In November 1990, I was stationed in Wildflecken Germany with the 8th Infantry Division 1/68 Armor Battalion’s Scout Platoon.
Our unit was being shut down.
We had already gone through the tedious process of preparing our M113A2’s for turn in. Basically you have to pull out the maintenance manual, go over every inch of the vehicle with a fine tooth comb, and replace anything that is missing. It can be a tool, a nut, a bolt, or even a sticker. Never mind that hundreds of other soldiers have been on this particular track before you and might have not of maintained it as well as they should have. If your lucky, your current Track Commander at least made sure everything was in the tool bag when he signed for that particular piece of equipment. If your unlucky, the previous soldiers lost tools, misplaced items, and generally took poor care of their Track because they were a short timer. You now have the unfortunate job of going over every inch of that M113A2 noting every little missing component, ordering replacements, and installing them. Next comes the steam cleaning. Not once. Not twice. Not even just three times. You have that cleaner working for hours on end; because every time you think your done, you find another smudge.
Eventually you believe you are ready. That’s when a civilian contractor comes in and inspects. “there is a particle of grit on the inside of this hinge that you can only see when you lift the door at an odd angle.” “do you see that that missing washer? well if stick you head up this manifold, crane your neck around 37 degrees, and reach up as far as you can you should be able to feel where it should be with the tip of your finger” “if you look under that hydraulic hose you will find a spot of grease. fail! bring it back tomorrow.” You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
On a chilly November morning days after Thanksgiving, our platoon was in the gym. The previous day all my personal belongings were packed and taken by military support to be shipped to whichever station I was assigned next. I only kept my gear and a few things I could carry in my duffle bags that I deemed essential for travel. A Walkman. Tapes. A couple of books. Gameboy. Games. A Few Civilian clothes. I was days away from receiving my new orders to return to the States
So we’re in the gym playing basketball when the Squadron Commander entered and ordered us to take a seat on the bleachers. He informed us that the 3rd Armored Division would soon be deploying to Saudi Arabia as a part of Operation Desert Shield. A Scout Platoon was short on Scouts and two volunteers were needed to fill their ranks.
There is a common saying amount the rank and file in the armed forces.
Never Volunteer, You Volunteered When You Signed On The Dotted Line
I knew if no one raised their hand, two of us would be chosen. I looked around at my platoon mates and knew they were not going to be inclined to raise their hands. Most of them had been with the unit over a year, they were ready to get back to the states. I on the other hand had only been in Germany since February.
I wasn’t ready to leave.
One reason I joined the Army was for a challenge.
Basic training wasn’t a challenge once you conquered the mental side of it. I wasn’t the strongest or the fastest, but I grew stronger and faster. I picked up things quickly, but the daily fatigue had a way of sapping your mental capacity. It was tough. Real tough. Luckily we had great Drill Sergeants who quickly did their job of breaking us down. All of a sudden one day it clicked for the majority of the platoon. We were in mine disarming class and every break we had to go outside and do pushups for something we had “messed up as a platoon”. It had been a rough night before, because the Drill Sergeants had kept us out in the rain doing grass drill from 8pm to about midnight for the offense. Needless to say the next day we were exhausted, when suddenly sometime after lunch a lightbulb came on in our collective brain. There we were doing pushups and we start laughing. The exhaustion melted away. We got it. We were one unit. From that point on, One Stop Unit Training was different. Instead of breaking us down, now we were being built up. Soon we were Scouts and we knew we were special.
I sat there thinking about that when the Battalion Commander asked for volunteers. I wanted more challenges. Besides, hadn’t I also joined the Army because I believe in defending the underdog. I believe in the United States and I believe in democracy. I believe I have the same responsibilities as my forefathers. I raised my hand.
Two hours later Spc Reyes, who also volunteered, and I were in a van heading to Mainz with the few belongings we still had with us. Along the way we talked about Spanish and German and he taught me a few words I didn’t know.
Before I knew it we were pulling up to Lee Barracks and I was soon a member of the 3rd Armored Divisions 4/34 Armor Scout Platoon.