confused than anything due to the language and cultural barriers.  As we exited, the crowd did the only traditional thing of the day by tossing rice at us.
After the wedding, we retreated back to Christina's parents' house to change into our reception clothing.  Our reception would be at the country club gasthaus between Illesheim and Bad Windsheim.  As we were on the way there, a nice older model white Dodge Charger zipped past us on the narrow road.  It was kind of an odd sight because normally there weren't many American sports cars seen in Germany.  The driver sped away and took a curve entirely too fast, skidding off the road, taking out a couple of road makers and slamming sideways into a tree.  The impact broke the small tree in half and caved the passenger's side of the Charger inward.  We stopped the car and I rushed out to check the driver.  Jeremy was behind me with a first aid kit.  The driver seemed to be okay, but had a bloody nose and cut on his head and smelled of alcohol.  Christina went on to Illesheim, which was a short distance away, and called for help.  Soon, the polezi and an ambulance were on scene and the driver of the wrecked car was obviously nervous and agitated.  He was a staff sergeant with an aviation unit in Illesheim, and by all accounts, was in a great deal of trouble.  What a wonderful way to start a wedding reception.
The gasthaus was nestled between a couple of hills and had a vineyard behind it.  It was a nice location; almost picturesque in what you'd expect to see in Bavaria.  German custom regarding wedding receptions are far different than the traditional ones in the U.S.  No big party or fancy gift exchanges were part of this; it was almost like a feast setting.  We sat at a long table with hoards of food and beer in front of us.  A German polka band played folk songs, kind of like the ones at the local fests in spring and fall.  We did a traditional dance to the oompah beat of the music, and everyone got quite amused at my inability to dance.  We sat up a video camera so I could sent a video home to mom and dad, but it still wasn't the same as having them there as part of it.  After around three hours, we retreated back to our respective homes; after all, I had to report back to duty and another field exercise the following week.
One day, I came home from post and Tanja was at the apartment.  She was  pregnant and her father had told her to leave home.  Christina had told her she could stay with us for a while until things settled down.  Our small one-bedroom apartment would be a bit more crowded, but we could manage.  The only real strife we had at this point were money issues.  Christina still wasn't working anywhere, so my check was being stretched to the limit every month.  I chalked it up as a necessary struggle many newlyweds endured, but there were cracks starting to form on the surface.  Trips to the PX and local shops became expensive and it didn't seem there was a regard made to make it better.
 I spent some of my off time with Gunter going to his hunting spots and favorite gasthauses along the way.  Usually these trips became all day events and lots of beer was consumed between us.  It seemed we were getting along rather well and Gunter was finally accepting me.  I still felt a little uneasy at times due to his occasional racial or political remarks, but realized that it was his demeanor and I wasn't going to change it in any way.  Heidi was always friendly with me, and Oma was one of the kindest people I knew, but still, I felt a little like an outsider.  I'm sure they all had seen the same routine; local girls getting involved with Army guys and then when it was time for the guys to leave, the girls would be dumped unceremoniously.  Naturally, they had concerns, but for then, the way we were in that moment in time, those concerns could be shrugged off as normal paranoia.
At some point near the end of summer 1994, Jeremy and I were approached by one of the Dustoff guys from Katterbach about becoming flight medics.  It was an exciting pitch; we would be sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama and become one of the air evac medics aboard a Blackhawk.  We would even have our choice of duty station, which we already agreed would be in Katterbach, once we completed the school.  Plus we had the option to attend Air Assault School in Fort Campbell once we completed the training.  There would be so much opportunity outside of the Army with this classification, and it could quite possibly be an Army career choice for Jeremy and me.  We told Corporal Fowler we would like to start the process and he signed off for us.
Jeremy and I went to Wurzburg to start our flight physicals, which were much like the ones we had at MEPS.  During the eye exam, I was told I had a slight astigmatism, but the problem wouldn't disqualify me.  A few days after the exams, we got packets stating we had passed our physicals and more paperwork that needed to be sent up the chain to battalion.  We needed letters of recommendation, so I chose SFC Taylor and Lieutenant Wiczkowski from Bravo Battery.  Both gave very favorable recommendations, plus my most recent PT test went well and I had no negative points against me, surprisingly.  A few days later, Corporal Fowler broke the news to Jeremy and me that our battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Geraci had denied our paperwork, stating that we were a 'valuable asset to the battalion and an upcoming mission'.  So our hopes for becoming flight medics had to be put on hold...and what 'mission'?
We started training soon after for the Expert Field Medical Badge Course, or EFMB.  It was a prestigious award medics could earn, like the infantry's Expert Field Badge, or Air Assault.  The course was a two-week field exercise that tested our medic, land navigation and basic soldier skills.  At the end was a grueling twelve mile road march with full combat equipment; a combination of basic training and medic school all in one.  We trained on Thursdays by doing either land navigation or road marches, since those were the most difficult and most often failed tasks.  Land navigation was interesting in the fact that we relied upon a single compass and grid map of an area to find certain points in a given time frame.  In daytime, this was fairly easy because we had visual references we could match to the map.  Night land navigation was more tricky because we didn't have those visual clues.  During one night event, I was doing fairly well, had found two points in a timely manner.  We were on the back side of Oberdachstetten, near one of Gunter's hunting spots.  It was very dark and cold that night with no moon.  The forest canopy made seeing very difficult, and we could only use the red lenses on our flashlights to read the map and nothing more.  I figured my third point and started hiking toward the location.  After what I felt should have been ample time to find the point, I stopped and recalculated my coordinates.  I started hiking a bit further and came upon the roadway that wound through the forest, obviously quite a bit off course.  I looked at the map and tried to get oriented again, when Corporal Fowler came upon my location and said, "bang, you're dead."  I had ran out of time and still had four points to find.  In fact, only one or two of us found the points at all.  Another time, I found all of my points, and cut it very close on time, but found them out of sequence.  It was a very difficult task indeed.
When it came time to sign up for the course, only those of us with the best luck during training and best PT scores were allowed to apply.  Hayes, Bruce and Brown were chosen as the candidates representing 6th Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery.  If any of the three could complete the course, I bet on Hayes since he was the most squared away of any of the medics.  The course was in Giebelstadt and when we arrived to see the guys off, there had to have been 250 soldiers enrolled in the course.  We had been told that only a fraction of these soldiers would make it through to earn their badges, and as we were watching, we could see why.  Sergeants were barking orders at the soldiers, of all rank, like basic training all over again.  When we left, Corporal Fowler laughed and said, "three days.  I give 'em three days".  Sure enough, a few days later, Bruce came home, then Brown.  Hayes lasted a little over a week, but also came home.  They said it was one of the hardest courses they had ever been part of and that a great many of the soldiers enrolled had either dropped out or failed a task.  There apparently were no retakes on task failures; you either got it right the first time or went home.
As the leaves started to turn and air cool into fall, I was in an okay place, with some work to do professionally and personally.  I was staying mostly sober and trying to maintain a balanced household as best as I could.  It occurred to me that my time in Germany was coming to a close;  I only had five or six months until I was to be sent to another duty station, hopefully stateside.  Meanwhile, south of Germany, another war was brewing in Bosnia and Herzegovina with far more of a humanitarian crisis than the Persian Gulf.  This war didn't appear to have a need for air defense artillery; no SCUD threats, but it was quite possible support units could be pulled from area battalions.  The mission LTC Geraci mentioned could very well be in support of the ongoing military operations commanded by NATO forces, and with all the NATO field exercises, it was quite possible.  But as the fall season of 1994 arrived, Headquarters and Bravo Batteries trudged onward through the fields of Oberdachstetten, Kitzingen, and any other places along the way; Christina and I managed the best we could...the way we were.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chapter 28: For The Good Times

As routine and mundane as the clinic duty may have been, it was still a rewarding experience for me.  I learned a lot working there and felt that I had matured as a soldier and a medic.  That maturity was becoming more evident when I ventured out with Christina to the Goose on occasion.  I didn't drink myself into oblivion as I had before; as a matter of fact, a few of the 'Goose Gang' had slowed it down considerably.  I guess we all matured a bit while we were deployed.
Around the end of my clinic duty in early 1994, I noticed intermittent spots appearing on my hands.  They were small red bumps that would itch like crazy and spread across the knuckles of my right hand and onto the back of my left hand.  It got to a point that it was becoming unbearable, so I decided to seek treatment.  Doctor Mitchell suggested the rash was perhaps a latex allergy to the gloves I wore, so I changed to non-latex.  That change didn't help and one of the places in my left hand grew bigger and became scaled over.  After Captain Salzman looked at it, he told me it was a planter's wart and froze it with liquid nitrogen.  That took care of the place on my left hand, but left a scar from the nitrogen burn.  It wasn't uncommon for those of us that came back from the desert to have to get testing done routinely, as tuberculosis was a threat to us.  Several came back and tested positive for the disease on the skin test, but not symptomatic.  I chalked my skin issues up as just 'one of those things' and dealt with it, mainly because no one gave me a definite answer as to why I had a rash to begin with.  Little did I know that the issue would become a life-long problem.
I knew my clinic duty was nearing a close and I would be back in the field before long with 6th Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery; so I hoped to get something going musically with Gaines and Ludeke.  We practiced as often as we could and finally landed a potential gig at the Officer's Club in Katterbach. The date was set and Captain Salzman and Captain Mitchell said they would come support us, along with others we had invited.  The gig would be on a Saturday evening at 1830 hours and had the potential to be a great debut for our band.  The only problem was, the Officer's Club was locked tight when we went to set our equipment up.  Captain Salzman arrived and was as puzzled as we were, so he went to find someone to resolve the situation.  A few moments later, he came back shaking his head.  Apparently, the club's curator had decided that the club wouldn't be opened due to one of the aviation units being on alert for a deployment.  No one had contacted Gaines and let him, or anyone else associated with our debut gig, know the change of plans.  This was before the widespread use of cell phones and social media was not even an embryo at that point, so we had no way to contact those who planned to attend the show.  Dejected, we left a note on a piece of paper on the doors stating the gig was canceled and left.  We had worked up a lot of songs and were eager to let people other than our spouses or significant others hear us, but it wouldn't come to light.  Not long after our failed debut, Ludeke got word he was also being deployed to Bosnia to support NATO troops.  Our band dreams had been dashed.
 The final weeks of my clinic duty were routine, yet eventful in some aspects.  The first event happened late one night just off Katterbach's far gate.  It was routine for the aviation units to conduct training at off post sites like Oberdachstetten or the one behind Katterbach located near Sachsen.  A helicopter was conducting some type of training and lost power mid-flight.  The crew tried to recover the flight, but ended up setting down hard; crash landing in a field.  Medics rushed to the scene and the helicopter's crew was transported to the 526th Clinic for stabilization, then sent onward to Wurzburg Army Hospital.  The clinic was activated after hours as an emergency medical facility, so only a few selected staff members were on hand for the incident.  When we arrived at 0700 for duty, the last injured soldier had only been gone approximately an hour and a half.  Ludeke, being the only radiology technician, described the situation; most of the soldiers hurt were complaining of back injuries, but one had some significant injuries from the crash.  This was some of that long awaited excitement I had waited for, and it happened before I was even awake.
Another eventful incident was due to my own clumsy nature.  I was working with Captain Mitchell and had a patient with a place on his hand that appeared to be a large wart.  I was told to prepare a vat of liquid nitrogen so we could freeze the place off the soldier's hand, and as I was pouring the mixture into the vat, I bumped the table and spilled some onto my left hand, causing a large blister to form.  I continued my task and acted as if nothing had happened in front of the patient, but the captain saw there was something obviously wrong.  After the patient left, Captain Mitchell looked at my hand and told me it was serious, but not as bad as it could have been.  He put some silvadene cream on the burn and bandaged my hand so I looked like a one-handed boxer.  It wasn't long afterward that the pain set in; a pain far worse than the sunburn I got in Saudi Arabia.  I was prescribed the medication of choice, ibuprofin, to ease the pain and any swelling.  Just my luck, injured in the line of duty because I was clumsy.
By mid-May, I was back at Shipton for good and the battalion was gearing up for field exercises.  My first field trip back from clinic duty was at a firing range in Oberdachstetten.  It was a small arms range, mainly officers qualifying with pistols.  It wasn't uncommon for the medics to fire off some rounds after the 'official' qualifying was over.  In fact, on some ranges with heavy arms, medics who normally wouldn't fire weapons such as the 50 caliber machine gun and 203 grenade launcher participated; although they couldn't use the session as a true qualification due to being non-combatant.  At the small arms range, I was allowed to qualify for my pistol badge and qualified as an expert.  I could wear the badge because medics frequently carried a pistol as a sidearm, so it was a proud moment for me.  Back in the aid station, a lot of new faces were among us.  Since I was at Katterbach, SFC Bechtel had left 6th Battalion and moved on to another post.  Our new platoon leader was Corporal Fowler, who had went to Saudi with us and was stationed at Riyadh.  Among the new faces was a guy named Combs, who reminded everyone of the character Bull off the television show Night Court.  He was hilarious with his off the wall quips and take on everyday things, and could always lighten the mood. Another new face was Hayes, a tall, skinny kid who always struck me as prissy and thought he was a bit above everyone else at first meeting.  There were a couple other newbies that had, by now, been in the unit for a while, but were new to Donnelly, Rucker and me.  Martinez was still technically my field partner, but he was soon getting married and going on leave.  Our battalion schedule looked very busy for the next several months with several field deployments and range duties, and a tactical evaluation more intensive than the ones we did before our Saudi deployment. 
The changes within the battalion were not only at the platoon level; Captain Taylor was gone soon after our return from Katterbach and replaced by Captain Stocker.  Captain Stocker had previously been a commander for a Patriot battery and seemed to be very personable and in touch with the soldiers he commanded.  First Sergeant Banks had been replaced by First Sergeant Jones, who was not the upbeat and friendly person 1SG Banks was.  In fact, it seemed the new first sergeant really didn't want to be in the position. 
My first full field deployment since clinic duty was a two week assignment near Kitzingen with Headquarters Battery.  Field duty with HHB was different than with Bravo Battery, mainly due to HHB's role as the command and support base during combat operations.  We sat up a large tent that we used as the battalion's aid station and for the entire deployment, provided guard, KP and other non-medical duties as the commander and platoon sergeant saw fit.  A couple of times, we had field classes on first aid that involved members of the battery who were not medics.  Each battery in the battalion had what was called Combat Lifesavers who were trained to do basic combat medical skills.  It was up to us to make sure they maintained their skills and trained new lifesavers on a battery level.  The deployment was rather mundane and uneventful, and the weather, aside from being a bit cold, cooperated.
Life off duty was moving along at a steady pace.  I finally felt comfortable with how Christina and I were getting along.  Contrary to what I may say these days, there were good times between us.  To pass the time prior to going into the Army and before I bought my first guitar, I built model airplanes and Star Wars kits.  I wanted to get back into doing that again, so I ventured out to the toy store in downtown Ansbach one afternoon.  I bought a model World War II era military vehicle and the modelling fever was back.  Our apartment had a big, built in shelf curio with glass doors and interior lighting, perfect for displaying items, so I took advantage of it.  At first, Christina wasn't too happy about it but I convinced her it would be neat.  Soon, more model planes and military vehicles started filling in the empty shelves.  At the Katterbach PX, I found some Micro Machine toys that were the Desert Storm series and bought the whole lot of them.  There were tiny soldiers, tanks, HUMVEES and Patriot Missile launchers.  I put them on the shelves, much to Christina's dislike.  Later in the relationship and marriage to come, I would have done it for pure spite and to get under her skin, but for the good times, I was like a kid again and excited to have a place to showcase these toys.
Christina and I would go up the hill into Bleidorn and see Jeremy and Misty or Harold and Salina quite often.  One evening, we gathered at Jeremy's for a birthday party for Misty.  Gaines came over with his guitar and we sat on the balcony drinking and singing songs from Blind Melon and other artists of the day.  Times like those always stand out as fond memories to me.  There was one person that Christina had friction with, Cowden's wife Tonya.  Tonya was a very outspoken woman who didn't mix words.  That was evident when Christina asked Tonya to cut her hair and then asked for a refund because she didn't like the style.  The two got into a shouting match prompting me to intervene and make Christina leave Tonya's apartment.  The last thing Tonya yelled at us was, "boy, you got a long road ahead if you are gonna be with her".
What little off time I had from the battalion was spent going back and forth to Burgbernheim.  Gunter took me places he frequented, like his hunting spots near Illesheim and a gasthaus nearby that had some great food.  One day he took me over to Oma's house and showed me a room upstairs he kept hidden out of sight.  In there was all sorts of Nazi memorabilia; uniforms, weapons, medals and a large Nazi flag were just some of the items.  These things should have been in a museum, but under German law, they couldn't be displayed publicly, and had the government known about this, they would have undoubtedly raided the house and arrested him.  Gunter made some comments here and there about his thoughts on the Nazi Party, and he said he agreed with much of the party's agenda.  His point being was that Adolf Hitler brought a war torn and financially broke country into a thriving and proud industrial might, to which, I agreed.  Then he said that he supported the idea to take things by force and any other means if that is what made someone or some country great.  He felt that the Nazi's were justified in reclaiming Europe after the Great War.  I really didn't see eye to eye with him, but it was also very interesting and thought provoking hearing the perspective from the 'other side'.
Gunter's father was an airman in the Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, during the war and served at the Illesheim airfield.  Modern day Illesheim is one of the Army's Apache Helicopter bases, but during World War II, it was a resupply and armament stop for the Luftwaffe.  The airbase also housed a squadron of Heinkel bombers in which the elder Georg Markert worked as a mechanic.  When the Allies bombarded Illesheim, the airbase was destroyed, but Gunter's father survived and lived until the 1980's.  If you stand on the high ground behind the church in Burgbernheim, there are ponds dotting the fields leading into Illesheim, which were explained to me as being old bomb craters that had filled with water.  All through my life until that point, I had only really heard the story of World War II though the American side.  Hearing Gunter talk about his father and his thoughts about the Nazis was a real eye opener for me.
 As spring progressed, the pace picked up again at Shipton.  We were in the field more and more, and soon we were up to participate in a joint exercise in Hohenfels.  I always heard horror stories about Hohenfels, that it was always rainy and mud was measured in feet.  We would be part of a multi-force tactical  exercise that would mimic being fully combat deployed and operational for the entire two weeks.  Rather than one battery going off for training, the entire battalion would participate in some way. Our deployment phase began as usual with us being alerted and reporting to our respective battery location.  Items were already pre-packed a few days ahead and ready to go when we pulled out.  The route would take roughly two hours and would bring us within about an hour's drive time of the Czechoslovakian border.  The trip down the autobahn was rather boring, so somehow we coordinated with the other medics to turn to a frequency on our mobile radios that was not monitored by battalion.  We were treated to Combs giving us some hilarious tour guide like commentary, among other funny observations of how some of the towns looked like they should be pronounced.  I'm sure had some wary commo commander been able to pin us to the source of short wave radio entertainment, we would have probably gotten reprimanded for sure.
We arrived at the Hohenfels garrison late in the afternoon and was told we would stage there for a day or so, but we were still considered under tactical conditions.  The barracks we were housed in were long metal buildings with rows of bunks, much like the platoon bays in basic training.  At our end of day safety briefing, the commander told us under no circumstances could we go wandering outside our areas, especially to the shopette for alcohol.  We dismissed to our barracks and could change out of our BDU's into civilian clothes; soon afterward, a growing boredom came over the room.  Directly across from our barracks was a movie theater...well, it technically was still within our area of operation...what harm would it be?  A group of us exited the barracks and the fenced in yard and waltzed right over to the theater to see the movie called The Ref; a comedy starring Dennis Leary that was quite funny.  Once the movie let out, a little after 2100 hours, we casually walked back into company area...right into the stern gaze of an obviously displeased senior NCO.  We were quickly told to form up and start doing push-ups, much like basic training.  There were probably fifteen or so of us, the most senior was a sergeant who took the lead for us.  He argued the fact of the close proximity of the theater, but was quickly rebutted.  The area we were confined to was to only be the barracks, no further.  Point made, indeed.
We were awakened the next morning at 0500 and told to form up outside.  We did a short PT session and afterward, told that only certain batteries would move out.  Some of the medics were to deploy early in the day, while the rest of us waited and readied for the move order.  The downtime consisted  of last minute equipment checks and card games.  Finally, Bravo Battery was called up to move out.  My field partner was Hayes, and he was just entirely too clean and dress-right-dress for a field exercise.  Hayes had been stationed at another installation that downsized and hadn't been in the field quite as much as I had, so this adventure should have been entertaining.
We convoyed out deep into the German forest, and sure enough, there was a skim of mud on the dirt roads we were on.  We could hear the booms of artillery off in the distance and passed a column of tanks and armored troop carriers moving through the fields along the road.  This was much, much different than our usual field exercises already.  Bravo Battery finally reached our destination after several minutes of passing through dense forest and up steep hills.  Our site was an open field that was muddy, but not the muck as we had been told to expect.  We sat up our tents and camouflage netting and settled in for evening chow.  Even though Hayes was clean for field conditions, he jumped right in and helped out.  He said that this was what he envisioned himself doing and not being in a clinic the whole time.  After a while, the two of us began chatting and Hayes wasn't all that bad; but he still had that prissy aura about him.
The two weeks seemed to drag by and at one point, we had to break the field site down, regroup and relocate to another site further in the 'box' as it was called.  The weather wasn't too awful during the exercise and mud was to a minimum.  Aside from a couple of guys coming into our aid station for minor bumps and dings, things went smoothly.  The day we were to load up and move out, it was all hurry up and wait.  By the time Bravo started moving, it was nearing dark.  All of us were filthy and smelled from being out in the woods for so long.  For the trip back after dark, we were under strict orders to travel in 'black-out' conditions, meaning no headlights and only the small black-out light on the front of our vehicles could be used.  This made the trip even longer because we had to maneuver down the hills and across tank trails almost blindly.  We finally arrived at the holding barracks where the trip began around 2230 hours and conducted a head count and inventory.  During the formation, we learned that a HUMVEE of guys from another unit had wandered off the trail and actually struck a tank in the darkness.  The HUMVEE was wrecked and the soldiers were evacuated out of the 'box' by helicopter.
We stayed the night at the barracks, and the most part of the day until the whole battalion could regroup.  One of the trucks from Headquarters had broken down during the exercise, so Hayes and I had a couple of more soldiers ride back with us.  It was getting near dark before we left the holding area and we were all worn out from the lack of sleep during the deployment and idle time prior to departure.  I, along with a couple of other guys, decided to ride in the patient area of the ambulance and take advantage of the stretcher benches for a nap.  Hayes was driving and another soldier was riding in the passenger seat as we bumped along the rutted trail.  I noticed the trip got a bit smoother after a while; I just figured we were on a main road headed home.  Shortly afterward, we stopped and Hayes yelled back and told us to act like we were sick.  Being the senior medic, I was a bit puzzled and poked my head between the partition and asked why.  Apparently, Hayes had decided to get off the bumpy trail and drive on the smoother road that paralleled us, which was a no go according to base rules.  No tactical vehicles were allowed on the hard road; only service vehicles and foot soldiers were allowed on it.  We had been stopped by an MP, who approached the vehicle and asked for our dispatch papers.  He began by telling Hayes that we were in violation of the base ordinance, when all of a sudden, a soldier in the back with me groaned really loudly.  I poked my head back out again and asked Hayes what the hold up was that my 'patient's' stomach pains were getting worse.  The MP looked at me and asked me what was going on.  I told him that we had a guy who was experiencing some stomach pain and the bumpy road was making it worse on him.  Hayes told him we were trying to get to the clinic, but the MP told him it was closed.  He then gave Hayes directions to another facility and told us to"carry on", and to "just get off the hardball road as quickly as possible".  Hayes had just won some major cool points with me, even if we had just boldly lied to a senior NCO and military policeman.
We caught back up with the convoy and the rest of the trip back to Shipton was uneventful.  It was late when we got back and all of us were dragging along, still stinking from the field.  After our weapons turn in and accountability formation, we were dismissed around 2300 hours.  I borrowed Ace's room to shower and rode back home with Jeremy.  We had to be back at 0530; it would have made more sense to just stay in the barracks, but the lure of my own bed was too much.  I got back to the apartment and Christina was sleeping.  I don't think I stayed awake thirty seconds after I hit the pillow, the wake up was going to be brutal for sure.
Since I couldn't drive a standard transmission vehicle very well, I rode into the battalion with Jeremy.  That meant I had to walk up the hill on Benkendorff Strasse to his apartment complex each day, so part of my PT was already done before I even got to Shipton's gates.  Rather than going home after PT, I used Ace's room to shower and relax before the day started.  One morning, Jeremy and I were running late and went speeding down the roadway past the Kaufhalle toward Shipton when we saw a flash ahead of us.  In Germany, rather than having traffic cops wait for speeders, they position radar cameras along the roadway and when a vehicle speeds past it, the camera snaps a picture of the vehicle and a few days later, a picture and a ticket arrives in the mail.  Jeremy knew that we couldn't slow down in time, so just as the flash caught us, we flipped our middle fingers in the windshield.  Sure enough, a few days later, Corporal Fowler handed Jeremy a picture and ticket from the polezei with our fingers prominently displayed.  The fine wasn't cheap; the equivalent of around 120 US Dollars...but the satisfaction of giving the sneaky camera our salute was priceless.
Christina and I were becoming more and more domesticated.  I really cared for her and the idea of us getting married seemed more logical.  Sure, we had some moments where we didn't get along, but our attraction was far greater.  I had told my family my plans of asking her to marry me, and they naturally were apprehensive about the idea.  They felt I shouldn't have jumped into anything; Jason York definitely gave me a hard time over it.  But, like my decision about joining the Army, I wanted to make a major life choice on my own free will; but their uncertainty still weighed on me.  One weekend, Jeremy and I went to the main PX in Nurnberg and I went ring shopping.  I found a nice engagement ring that wasn't too expensive and bought it for Christina.   It was at this point that the first real crack in the surface began to form.  I was beaming about the ring, and it looked like a great one for Christina.  Jeremy and I stopped by and showed Misty, and she agreed it was a nice ring; that I had done well.  When I got home and built up the nerve to finally pop the question, I gave Christina the ring and anticipated a large hug and tears.  What happened instead dejected me and crushed the moment.
"That's a nice ring, but not what I was really wanting," Christina said as she just casually looked down at the ring.  She even slipped it off and looked closer at it, almost scowling at the shiny object I had hoped she would have seen as something symbolizing my love for her.  I held my tongue as she just laid the ring on the table next to the couch, but inside I was fuming and hurt.  I was pretty sure she knew I was bothered, but never said anything to ease the situation.  After I piddled around with a model kit, I couldn't shake the feelings brewing any longer.  I wanted to avoid a total blow up, because had I opened my mouth and let the words fly out, the things I could have said would have not been pleasant at all.  Oh what I could have said.....Instead, I grabbed my keys and simply uttered I would be back.  I started out walking toward downtown Ansbach to clear my head with no idea where I would end up.
I stopped in the Musik Box and browsed through the CD's, but Christina's words still echoed through me.  Who in the bloody Hell did she think she was? All this talk and prodding about marrying her and she does THIS to me??? I needed a drink or three!!!  I wandered down to Hai Life and ordered a beer.  I didn't recognize anyone in there but it didn't matter.  I drank down the beer, ordered another and set out for the pinball machines.  I don't really know how many beers I drank or how many games of pinball I played, but when I left, I was feeling pretty numb.  As I walked down the narrow streets of Ansbach, I reflected on the past few months and thought about the good times.  Would this just be a set back or a lingering sore spot, I wondered.  I walked down a side street and something caught my eye in the window of a music store; a bright orange sunburst colored Les Paul guitar hanging on the wall.  I stood and stared at the instrument and got lost in the sight of it.  I wanted that guitar and made my mind up that I would save to get it...the random mind of a drunk person is a strange and uncertain thing, indeed.
Eventually, I came back home, but Christina was gone.  She didn't leave a note or anything, but I assumed she had went to her parents' or Oma's house.  My beer buzz was wearing off and I started working on that model kit again.  The apartment was too quiet.  I heard every noise outside and inside and it became unnerving.  Too bad I didn't have more beer.  I fell asleep on the couch sometime, and woke up in the early hours of the morning to find Christina home and sleeping in our bed.  I decided to let the scorn of the day go and focus on trying to make a future for the two of us, regardless of the crack in the surface.  I laid down next to Christina and closed my eyes, hoping for a good dream...a dream for the good times to hopefully come.

     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chapter 27: One Vision

Working at the Katterbach Clinic had its good and bad days.  The worst part of it all was the monotony that grew after a while.  Sick call and well baby clinic were so routine that we could almost perform the duties blindfolded.  None of the officers or NCO's were 'power trippers' and didn't seem to have an agenda, but Captain Salzman could be authoritative if needed.  One soldier who worked with us named Boudre' always seemed to push the envelope a bit when it came to military bearing and job duties.  He didn't care much for cleaning up the treatment areas and always found a way to sham his way out of it.  On my downtime, I usually hung around with Ludeke and Gains and talked music with them.  I had my bass guitar with me and we always talked about getting a jam together, which would have been a welcomed thing for me.
Christina and I were becoming more of a serious item and spending a lot of time together.  She was starting to ease my uneasiness and presumed assumptions of what she wanted in the relationship.  She spent a lot more time at the barracks with me, much to the dismay of Ace.  Ace was a loner; aside from just a couple of us, he really had no friends.  And he was just fine with it.  Ace was also a very private guy who rarely said anything negative to anyone, but one evening, he told me that he felt that Christina was intruding on his space.  I initially got defensive, but he explained to me that he knew Christina and I needed time to ourselves and couldn't be ourselves with a third person hanging around.  The time had came where I had to put things into a different perspective; to evaluate where I wanted to be.
Late February was a cold time in Germany indeed; bitterly cold.  It would snow occasionally, but no large amounts would fall.  The wind was the worst part of the German winters, but not bad enough for some of us to head over to the hills behind Katterbach's housing area for some sledding.  One of our medics had the keys to the medical storage area and grabbed three or four wooden spinal immobilization boards we used as sleds one night.  Of course, there was some beer involved, and things went well the first few runs down the hill.  Degray went down the slope and fell off his sled and laid in the snow laughing.  A short time later, Rucker came barreling down the hill and hit Degray's arm, knocking him down.  It was classic fun until we noticed Degray rolling around, yelling.  Apparently when Rucker hit Degray, his arm bent backwards and dislocated his elbow.  The evening's fun was over and it was time to play medic.  That's the thing about all of us who were in Shipton; we looked out for one another.  If someone got hurt or had too much to drink, we patched them up or hydrated them.  Many nights, I would get a knock on my door from someone asking for an IV or Motrin.  Once we got back to the barracks, we fixed Degray up the best we could until he could get to sick call the next morning.  Turned out, after x-rays and an exam, Degray's arm was broken along with the dislocation.  And to top it off, we broke two of the immobilization boards...oops.
While Rucker, Donnelly and I were at the clinic working, the battalion was preparing for upcoming field deployments and qualifications, both tactically and physically.  Our battalion had to qualify periodically for what was called the Table X Qualifications, something I never really understood, but it entailed several field deployments.  We were told that later in the year, the battalion would be doing tactical evaluations and other field exercises with NATO organizations.  We, at the clinic, wouldn't be part of these deployments until our rotation was over, but we would have to participate in the battalion's PT test.  We had taken one in Saudi Arabia, but for some reason, headquarters wanted us to take another one, this time in cold weather.  The PT test took place early one morning when the wind was whipping across the field viciously, mixed with sleet.  We did the push-ups and sit-ups in the battalion common area, but the two mile run would be at the old missile storage facility behind Shipton and the launcher area we called the 'Near IRP'.  The weather had deteriorated before we started the run and the wind was brutal, but the regulations stated once the PT test had commenced, it couldn't be halted unless an unsafe condition warranted.  Apparently freezing wind and sleet isn't unsafe.
During the run, people that usually would have been lapping other runners started falling behind. It was a nightmare.  My lungs felt as though they would rip out of my chest as I ran against the force of the wind.  The sleet pelted my exposed skin and I felt I wasn't going anywhere as I ran.  Eventually, it was over and as expected, I failed the run event...by almost a minute.  There were several more who failed, but no one really did well as a whole.  A few days later, I was brought before Captain Taylor with my squad leader, who was now Specialist Smith.  The meeting started off well with Captain Taylor addressing my hair, which hadn't been cut to 'battalion standard'.  It then moved onto the failure of my PT test and how my 'luxury of being at the clinic' was probably a factor.  Granted, there was no structured PT at the clinic and the attitude was far more relaxed, but I really had no excuses.  I was placed on a remedial PT program and had to get a haircut and report back when I was back to standard.  My next meeting with Captain Taylor was a bit better, he didn't yell at me as much but told me to get back into shape or he'd pull me away from the clinic.  Enough said...I'd do better.
Christina and I ventured out into Ansbach to find a place to live.  Being part of a 'ready battalion' meant I had a limited radius from Shipton where I could live.  Army housing was out of the question because we weren't married, but would have been ideal because it was rent free. Until this point, I had only heard about the preconceived notions the locals had about American GI's.  The only time I ever felt uncomfortable in Germany was when I wandered into the Alt Ansbach Club and the music literally stopped because I was an American who infringed on an all German club.  Christina scoured advertisements for rental homes or apartments and we would follow up after duty hours.  Several times, we were flat turned away because of me being an American.  One time, I sat in the car while Christina looked at an apartment with an older lady, who was smiling and being very friendly.  The rent price was very reasonable and the area was close to Shipton's rear IRP.  Things were proceeding well until the lady looked in the car and saw me.  Her smile turned into a scowl and she waved Christina away, telling her something in German that wasn't very pleasant from what I gathered.  For the first time, I felt the sting of ethnic discrimination.  Christina's parents didn't make matters much better with her dad saying things like, "Well, what do you expect," or, "He's about like the Turks. Nobody wants to rent to a soldier or a Turk."  Her mom also piped in saying we weren't ready, which now with hindsight being 20/20, wasn't at all derogatory.   After a discouraging search for a place to rent, the topic of marriage came up.  It had only been just barely three months from the time we even met, but the idea and notion came up.  The fact that we could get military housing if we were married was alluring, but I still was very guarded.  That guard started relaxing more and more and as crazy as it may have sounded,  the idea of nuptials started sounding...okay.  I talked to Jeremy and Misty about it and they were supportive, Harold and Salina were supportive, but told me to be cautious and make sure I was ready.  I didn't want to call home and say anything just yet.
Eventually, Christina and I found an apartment at 26 Benkendorff Strasse, on the south end of Ansbach near Bleidorn and Barton Barracks.  Our landlady was nice and lived below us, and she was not judgmental because I was an American.  The rent was a little steep-the equivalent of 560 dollars per month-but with both our incomes, it was possible.  In early 1994, the ratio of the US Dollar to German mark averaged roughly $1.57, although the ratio fluctuated depending on the market values. It was not exactly the luxury of the $3.75 ratio of the Saudi Riyal, but comfortable.  We couldn't receive the basic allowance for quarters through the military because we weren't married, but we started off managing the financial end of things.  We didn't have to sign a long term lease, which was a blessing considering I roughly had a year left in Germany.  Had we been able to have gotten military housing, I would have had to extend my stay in Germany by another year.
I was becoming more and more confident in my medical skills at the clinic, and occasionally something would happen unexpectedly that would bring a new challenge.  One afternoon, Doctor Haskins was treating patients and suddenly became ill.  He began to sweat profusely and complained of sudden pain in his lower abdomen and left side.  He told us that he had been trying to work through the pain of a kidney stone the past few days but apparently the stone had become lodged.  I established an IV in the doctor's arm and Captain Mitchell administered some pain medications, which caused some nice conversations with Doctor Haskins.
"I feel like my hooter is going to split open," he blurted out loudly, while patients were in the next room.  Everyone chuckled, but occasionally the pain negated the medications and he doubled over in agony.  In this day and age, I'm sure he would have been a hit on Youtube.  Doctor Haskins ended up being transported to Wurzburg Army Hospital that day for surgery, and recovered after a couple of weeks.
Something we now take for granted as an everyday use or even necessity was introduced to us at Katterbach Clinic; the internet.  With the click of a computer mouse, we could interact with clinical and hospital staff all across Germany.  We could communicate within the clinic by electronic mail and pass information along within the departments.  This was a totally new concept, and quite rudimentary in 1994.  Another item I was starting to see more often was the cellular phone.  I had seen a guy at Fort Sam with one and was intrigued by the fact you could talk to someone via phone and be mobile.  Again, this is considered a normalcy in this age, and almost a must have; but in 1994, it was just plain neat and new.  Only a few people had cell phones, or mobile phones as they were known then, usually higher ranking officers had them.  Technology was starting to go into the 21st Century whether we were ready or not.
Now that I was out of the barracks and living in town, my time at the Goose and other usual establishments diminished; mainly due to having to be responsible for once and on a budget.  Not long after getting our apartment, Christina started complaining about her job and how she hated it.  She had told me before that it wasn't a great job, but her complaints increased now that we were on our own.  I told her to do what she felt she needed to, that she could probably get a job on post somewhere...totally thinking that was the plan of action.  One day, she walked into the clinic and announced she had quit her job and was now a 'fucking dependent'.  I told her that it wouldn't be long until she found something else, to not worry; but inside, I was thinking that the reduction in income would impact our rent and other bills.  Things would have to tighten up financially if we were to survive on our own for sure, and the casualty was the social escapades that had brought us together.    Eventually, the only time I ever saw my buddies from the Goose Gang was if I had to report to Shipton for whatever reason.  Christina and I really only stayed at home or would go between her parents' house or up to Jeremy and Misty's place as they lived just up the street.  Occasionally, we would go to Harold and Salina's but not many other places outside those.  It sucked to have to be responsible and not be a carefree party guy like before.
I woke up one day with a headache that felt would split my head wide open.  The transition from winter to spring was happening, so I was sure it was my usual seasonal allergies.  As the day went forward, the pain began to debilitate me and I asked Captain Mitchell to take a look at me.  He said it was just sinus pressure and prescribed some antibiotics and Motrin...The Army had to have had a contract with the makers of that drug as much as it was prescribed.  I went home that day, almost in tears, and laid down.  I kept waking up with the pain pounding in my head and radiating into my right jaw.  It was so bad that I couldn't hold my eyes open and became dizzy and nauseated.  I didn't sleep much that night and decided to report to sick call as an official patient the following day.  Christina drove me to post and I signed the sick call roster, then proceeded to Katterbach.  After being examined again, Captain Mitchell told me that it was the due process of the sinus infection and to give it a few days.  He ordered me as a sick in quarters status, meaning no duty for me.  I went home and tried to sleep again, but was miserable.  I got up the next day and the right side of my face was swollen, the pain was still excruciating.  I went on into the clinic for duty, but it wasn't long until the looks and gawks began.  Captain Mitchell took one look at me and said it was apparent I didn't have a normal sinus infection.  He looked inside my mouth then told me to go upstairs to the dental clinic and check in.  I really didn't know why he had said that, but went regardless. At the dental clinic, an X-ray showed that my wisdom teeth were impacted and one had started coming in through a molar, causing the pain.  The dental surgeon was called and I was set up for a next day surgery, something I wasn't too keen about but if it relieved my agony, I was up for anything.
The next day, the pain was still as bad and I went into the dental clinic with hopes I could be put out and be able to sleep for once.  Instead, the oral surgeon injected lidocaine directly into my gums and the roof of my mouth, creating some of the most intense pain I'd ever experienced to that point.  Eventually, my mouth went numb, but I was wide awake as the dentist began cutting into my gum line.  I could feel the pressure of the instruments as he worked and that was very unnerving.  As he worked on my upper right tooth, there came a point that the dentist took a small chisel device and hammer and began chiseling my upper gum.  He hit a point that hurt and I told him, so he gave another shot of lidocaine into my upper gum just behind the tooth.  There was an intense shock of pain when he did it and I nearly came off the chair.  I was told to relax and settle back in, but my face felt like it was on fire.
After about thirty minutes of the surgeon trying to hammer the tooth out, the lidocaine wore off again.  I told him it was starting to hurt, of which he replied, "I've given you enough medicine. Do you have a substance problem?"  I was taken aback at his assumption, but he said he was about done and I should "suck it up."  After a few more minutes, the dentist, who by now I was convinced was a sadistic impostor, started pulling chunks of tooth out and dropping them into a metal pan.  I was soaked with perspiration and nearly in tears at that point.  The molar had to come out in one piece, but the wisdom tooth came out in five pieces.  The ordeal had taken the most part of an hour...an hour of brutality in my opinion.  After I was cleaned up, the dentist told me that due to the severity of the extraction, I would need to come in at a later time to have the rest of my wisdom teeth taken out.  I think I would have rather braved the headaches than what I had just endured.
Aside from drinking too much and the night at Tivoli Park, I had never been on any kind of narcotic drug until my wisdom tooth was taken out.  I was prescribed Percocet for the pain and given a few ways off duty.  I was also told not to drink alcohol while taking the medication.  I went back to the barracks that day because Christina was elsewhere for some reason and couldn't pick me up right away.  Luckily, Ace let me use his room to rest until Christina could come get me later.  I took my medicine and laid down; my face still throbbing.  It was still early in the day but overcast and cold with snow starting to move in, a great day to just sleep.  Soon, I drifted off and slept a while.  I woke up sometime later, dazed and my head feeling very fuzzy.  It wasn't like a good beer drunk feeling; I felt like I could walk through a brick wall.  For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to go check the mail, so I walked down stairs and outside into the cold and light snow shower. the only problem was I was just wearing my PT sweatpants with no shirt or shoes on.  I walked into the mail room and the clerk just stared at me at first, then blurted out, "Kiss, are you drunk already?".  It was like I knew what was going on but my body and mind were two different beings.  The clerk handed my my mail and I wandered back toward the barracks, still unfazed by the cold.  When Christina picked me up, I was asleep again and the medication was wearing off, not a fun hangover.
I spent the next few days at home, only waking up long enough to change my gauze or try to eat.  My mouth and face was swollen like I had been beaten at the Goose, but the excruciating headache was gone finally.  Christina felt it would be funny to take candid pictures of me while in a Percocet daze or asleep during my recovery, I still don't know what she was trying to prove by doing so.  After about a week, I recovered and felt like a new person.  Apparently the problem had been ongoing for a while and I was just passing the headaches off as sinus problems until it got worse.
I got together with Gaines and Ludeke one evening at the Katterbach Recreational Center and we started jamming some songs as a band.  It was all mainly classic rock material from bands like The Cars, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Cheap Trick.  For being only the first time getting together, things sounded pretty tight.  I was surprised we knew all the songs we did.  Gaines was a good singer and a good guitar player, Ludeke was a solid drummer who's inspiration was Neil Peart from Rush.  We decided to get together on Sunday afternoons as often as we could just to see how we progressed.  If we never payed a gig, then it was going to be okay; we were just having fun playing music.  This was better than any drinking binge for me and a good release for any frustrations I may have had.
Things were going well for me all around.  I was feeling confident in my Army skills, was at a good duty assignment, had someone to care for and a place to live for us, and I had my music back.  I knew I was going to be sent back to 6/43 again soon, but I would have a much better vision once I got back to the unit and field. I would have one vision and one goal:  To finally be all I could be, personally and as a soldier.