War Stories - My Germany Trip
No! Not him too
Colonel Fillare and Major Tiederman explained it this way. Pope had been tagged to support the Desert Repair Station in Rhein Main Germany. Since I had six months experience in the Isochronal Inspection Program, I was a perfect candidate to run the program. Besides, I was practically the only officer left. About a week later I got the list of people going with me. Remember that scene in the Dirty Dozen? The list read like a who's who of thieves, murders, and slugs. Actually, it was more like a list of trouble makers, lazy people, and whiners. Two technicians on the list I personally had recently tried to court-martial. I protested, but all my supervisors would say was "It's war! Just do it!" Obviously it was doomed from the start.
We packed up all the supplies we could muster and palletized it for our trip to Germany. Of course we didn't have enough equipment or enough people, but we were going to an existing base with people and equipment, we weren't suppose to need much.
We waited a few days for HQ to assign us planes, but nothing happened. Finally we figured out that HQ wasn't going to divert the transports to North Carolina for us. We'd have to go to them, in Dover Delaware. Of course we didn't have our own planes to get everything there, so we put all the equipment on a convoy of flat-bed trucks and sent it on ahead. Did I mention we were carrying 200 M-16 rifles and ammo?
We flew into Dover a day after trucking our supplies there. Boy were we surprised when they refused to release our cargo to us. Some idiot in Supply hadn't filled out the forms properly, and since weapons were in the shipment, they couldn't release it to us. We'd have to leave everything behind if we wanted to catch our flight. Meanwhile there were planes and Army guys all around us leaving for the Gulf.
It seemed kind of silly for me to be arguing with these guys. The supplies would get there eventually and we probably didn't need it anyway. Getting the people there was more important. So we left.
Rhein Main Arrival
I remember it was snowing when our plane landed. The Rhein Main folks were upset that we hadn't brought our own supplies. They were taken by surprise by the HQ plan and didn't have anything ready for our arrival. They bussed us to the grassy field in the center of base where they'd set up canvas tents for us. I was shocked. Here we were, Air Force people on an Air Force base, being put up in tents in the snow. There were thousands of troops deployed from this base and they couldn't find a couple of rooms for us? The tents were horrible, moldy, drafty, and cold. Just like those tents in M*A*S*H.
After settling everyone down, the sergeant drove me away. I thought we were going to meet the other officers and discuss the plan. Instead he took me to the Amelia Erhart Hotel, where they were billeting the visiting officers. Some would say that I should have stayed with my troops, and maybe I did make a mistake, but I took the room. The Amelia Erhart is a military hotel, more like an apartment building for people visiting the next door military hospital. The hospital is famous as the place where they took the Iranian Embassy hostages after the affair in 1980.
The next day I met with the other officers: who had it all planned out. Me and my most of my people would work nights, (remember what I said on page 1?) while the locals would work days. It became immediately obvious that we were going to get screwed in every way possible, and it didn't take long for it to start.
Being deployed means some sacrifice, but why would we have to be screwed when we were at an American base in Germany?
It started when everything on base closed early in the afternoon. Working the nightshift meant you don't wake-up until the afternoon. The base stores and offices were closed by the time we got there. There was no way for my troops to buy food, clothing, or get their checks cashed. The personnel office was always closed to renew ID cards or any of the hundred other things we needed to do. I tried to convince my day-shift counterparts that we were experiencing serious problems but they didn't care. Calls back to Pope met a similar Luke-warm response.
The plan was for the Desert crews to send us four planes a week. We would inspect and repair two planes at a time for three days. We'd spend a day inspecting and two days repairing. Unfortunately we didn't have the parts to make the repairs. After taking the plane apart, it could sit for a week while we waited for the parts to arrive. Everyone was upset. The Desert bases were upset that they weren't getting their planes back on-time, and we were accused of not doing our job.
We were ordered to send the planes back, unrepaired, just to keep the schedule moving. The Desert crews were livid when they got their planes back with a shopping list of things to repair and boxes of parts. Why did they have to send they're planes to Germany to be broken?
Meanwhile my troops had been assinged to excess building arounds the city. Usually an hour from base. I had to assign my own people to drive the buses or my crews couldn't get to work. The bus was awful and broke down frequently. Twelve hours shifts and being an hour from base aggravated the problem of getting personal needs accomplished. Life was Hell.
They only nice thing about the experience was the Aircraft Hangar. Thanks to a deal with the German government, the Air Force had been able to build an incredible state-of-the-art aircraft repair facility. Two aircraft could be parked inside, side by side. Overhead cranes, bright lighting, and a clean spacious environment was great. Unfortunately everything was labeled in German. Since the hangar will be turned over to the Germans when the base closes, it was built to German specifications.
Well, one morning an avionics technician smelled smoke while working in the airacrft. Since the aircraft holds hundreds of gallons of fuel, when he saw the smoke he decided to hit the fire alarm. He climbed out of the C-130 and hit the first thing that looked like a fire alarm.
Of course I wasn't there, since it happened on the day shift, but they described it this way:
Thousands of gallons of fire suppression foam and water began to shoot from two water cannon mounted above the floor about ten feet up. In seconds the room was flooded and everyone was covered in foam and running for their lives. The cannons were automatically panning, like a fan, to hit every section of the room. In minutes there was a foot of water and several feet of foam all through the hangar. There was several inches of water IN the aircraft and the equipment was soaked. The hangar doors actually held the water in place until they were opened and the water was released into the drains. People were running and screaming and being thrown about by the force of the water cannons.
It was all clean and dry by the time the night-shift got there, but we still got the lecture on fire safety and where the extinguishers and alarms were located. The cost of the clean-up, replacing the 600 gallons of foaming agent, and emptying the tanks filled with contaminated residue became the hot topic for weeks. It just seemed too funny to me.
Being Kicked Out
As mid-January approached, more and more reserve units were being activated. The press said the military needed the man-power, the truth was they needed more aircraft. Still, several reserve units began arriving in Germany. Since I was VERY unpopular with my Germany based colleges, I was called into the colonels office and, using the replacement personnel as an excuse, told to go home. I protested that I didn't want to leave my team behind since they were already being abused, "Who would look out for them when I was gone?" He got a little angry with my attitude and I was quickly escorted out.
I collected my things and went down to the passenger terminal. While there was no shortage of empty seats heading back to the US, very few were stopping on the East Coast, and fewer still in the South. I ended-up on a C-141 heading for Charleston, South Carolina. Before departing, I picked up a case of Heineken Red Star Beer. It's a special batch, higher in alcohol, that you can't get in the USA. It comes in an open plastic milk-crate, which you usually can't ship, but military flight crews don't mind; they usually have several cases of their own. I figured it would be a good gift for the gang back home.
We landed in Charleston at 3am Sunday morning. I remember it well because everything was closed. We couldn't even get into the passenger terminal. Finally the police let us in and we waited an hour for them to find a bus to take us to billeting. At billeting I waited until 7am for a bus to Columbia Airport. My orders authorized me to buy a plane ticket, but not rent a car. So I had to fly to Raleigh, NC and have my roommate pick me up. The beer posed a problem for the commercial airlines, and it took some convincing for them not to charge me extra for the beer and extra baggage (you know, my chemical warfare gear, sleeping bag, etc). It took all day and I got home late Sunday afternoon. (Charleston is only a three hour drive from Pope). I was exhausted and went to sleep.
When I woke-up at 9 o'clock the beer was gone. Brad and Jim, my roommates had seen the beer and decided it was a gift I brought for them -- and promptly drank it ALL. I wasn't too angry, but I would have like to have a drink with them.
I called my folks and told them I was home, safe and sound. I even planned to take a few days off and visit them if I could.
Monday morning I went back into work. I had assumed the Rhein Main staff had told my Pope supervisors I was being sent home, but the look on colonel Fillare's face and "What the hell are you doing here?" greeting told me otherwise. I told them the cover story of reserve replacements and a strange smile appeared on the Colonel's face.
He'd received a request for another maintenance officer to go to the gulf. He'd been deciding between my inexperienced roommate Brad and the soon to retire Captain Collins when I walked in. It was like stepping in front of a firing squad. He had my orders typed up within the hour.
Of course nothing actually works that fast, I left on Friday. It sucked being home and not being around long enough to go out on a weekend. Mom and Dad got another call; I was not coming home, I was actually headed for the Gulf.
©2002 Stefan Oestreicher
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Last revised Mar 26, 2002