Sunday, October 7, 2018

Chapter 31: People and Places

Autumn in Bavaria is truly something to see to get the full appreciation.  The colorful leaves on the trees with the mountainous background is just breathtaking, if you choose to look at it.  Being in the field so much, I was not really taking in the overall sights as I should have been.  Case in point was the beauty of downtown Ansbach, how the palace would have the flags displayed and lit up at night, or the centuries old cathedrals that were just magnificent to see up close.  I never really stopped to take pictures or savor the everyday moments in time as I should've.   On my time off from the field, Christina and I would sometimes just go out driving or catch the train to Nurnberg or Rothenburg.  Rothenburg was a medieval town that was like the type of place you'd expect to see in an old movie with knights and peasants walking around.  The old fortress walls and towers were still intact and hadn't been affected too much from World War II.  Christina had a friend named Kirsten who lived there with her husband Thomas.  Thomas was a former soldier who decided to stay in Germany after his time in service was over.  We spent a lot of time there, sometimes just walking around the old town and catching a bite to eat or a drink at a local pub.  Even in the sheer awe of this old city, I still only took a few random pictures.  There was a local renaissance festival held in Rothenburg each year where people would dress in 15th Century attire and do events in town as they would have during the period.  One of the highlights of the festival was the tour of the torture and punishment museum.  Every imaginable type of torture device was displayed as the tour guide gave vivid descriptions of their uses in German, English and Japanese.  Rothenburg was the only place in Germany I ever went that had everything written in all three languages, as a majority of the tourists there were Japanese or American.
On one of my weekends off, Christina told me to pack some things because we were going on a road trip.  I had no idea where we were going, but she had apparently planned things out ahead of time.  We headed south toward Munich, or Munchen as it is spelled in Germany, across some awesome country.  It reminded me so much of Kentucky; the grass lands, hills, and farms along the way just had that back home feel.  Munchen was a huge city once we got into it; much larger than Nurnberg or Frankfurt.  This was home to the annual Oktoberfest, an event I vowed I would eventually attend.  Below Munchen, the terrain became rolling and mountainous.  Far off I could see the towering Bavarian Alps, which dwarfed any mountain range I'd seen, or have seen since.  I still wasn't sure where we were going, but the ride to that point was just awesome.  The day was kind of overcast with a little mist of rain, but overall, it wasn't a bad trip.
Later in the evening, we were getting tired and decided to stay somewhere for the night.  There weren't any major hotel chains in Germany, so no Holiday Inn or Motel 6 to stay in.  We found a bed and breakfast in a small town near a place called Oberammergau and decided that we'd stay.  The place was merely a home with extra rooms upstairs and downstairs and a friendly older lady who greeted us with a smile.  The cost wasn't bad either; only about forty US Dollars for the night.  The house had a grandmother feel to it, with little trinkets scattered along the shelves here and there.  Most of the trinkets were from passing tourists who had stayed over time; mementos I'm sure the lady treasured.  There were other people staying at the house, but we didn't mingle much.  The road trip was fun, but had worn us out.  Christina and I turned in early that night so we could get a fresh start the next morning.
The smell of breakfast cooking made its way to our room as we roused out of bed.  It was nearing 0730 in the morning, so we got packed and headed down to eat.  The cost of the room included a home cooked breakfast, nothing like the continental breakfast consisting of a bagel and dry cereal at hotel chains these days.  A couple from France joined us at the table, but they could speak some broken English.  The older lady who ran the boarding house spoke only in German, so I could understand parts of what she said.  The funny thing is I could understand German for the most part, but could only speak it well when I was grossly intoxicated.  As we finished eating, the lady handed us a guest book and we signed our names and addresses.  Even though we lived in Ansbach, I put my home of record address so it would reflect just how far away a guest could technically be from.
Christina and I started our morning drive into the mountains as a cool fog rose around us.  For the first time, I was told where we were going.  Christina was taking me to a place called Linderhof, which was King Ludwig II's palace.  I had never heard of the place, but her parents had taken her there years ago.  The palace was an awe inspiring place nestled in between the mountains and forest.  On the grounds were magnificent statues in a garden along with a golden cherub fountain.  A large fountain was the centerpiece of the palace's grounds and atop the hill facing the fountain was a large columned structure made of white marble.  Inside the structure was a large stone bust of King Ludwig II; behind that was his tomb cut into the side of the hill.                                          

Me at Linderhof Palace, 1994

The tomb of King Ludwig II

Linderhof Palace

King Ludwig II's man-made cavern

One of the most awesome sights at Linderhof was the cavern and underground lake that was entirely man-made.  The tour guide said that King Ludwig loved the works of the composer Wagner, and recreated one of his symphonies in a live setting.  He used to hold elaborate balls and plays in the cavern to dignitaries who traveled through Bavaria.  We toured the inside of the palace, which was beyond words.  Large mural paintings that were original adorned the walls; everything was trimmed in gold.  Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed inside the palace and only a third of it was open due to remodeling.  It was a truly awe-inspiring place to see.
After our trip to Linderhof, we went across the mountain pass toward Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a popular ski resort.  There was light snow on the mountains as we passed by; a bit of a contrast from the milder weather below.  It seemed we drove for about an hour before Christina told me we were going to Neuschwanstein Castle.  I had seen pictures of this magnificent castle, but never thought I'd actually get to see it up close.  We drove deeper into the mountains that towered over the lush countryside, into a town called Fussen.  Above the town was a yellow castle that sat perched on a rocky cliff.  Across from it, the Alps rose high above the land, far beyond what I could see out of the car window.
We stopped to eat at a restaurant that had an outdoor patio.  The weather wasn't too bad that day, so we opted to sit outside and enjoy the air.  As I looked at the mountains, I noticed tiny, brightly colored dots that appeared to be falling from the summit of one mountain.  The dots grew larger and moved at a fast pace, when suddenly, the dots expanded into parachutes.  People were jumping off the mountains and parachuting down!  No matter how awe inspiring this may have been, I was pretty sure I wouldn't partake in that activity.
After we ate, we drove a short distance down a winding country road toward the Alps.  Off in the distance, Neuschwanstein Castle sat high on a cliff and was just magnificent.  We stopped at the base of the mountain and went into the gift shop/bus stop.  The shuttle had just left with a load of tourists and was the last for the afternoon.  The walk to the castle was only a half mile, I was used to road marches, so why not?
Hohenschwangau Castle
The road up to Neuschwanstein was a steep grade; much steeper than it appeared.  The half mile walk reminded me of Drag Ass Hill at Fort Jackson, just without the sand.  Once we made it to the castle's gates, the view was something I'll never forget.  Neuschwanstein in pictures is one thing; seeing it up close does those pictures no justice at all.  It is an immense structure with towers, ramparts and anything else you'd imagine to see at a castle.  There was a big marble and granite staircase that led into the courtyard; I could just imagine King Ludwig hosting festivities in the square.  Unfortunately, we had arrived too late for an inside tour of Neuschwanstein, but seeing the sights I was seeing was truly amazing regardless. 
Neuschwanstein Castle from a distance
It was impossible to get a picture of the entire castle from inside the courtyard, so we followed a sign that pointed in a direction of a good vantage point.  We hiked a good distance around the mountain along a path, then came up on a bridge spanning a deep ravine.  This was the Marienbruke bridge, or Marie's Bridge.  It was a long, arched bridge that connected the mountains above a 400 foot waterfall.  I am not one to enjoy heights, so I didn't really look over the edge too much, or down because the path was a metal mesh that peered all the way down.  Christina called out to me and distracted my fear, and I saw something simply amazing.  Ahead of us was Neuschwanstein Castle in full view.  I took out my camera and gazed into the view finder, hoping I could properly capture that moment.  Nothing up to that point of my life had ever looked so amazing.

An awe-inspiring sight to see
 We left Neuschwanstein that day, and I had a better appreciation of where I was and the places I had or would see.  The people and places I had encountered thus far were pretty awesome.

In December, 1994, I put in a request or a weekend away at Berchesgaten, near the Austrian border; a place where Adolf Hitler once had his southern home and headquarters.  The list to go was basically a first come, first serve type, but surprisingly, I was selected to go because I had some seniority over the other soldiers on the list from Headquarters Battery.  The trip would be on a tour bus with other folks, something I had became accustomed to by then.  Christina and I were eager to go on the trip, if nothing else, to get away from Ansbach and Shipton Kaserne again.  
The bus ride was long, and I tried to sleep a little, but would catch myself looking out the window at the German villages along the way.  The weather was much cooler than it was when we went to Neuschwanstein, and as we approached the Alps, we could see the higher peaks covered in snow.  We arrived in the town of Berchesgaten and the bus driver started telling us some of the history of the area.  The houses and shops were traditional Bavarian styled structures, but were not all original due to Allied bombing during World War II.  
As we wound our way up the mountain, the driver pointed out some indistinct smaller structures along the roadway that he said were once guard stations, which housed SS troops.  These were Adolf Hitler's personal guards who fought and died to protect their Furher.  There were several of these guard stations, and as we neared the area where Hitler's home, the Berghof, once stood, we could see what looked like the remains of fortified bunkers in the trees.  If anyone decided to pay Hitler a surprise visit back in the day, they would have had a rude welcoming party waiting for them.
We passed houses that belonged to some of the top brass in the Nazi regime; Goering's house, Speer's cottage, the inn where key meetings took place between Hitler and his top people.  It seemed surreal that I was seeing all this, and all the same, it was eerie.
The bus stopped at the General Walker Hotel and we unloaded.  The hotel had once been the diplomatic quarters called the Platterhof and was used for visiting Nazi party officials and their allies.  It was nearly demolished during the bombing campaigns in 1945, but rebuilt soon afterward to accommodate tourists and mainly US soldiers on retreat from their day to day military lives.  The interior of the General Walker was very fancily decorated, something far from the hotels I stayed in at Fort Sam Houston on my weekend passes.  There was a large dining hall with windows that overlooked the Alpine ranges.  I had seen pictures of the mountains before, but with Hitler standing in front of them.  My God!  I am standing where one of history's most hated men once stood!
The Alps, looking toward Austria
High above the hotel was the Eagle's Nest, a mountain top residence that was built for Hitler's 50th birthday.  I had read about the Eagle's Nest in library books, and now was a the summit of the mountain that it rested on.  The only problem...the roadway was covered in several feet of snow and the Eagle's Nest was closed.  The hotel lobby had information about tours and points of interest in the vicinity, all of which was within walking distance.  Christina and I decided that we would tour the underground bunker and tunnels the following day.  But, before that, we were famished from the drive and it was late in the day.
We ate and retreated to our hotel room, which was just as fancy as the rest of the building.  For the most part, the General Walker was a plain, white bricked structure with very little flair outside.  Out our window, I could see a building that looked as though it had been burned and was just a concrete shell with a partial tin roof.  It wasn't too late in the day for some exploration.  Christina and I walked down the path toward the building, and we could see large holes in the sides as we neared it.  The openings were blocked by a fence, but I could look inside and saw there had been an awesome amount of firepower that hit this building.  It surprised me that the building was left in the state it was in, but it definitely told a bigger story as it stood.  Along the way, we passed an entrance to the underground bunker system that was closed off by a huge steel door.  No one would notice, right?

A bombed out barracks behind the General Walker Hotel
Christina and I went back to our room and turned in for the evening.  It had been a long day and was just the beginning of a three day adventure.  

We got up relatively early the next day and had breakfast.  It was then that I found out where we were was not considered Berchesgaten, but known as Obersalzburg.  I had heard the name before, but never put it into context as being where we were until then.  The bunker tour would start in about an hour,so we got our tickets and waited in the lobby by the dining hall.  Looking up at the intricate woodwork above, I remember remarking how skilled the carpenters were.  An NCO sitting by me replied by stating the American Army engineer battalion that rebuilt the hotel had used the original plans to make it as close to pre-war as possible.  Soon, we were called up to start our tour.
The tour began at a metal door down a staircase.  The guide told us that the bunkers we were about to enter had been used as an underground military base and tunneled for several miles under the mountain.  Air vents were placed in strategic locations and fresh air was pumped into the bunkers from above.  The underground facility was safe from any bombardment and was largely hidden from the terrain above.  As the door was opened, the guide asked if anyone was claustrophobic or had medical problems that prevented stair climbing.  The door swung open, revealing a narrow passage that went far, far down a flight of steps.  Even with lights on, the bottom was not visible until about half way down.  At the foot of the stairs, there was a wall with square slots recessed at irregular intervals.  The guide explained that these slots housed machine guns that aimed up the staircase.  If anyone made it and was not an invited guest, the guns would open up on the unsuspecting visitor.  There were bullet holes and pock marks on the concrete wall where the 101st Airborne soldiers fired on these machine gun nests when they occupied Obersalzburg in 1945.
Beside the machine gun nest was a guard station where SS troops would check credentials of those who had made it past the staircase.  The area was mainly a concrete and steel corridor that branched off into other areas.  These rooms were barracks for the soldiers stationed at the entrance and were empty now.  The tour continued down a long passage and stopped in a large room which was used as a planning area for commanders.  One person asked if Hitler had ever been a part of the planning in this room.  Our guide said, "No.  Hitler seldom came into these bunkers.  Most of his war planning was done in Berlin".  
One particular interesting item we saw in a room up ahead was a large safe that had been toppled over.  On the side facing up was a hole about three inches in diameter.  The guide said that when the 101st Airborne troops found the safe, they tried to open it without success, thinking it held vital information or large amounts of cash.  Frustrated, a soldier decided to take a bazooka and fire a rocket at the safe in hopes it would open.  Instead, the rocket penetrated and set everything inside the safe on fire.  The hole was a lasting mark of frustration and one pissed off company of soldiers.
We continued to another door, which led outside onto a concrete pad.  
"We are at the entrance to the Berghof, Adolf Hitler's private residence," our guide said in a short of solemn voice.  It was then that I felt an eerie presence come over me that only increased as we continued farther.  The path was in a forested area with remnants of a stone wall peeking out of the vegetation.  It was level ground, and in some places parts of a concrete slab were present.  We stopped at a spot and looked out into the Alps.

"The spot we are standing is where Hitler's living room would have been," our guide commented.
"You are looking at a view that he would have seen as he stood at the large picture window".  I had seen a picture of Hitler and Eva Braun looking out that window and the view before me in books.  Holy Hell!  I am in Hitler's sanctuary!
The path continued down a grade to a brick structure.  It was little more than eight feet tall with window holes and trees growing out of it.  This was Hitler's personal parking garage, where his limo and other vehicles once were.   The guide informed us that the site had recently become a type of shrine for Neo-Nazi groups during Hitler's birthday.  It was a bit unnerving to say the least, and that eerie feeling was more present than ever at this spot.
The only standing remains of Hitler's Berghof, December, 1994

We made our way back up the path and saw the bunkers I had seen on the way up the previous day.  These were indeed gun emplacements that had entrances into the underground bunkers.  The guide pointed out other places of interest, but my mind was still processing what we had already seen and I just kind of heard him in passing.  We made it back to the General Walker; it was a great tour and an experience I've never had since.
That night, Christina wasn't feeling well after dinner and opted to lie down.  I wasn't ready for bed, so I ventured out with a couple of other guys to the slot machines which were downstairs in the hotel.  I am not much of a gambler, I soon realized after losing five dollars in an instant.  Not wanting to donate any more of my cash to the Obersalzburg slot machine fund, I wandered around to a gift shop that was still open.  In the shop were books about the history of Obersalzburg and the Nazi influence in the area.  This surprised me due to the fact that so much of the Nazi regime had been banned it seemed.  I purchased two books and retreated back to the room to look through them.  Christina was asleep, so I didn't wake her.  Eventually, I settled in for the night, with a different view of history from the other side of things.
Christina awoke and felt better the next day, so we plotted our next adventure.  A tour of nearby Salzburg, Austria was available, so we signed up for it.  Prior to leaving Shipton, I had the commander sign a border pass, which allowed entry into any NATO country  without a passport.  Salzburg was the city where The Sound of Music was filmed an had one of the best Christmas markets in the area we were told.  A small bus pulled up and a few of us got onto it at the hotel.  We stopped again in Bertchesgaden to pick up more people and then started toward Austria.   In movies, I had seen a road with a single guard shack and a gate pole across it, signifying the border of another country, and sure enough, that is exactly what we saw at the Austrian border.  Two men in uniforms approached the bus and one came aboard, checking papers on each person.  It was like back and the barracks when the German people had to present their ID cards to get onto base, and then the man came to me.  I presented my border pass and he rolled his eyes and snickered.  He handed the paper back to me after muttering something I didn't understand, and exited the bus.  We were waved through the checkpoint and continued our journey.  I asked Christina what the man had said, and she told me he made a derogatory remark about me being a soldier with a "piece of paper".  Wow.  
After about an hour we arrived in Salzburg, and the city was much like Berchesgaten.  Our bus stopped at a building and we were told that it would be back promptly at 2000 hours and we shouldn't be a minute late or risk being left behind.  
There were shops lining the streets and the smells of fresh baked bread and food filled the air.  It was a busy city with people all over the place, but nothing like a big city in the United States where it is a maddened rush.  Nearby was a museum of natural history and we decided to go there first.  Inside was a vast array of exhibits, including a full sized Iguanodon dinosaur display, an Alpine hunter mannequin that looked like an eskimo, and a reptile room.   It was interesting that they had copperhead snakes and other native reptiles I was used to seeing back home in Kentucky, and there was even a map showing where these animals came from.  I stared at the map of Kentucky and smiled, knowing that in a few short months, I would be back home.  The most unsettling moment is when I looked up and saw an Amazonian Anaconda that was preserved and displayed with its side cut open, revealing a full sized goat.  Mental note:  no trips to the Amazon. Ever.
It was beginning to be dusk as we exited the museum.  Christina and I walked outside and she pointed out the castle overlooking the city.  The castle was an integral part of The Sound of Music and looked massive; but not as impressive as Neuschwanstein.   The sky darkened and the lights of the city came on, revealing a new view.  The Christmas market was in full swing and was just as awesome as people said.  We didn't bring a lot of extra money with us, so we weren't able to purchase anything.  I snapped pictures of the entire visit to Salzburg, in hopes of preserving what we saw that day.  To my dismay, when I sent the roll of film to be developed once we returned to Ansbach, not a single picture came out; the whole roll of film was completely dark and ruined for some strange reason.
Fearing we would be stuck in Salzburg, Christina and I returned to the bus stop a good twenty minutes early.  The day had been another awesome experience, but tiring.  We returned to Obersalzburg for a final night.  The next day, we would return to Ansbach and I would return to being a soldier.   Indeed, the people and places I had seen on these, and other smaller trips was awesome.  Looking back now, even though things in life took a drastic different turn, I am grateful, regardless of what happened later, that Christina took the time to show and join me in places I will never forget.

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 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.