Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Stuttgart, FRG, An Arrival

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

In June 1982, my wife, young daughter and I left Dover Delaware on a Military Airlift Command C5  for The Federal

Packrod Spin, Fresh Water

Packrod Spin, Fresh Water

Republic of Germany, aka Bundesrepublicdeutscheland.   Or, West Germany.  We landed in Frankfurt and caught a train to Stuttgart where we were stationed.  I was in a virtual state of exhaustion and slept most of the way.  About 20 minutes out, a young Sergeant in our compartment woke me up and gave me some advice on locating an apartment. 

The big fear about Germany most of we young families feared was the cost of getting an apartment.  One month upfront, last month’s rent and a month or two deposit.  Additionally, the cost of the rent was often pretty high and the availability was low.  The Sergeant said Just walk around and look for windows without curtains.”  When people move, they take EVERYTHING!  Curtains, lightbulbs, cabinets.  You are renting 4 walls.  When you see an empty window, knock on the door and ask if it is for rent.”

Well, arriving at the train station about midnight, no one was there to meet me so, several calls and a half hour wait later, Captain Jack Spencer showed up a bit bleary, stuck us in his car and took us to the Hotel Krone in a small farmer’s villiage called Steinenbronn about 15 minutes south of Stuttgart.

Over the next couple days, we walked around the villiage and one day passed this two story house.  Low and behold! the main floor windows were all empty.  A lovey young blond lady was in the yard.  I asked her if the home was for rent.  “Du must mit mutti spechen” she said.  So, we all marched upstairs to meet Mutti, or more formally, Frau Wagner. 

 

To make a long story short, we moved into the home a week later for $400 to cover the next two weeks.  We paid 800 a month and enjoyed the home until we left a bit over three years later.  God certainly provided generously for us.  In all my time in Germany, I never met anyone who had found a home so easily and entered it so cheaply. 

 

The added bonus was the Wagner family.  They were wonderful people.  Mr. Wagner raised pears in his back yard from which he made a fine wine.  Mrs. Wagner was a very kind woman.  She told me one time she was concerned for my wife being out in the country in a small town by herself and not being able to speak German.  I still recall her specific words roughly translated:  “We Germans are a cold people.  It may be very difficult for your wife to be here and not speak German.  How about if I take some classes in a nearby town (I forget the name) and I will take her with me and she can take conversational German.”  For a number of reasons that did not work out, but, Over 20 years later I can still picture the circumstances of that conversation.  The Wagners had three children, Linda, the young blond lady who was married to a Helmut Schmidt and lived a couple blocks away, a son Thomas who still lived at home and was about 25.  Finally, there was the youngest daughter whose name I do not recall.  Last but not least was Pia, the Schmidts daughter who was of an age with my daughter.  They played together and went to kindergarten together for the three years.

 

So, thank you God for a great introduction to Germany.  Thank you, Familia Wagner, for your kindness, generosity and friendship during our sojourne in your country.

 

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LTC Sewell and the Walrus’s Mustache

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Generals all have their quirks.  It comes with the territory.  They have generally paid their dues and deserve to have their quirks.  Hey, we can all live with that.  Most generals, in my experience had many memorable traits that made you love them or hate them, but, the main thing you remember about them is not their quirk.  It goes to the man, the soldier.  There are exceptions.

One of our Commanding Generals during my stay at VIIth Corps in Stuttgart, Germany, hated mustaches.  He hated them to the point he assembled the entire corps headquarters and harangued us for 15 to 20 minutes about the evils of mustaches. We learned numerous scientific studies proved women did not like mustaches.  On and on he went. You know, I do not recall much about that guy except his hate for mustaches!  So, being a good soldier, I refused to shave mine off until the day I signed out of the unit.

One day, one of my Sergeants, SSG Brown, came to me all nervous.  As SSG Brown walked up the road to the headquarters building where we worked, The General’s sedan had screeched to a halt, The General had jumped out, locked SSG Brown’s heels (called him to attention) and chewed him out berating him for his evil mustache. Now, I have to admit, to a mustache hater, SSG Brown’s mustache was a bright red flag.  It was full.  It was thick.  It was bristley, but, it was legal and neatly trimmed.  Never-the-less, any walrus would have been proud to have a mustache of SSG Brown’s Mustache’s magnitude.  Finally, The General Screamed, “Where do you work?”  “Sir,” SSG Brown said,” J-2 Ops with LTC Sewell.”

“COL Sewell, we have to talk” I said.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  My Col, LTC Sewell, was the J2 Operations head.  In any disagreement over plans, J3 Operations will almost always win.  The Col in charge of J3 Operations was LTC Bailey.  LTC Bailey and LTC Sewell had butted heads several times and there was not a lot of love lost between them.  So, back to “the situation.”

“COL Sewell, SSG Brown was accosted by The General.  The General was really upset about his mustache and screamed at him for almost ten minutes.  Finally, he asked SSG Brown where he worked.”

“Oh No!” Said Col Sewell.

“Well, you do not need to worry, Sir, SSG Brown told him he worked for COL Bailey in J3 Ops and Col Bailey said he did not give a hoot for how The General felt about mustaches.”

I do not think I have ever seen LTC Sewell, or anyone for that matter, turn that shade of white.  All the blood drained out of his face. I lost it.  I laughed so hard I am sure it cost me a point or two on my evaluation that time around. But, it was hard to get around LTC Sewell and I had done it.  I guess I do not hate that stupid general so bad after all.

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Waking up is so hard to do!

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

I did not spend much of my military life in typical military units with marching and uniforms and all that normal military stuff.  Even when I did, I ended up in off the wall sections.  I do not know why this happened, I just rejoice that it did.    One of my “real” units was the J-2, VIIth Corps in Stuttgart Germany.  When I showed up, I was assigned to a tiny four man section in the Operations division.  Captain Jack S., CPL Jamie R, Spc4 James K and SFC Nickerson were the incumbents. I was there to replace Nickerson.  My timing was perfect, Reforger 82 was ramping up.  SFC Nickerson said “Here are the files, I’m outta here.”

Reforger is, or was a huge cold war exercise where NATO practiced going to war against Russia and its East Block Allies. It engulfed huge swaths of Germany and troops from all over the US, France, Britain and Der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (FRG, or West Germany.)  The exercise takes place in a “box” which is the area where all the activity occurs. 

My four man section was charged with taking care of the various special forces taking part in the exercise.  This included the US Special Forces, the French Long Range Patrol group who dug holes and buried a small two man box in the ground and would come up for air and check out what was going on, and the Danish Special Forces group.  We set up with a German company in support of the operations.  We were not specifically involved with the actual work of these groups, but rather, were their logistics base and special action coordinators.  For example, one day CPT Jack says “SFC Atherton, set up a NOTAM for 2100 on this date.”  “Yes Sir!  What is a NOTAM?”  Felt like I was in a Bill Cosby routine.  Thirty minutes later, I was on the line with Hauptmann Kohlkopf at Frankfurt International Airport setting up the Notice To Airmen that we would be doing a parachute drop at that date and time.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.  This is a HUGE undertaking.  Even though our part was small, it likewise had many moving parts.  My job as an analyst and a recent graduate of the Defense Language Institute German course had not really prepared me for this sort of operations.  My sponsor, the good SFC, had a lot of interests, very few of which had anything to do with getting me up to speed. CPT Jack really expected me to know everything already and my two analysts had little experience either.  We were in scramble mode!  We had to coordinate with the Danes, the Special Forces, the French and the Germans.  We were responsible for setting up the camp where we all would stay.  Unfortunately, there was not a lot of command interest in our very tiny part of the picture–(Had we failed there would have been huge interest, but that is another story.) We had to scrounge all of the assets we needed.  One of these was camouflage netting–enough to cover a football field.  J4 (Supply) had none.  It had all been distributed to the line outfits and bigger operations.  CPT Jack did not accept “Sir, there is no more.” as a legitimate answer. 

The Property Disposal Office (PDO) is where all the property no longer needed or 100 percent usable goes for final sale or disposal.  These guys became VERY good friends.  They supplied all my camo netting and a host of other goodies which kept me keeping CPT Jack happy. 

We finally deployed to our field location and got everyone set up.  The exercise started and we went to twelve hour shifts.  My shift went from 7 AM to 7 PM, but, in reality, as the senior enlisted man and chief muckety muck in charge of making sure things ran smoothly, (In the army, the officers are responsible for what goes on but expect, rightly, for their NCO’s to make it happen.) I rarely went to bed much before midnight.  We had some augmentation to flesh out our small staff.  SSG Black ran the night shift.  About three and a half weeks into this four week exercise, I was exhausted.  The two month run up to the exercise and the very long days had taken a lot of energy out of me. 

I got off shift and went to bed.  The next morning I was dragging and laying in my sleeping bag on the cot and SSG Black walked in. I asked him what time it was.  He showed my his digital wrist watch: 9:15.  I totally freaked out. Two and a quarter hours late!  “Man!”, I said, “Why didn’t you wake me up?”  I jumped out of bed and frantically started getting ready. I was madly concocting reasons for my tardiness.  Meanwhile, SSG Black is struggling to contain himself. Finally, loosing it, he bursts out with a huge laugh, and shows me his watch again.  0630!  He pushed the button one more time and now it showed 9:15– September 15th. I was So Busted!

PS.  The exercise ended and went well for us. But now, I always carry my own alarm clock.

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