– From Army Basic to A. I. T. – Advanced Individual Training – #3

To say that army basic training is ‘basic’ is an over-simplification of the term. It is anything but basic. What you need to do is take individuals who think independently, act independently and, for the most part, question everything and turn them into a cohesive unit who think as a unit, act as a unit and do things when told and ask questions later.

Think of yourself in combat. I know that’s asking a lot of some of you but try anyway. Your life is on the line 24/7 when you are in the line of fire. You have to trust the guy or girl next to you with your life because, like it or not, that is what’s at stake here. Should anyone in your command whether you’re in a squad on patrol. A platoon on an interdiction or a company strength search and destroy mission. If anyone says “Hit it.” or “Drop.” or “Take cover.” the only dead person is going to the guy, or girl, who says “Huh?” and doesn’t react.

Think of the cartoon where a hunter is out looking to bag a turkey. He’s calling out with the gobble, gobble, gobble thing trying to get some stupid turkey to stick his head up over some fallen tree trunk and then BLAM, turkey dinner. The soldier who doesn’t react fast enough……… is that turkey. Understand now?

This is what “basic training” is all about. Taking the individual out of the civilian and putting the team member into the soldier. It’s the only means of survival when you are in combat. You have to think, act and respond like a team. Everyone has to trust everyone else to be on the same page or the whole thing would and, most probably will , fall apart.

Basic training involves physical training, basic hand to hand combat, bayonet training, marksmanship and weapons care, first aid, camouflage  and concealment, running, lots of running and marching, lots of marching which, by-the-way, is the single most important part of all the training and here’s why. It is a subtle way of teaching troops how to move as a unit. Stay in step and react to orders or, in this case, directions as a unit.

Everyone moves as a unit at the same time, in the same direction, without question, they just do it. This results in lives saved in combat. Very simple, very basic, seems almost silly when they’re being taught the moves on the parade ground and, they are never really told why it is so necessary. It’s the least strenuous or mentally taxing of all the training they receive yet it is the single most important training they receive that will  possibly save their lives or that of their fellow soldiers.

I wonder just how many former or current soldiers realize the importance of Drill and Ceremony when it comes to combat. It would be interesting to hear from some of you and get your opinions.

After basic, we all got our orders for whatever was to come next. My buddy and I had volunteered for airborne infantry so we were pretty sure where we were headed. Everyone else in our training platoon, not so much.

The army or, the military in general, is not known for their logical disbursement of their available troops. Former mechanics, instead of going to the motor pool, would end up cooks. Guys with some college would end up not in a training brigade but in the infantry. High school drop-outs would end up with the technical jobs and anyone with a medical background was liable to end up as a supply clerk. There was no rhyme or reason to their selection process. It was like they used a dart board and a blind man to arrange the assignments.

Phil and I, like I said, volunteered for airborne infantry so, naturally, Phil went to the Signal Corp to learn how to run a radio and send morse code and I went to Military Police school to learn how to become a cop. We both dropped our request for airborne when we arrived at Fort Gordon Georgia. What was to become our home for the next two and a half months.

It’s funny, I don’t remember much about my M.P. training. We took classes on military law, self-defense hand to hand training, how to drive the new light-weight jeeps aggressively while still being safe, weapons training with our new best friend the .45 cal. semi-automatic pistol and, of course, P.T. (physical training), there was always that.

Unlike Fort Ord in California, we were allowed to go to the PX (Post Exchange) on our off duty hours and drink their 3-2 beer. When we left Fort Ord we had also left behind the meningitis scare. The 3-2 beer was half the potency of regular beer but it tasted good just the same. After tree months anything that even vaguely resembled beer (sort of like Coors Light today) tasted good.

One afternoon, while I was enjoying yet another weak-ass beer at the PX, who should walk in but my old buddy Phil. We caught up on what was happening in our corner of the camp and Phil told me he had run into Dennis Portlance and Larry Ferguson. They were both here at Fort Gordon for more specialized training. These two guys were friends of ours from high school and Dennis and I had taken a short but eye-opening detour to Alaska and the university in Fairbanks. More about that in a later post.

We all decided to get a week-end pass and go see the sights of downtown Augusta, Georgia. Which, shortly after our arrival downtown, we decided to re-name Disgusta, Georgia. Man, what a let down. We walked around for a very short period of time and then, rather dejected, we decided to get a hotel room and just sit and talk the night away.

In our wanderings we came upon the, you guessed it, The Augusta Hotel. What else, right? Now, if memory serves me right, Augusta was a dry city. In-other-words, no booze to be purchased or served. Another let down. I called room service just out of curiosity and asked if he, the night clerk, knew where we might obtain a couple bottles of adult beverages. He told us that he could get whatever we wanted. It was a courtesy of the hotel. Things were looking up.

Phil was a scotch drinker so I assume that was his beverage of choice. Dennis I remember being partial to Crown Royal from our time in Alaska. Larry wasn’t much of a drinker but I know he got something and I got a bottle of Southern Comfort. Big mistake, as I was to find out later.

The desk clerk delivered the bottles and we paid the price plus a pretty good tip as I recall. Then the clerk asked if we wanted anything else. Just some ice if you’ve got it. Down the hall, he motioned. Still he stood there. Again we asked what he wanted. We thought it was a bigger tip. We were wrong.

He asked, “What about the girls?”

“What about what girls?” we asked.

He said, “Well, if you’re going to have a party, don’t you want some girls here?”

“Nah, I said, we’re just a bunch of high school buddies looking to get a little  drunk going. That’s all.” “Besides, we don’t know any girls around here.”

The clerk kind of rolled his eyes and said, “Suit yourselves.” Then walked away.

For the next couple of hours he kept calling our room asking, “Do you want I should send the girls up yet?”

As disappointed as we were in Augusta, Georgia circa 1966 as a whole, I can imagine how “special” their hookers might have been back then. There was a lot of traffic going through training at that time so, I would imagine there was a lot of traffic going through, well, you fill in the blanks.

The night at the Augusta Hotel passed slow enough for all four of us to get thoroughly hammered. That sweet concoction that is Southern Comfort was anything but a comfort. My stomach was churning and my head spinning at an alarming rate. If I had one of those beanie caps on with the propeller on top, I could have flown non-stop to L.A. in record time.

I don’t know when it happened but I received a call from the porcelain god and he beckoned me to join him in the bathroom. I did as I was instructed, assumed the position and promptly emptied the contents of my stomach  into the waiting commode (aka. the porcelain god). The trouble is, I passed out with my head still in the darn thing. It was a darned good thing that Phil wasn’t as drunk as I was because he heard this blub-blub-blub coming from the bathroom and staggered into investigate. There was his old high school buddy, Me, drowning in the toilet.

There’s a letter every parent would be proud as peaches to get, huh? Dear Mr. and Mrs. Binkley, We are sorry to inform you that your son, Edward, drown in his own puke at the Augusta Hotel in downtown Augusta, Georgia the night of, etc., etc., etc. Thank-you Phil, I mean it.

I’m sorry to say that the four of us didn’t see each other again for some time after that. I don’t think any of us, especially me, was ready for a re-match at the Augusta any time soon. Dennis and Phil, eventually ended up across the pond in Vietnam. Larry and I were luckier. We did our tours stateside. The important thing is, we all survived our tours and eventually got back together. Well, not all at once but we’re working on that. At least we are all now in touch. Thank God for e-mail.

Okay, let’s see. I graduated from basic training on November 11, 1966 and was flown via Standard Airlines (military charter) to Augusta, Georgia. I started training, went to the PX, ran into Phil , had the unfortunate drunk at the hotel. Oh yes, Christmas. We had Christmas leave that lasted through New Years. I think we had to report back on the 3rd or 4th of January, 1967.

It was about three days before Christmas and everyone was getting ready to go home for the holidays. For some, it would be the last. For others, it would be the last normal Christmas they would ever spend anywhere.

I was going home to Chicago to spend my last civilian (sort of civilian) Christmas with my dad and step-mom. I traveled by Greyhound bus from Augusta to Chicago. A twenty-eight (28) hour trip made better only by the fact that the driver insisted I ride in the front right hand seat (more leg room) and that a pretty girl sit next to me (a bonus any way you look at it). I think it had something to do with my being in uniform and going home for the holidays. Maybe the bus driver was ex-military or his son was in the service or something along those lines.

Christmas was fun and it was good to see my dad and Mickey (his wife) again. I didn’t know when or if I would see them in the future because at that point, I had no idea what the future held in store for me. As-a-matter-of-fact, I didn’t think too much about my future because I didn’t think I still had one. Things didn’t look good over in Vietnam and we were hearing about the body-counts both ours and their and it was anything but encouraging. This wasn’t something I wanted to think about while on leave but, one night, my dad had watched something on the news that got him fired up.

We were sitting at the dinner table discussing whatever and dad mentioned this thing he saw on TV. He was talking about the troops over there (in Nam) and calling them young punks over and over again. My step-mom tried to defuse the situation by saying, “Oh Walt, you don’t mean that.”

“The hell I don’t.” he would say, “Why those young punks over there, why they think………..” Then I cut him off.

“Dad, just shut up. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” I said, “By-the-way, it’s the young punks over there that are protecting you old fat asses over here.”

It was out before I knew it. The color drained from my dads face as he got up out of his chair very slowly. He pushed his chair back and slowly walked from his end of the table to mine. I couldn’t move. It was like my ass was set in cement. Dad drew his left hand back and back-handed me across the mouth sending me flying off the chair, across the short expanse to the cast iron wall heater where my head met said heater and made a sound like that of a gong.

Hurt? Oh hell yes. Did I deserve it? Yes. Did I ever do it again? No way. Discussing is one thing but to disrespect your parents is something else entirely. After discussing it further, my dad apologized to me for what he said about the young troops. He did not, however, apologize for knocking me into next week. For that, no apology was necessary.

The rest of my leave was pretty uneventful. Except for one thing. I went to a Polish wedding with a friend of my step-mothers who was older than I but we were closer in age so….. Anyway, I didn’t have anything dressy to wear so I had to wear my dress green uniform. I think we danced some slow dances. I wasn’t much of a dancer back then. They announced that they were going to have a twist contest. It was 1966 and Chubby Checker with his Twist was still pretty hot then. This gal I was with talked me into entering so we did and, low and behold, we won. Who would have guessed that the only service man in the joint would win the contest? Go figure, huh?

After the holidays and the long bus ride back to Fort Gordon, we completed our training. The barracks we were assigned to were the old World War II wooden two-story style that had coal-burning furnaces in a small room that was part of the structure. There were dozens and dozens of these barracks and each had a coal-burning furnace. It was so cold there that standing fire watch (feeding the flame, in-other-words) was the best way to keep warm. It was, however, hard to stay awake. A lot of the guys would go in there, sleep and never stoke the fire at all. Then, when the next guy went to stand his fire watch, he would have to build the flame back up to normal again.

It was a dirty job and there were, like I said, dozens and dozens of these things going at once. The whole base was covered in soot and smoke. Everything smelled like coal dust. But, it could have been worse.

The guys in Signal training had to sleep in tents with little pot-bellied stoves in each tent. Four guys to a tent. Give me the old barracks anytime.

When we were about to graduate, we were all given our orders for our permanent duty stations. I couldn’t look. I just knew mine said Vietnam or some tropical paradise like that.

When I opened my orders they read Metz, France. “Metz, France, where’s that?”, I asked.

The company first sergeant assured me that his was a prime assignment. The French were less than happy about having us as guests in their country any longer and we were in the process of getting out with as little fan-fare as possible. Therefore, any troop serving embassy duty, which I was slated for, would not be staying on a military reservation. We would, in fact, be staying in hotels. We would not be ‘allowed’ to wear uniforms. We would have to wear civilian suits and ties. We could not carry exposed weapons. We would have to carry concealed weapons in a shoulder holster. And the final straw. We would not be expected to eat military food. We would get an allowance so we could eat in restaurants. Damn it all to hell. What do they expect from us anyway? Anyone would think this was a vacation, not a deployment.

“UH, YEAH ! !”

Metz, France was right on the northern edge of France and adjoined the southern part of Germany. Maybe during the Second World War, not such a good place for an American soldier to be but, now, some twenty-two years later. It was an ideal place for an American soldier to be. Especially if he didn’t look like a soldier.

Well, this was not to be. Unfortunately, I got pneumonia. It was a couple of days before we were to ship out to our debarkation points and we were standing one of our last, if not the last formation. I remember it was very cold and we were standing at attention behind the barracks before going into the mess hall for breakfast. It was still dark and, did I mention, very cold. I remember the first sergeant coming down the steps from his office with some papers and having us go to at ease and then …………….. nothing.

I woke up several hours later in the base hospital. There was this beautiful nurse, a lieutenant, standing beside my bed. I saw her name tag and it read Lt. Green. I asked her first name and she said Misses. So much for that. Besides, she was an officer but, brother, was she ever cute.

She told me that I had passed out in morning formation and was brought straight here.  I told her I didn’t remember much. She said that was all right, there were plenty of guys who saw the whole thing. That made me feel much better.

She told me that I had pneumonia and that I would be a guest at their establishment for the next ten days. I said, “No, no, I can’t be here that long. You see I’m leaving for France tomorrow. I’ve gotta get out of here.”

“I’m afraid not.” she said, “If they haven’t already, they’re going to have to give your orders to someone else.They normally don’t hang on to them very long.”

I’m thinking to myself, “Well, could this day get any better or what?”

They did, in fact, give my orders to a red-headed Irishman named Pat Dimegard. I found out later that he punched his commanding officer and ended up in the stockade. What a waist of some really good orders.

After getting released from the hospital and returned to duty, the first sergeant gave me my new orders, along with an apology for having to give my other orders away. These orders were not for Vietnam either. I, along with a lot of other guys, were going to Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was a Defense Atomic Support Agency base (whatever that means) and we were all to get Top Secret clearances. Maybe. Those that didn’t would be moving on.

We all went back to that same strip outside of August and boarded yet another Standard Airlines military charter. This one, however, was not a four engine jet like before. This was an old four engine prop job. Not turbo-prop, just gasoline, internal combustion engines of the World War II variety. Very exciting, yes?

Knowing a bit about aircraft, I knew enough to pick a seat over the wing. It’s a pivot point and gives the best ride. I looked at the right-wing just below my window and noticed a trail of oil from the cowling on the inside engine. Being the old gas engines, you had to expect some of that so I was not really concerned.

The cockpit crew consisted of  the pilot in the left seat, the co-pilot in the right seat and the flight engineer in the center behind the engine throttle console on a drop-down seat in the middle. When the pilot advances the throttles on take-off, it is the flight engineers job to place his hand over that of the pilots to insure the throttles are full forward and stay that way incase the pilot needs to remove his hand for any reason. A fail-safe, if you will.

If the cockpit doors could be left open today, you would still see the co-pilot (since many modern commercial aircraft only have two pilots now) place his left hand over the pilots for the very same reason.

Anyway, we were getting ready for departure. Oh, let me mention this about the flight crew. The pilot was a middle-aged man with graying hair. The co-pilot was a younger man probably in his late twenties or so. But the flight engineer. His hair was pure white.

Now there’s a couple of ways to look at that. Maybe the white hair indicates a long, illustrious career in aviation that gives him the experience and knowledge to give everyone on board that confident feeling that everything will be just fine.

OR, seein’s how it’s just twenty some odd years after the second world war, perhaps this gentleman has had one too many flights over the flack riddled skies of Germany. Perhaps that pure white hair indicates he ws scared out of his wits and is now a basket-case worthy of closer observation by a profession staff with white coats.

Either way, the door on this aircraft is closed. The engines are started and we are beginning to taxi out for take-off. “Our Father who art in heaven ……… etc.”

I’m watching the flight crew, especially the white-haired guy, as the throttles go forward and we start to pick up speed. As the nose wheel rotates into the take-off attitude, I notice, out of the corner of my eye, the oil streak on the inboard engine is moving. There is a steady stream of oil moving back to and over the trailing edge of the main wing. Each engine has several gallons of oil so, at that rate we could stay in the air for hours and hours. No problem. I relax.

We seem to be flying pretty low. Probably between 7 and 9,000 feet. Just low enough not to have to pressurize the cabin. There’s a better view from this altitude anyway. Normally the cabin pressure is right around 8,000 feet anyway so we are just about right on.

I looked out to see the progress of the stream of oil and notice it has acquired a friend. There is a second stream of oil coming from the other side of the cowling now. I’m not so worried about running out of oil now as I am of fire. I decide to get the flight engineers attention and tell him of my concerns.

The flight attendant got the engineer and he took a look and declared it normal. Uh, huh. Normal?!?!

Well, that was all I could do so I just continued to watch the flow of oil as we continued our flight. I watched the oil as it flowed past the window and over the edge of the wing. More and more oil when, I noticed something else. Oh why can’t I just sleep like everyone else??

Where the wing root joins the fuselage there is a faring that wraps around that joint to make it more aerodynamic. It tapers from the fuselage to the top of the wing and is fastened there by rivets. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

You see, before being drafted into the army, I worked for Douglas Aircraft as, yup, a riveter on DC-9’s. I worked in fuselage joining were different sections of the aircraft are joined together to form the whole airframe.

Anyway, I noticed some rivets missing in the faring that I didn’t remember being missing before but then, I really didn’t count them. I just didn’t recall any vacancies. No open holes, you know?

As the flight progressed and, fortunately, we were only going to somewhere in Texas where we would be transferring to another plane before continuing on to Albuquerque, we continued to lose more rivets. Structurally we were fine (I think) but losing rivets anywhere is not a good thing. It’s not the ones that you see that will kill you. It’s the ones you don’t know about.

After much oil loss and several rivets popping, we landed somewhere in Texas with a thump and a screech of tires. I was thinking about telling the flight crew about the missing rivets and second oil leak but to what avail?

“Oh that? It’s normal. Nothing to worry about I’m sure.” I could just hear it plain as day.

We got on yet another Standard Airliner to complete our journey. This one was a Convair 880. A very streamlined four engine pure jet of which not many were made. The most unusual thing about the 880 were the tanks on the top of each wing just behind each engine. They resembled military drop tanks but were carried on top of the wing and not under them which has always been the military way. It was a beautiful plane and very comfortable to travel in. This time I sat in an aisle seat and closed my eyes. I figured whatever was to happen would happen whether I saw it first or not. It was a very pleasant trip.

If you see a veteran give him a smile and shake his hand. Say thank-you for a job well done. It was you know?

Have a very nice day!

Ed B.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s