Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Always Check Your Foxhole

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I'd share an amusing story from my first days in the Army. One of the infamous Murphy's Laws of Combat states, "When you have secured an area, don't forget to tell the enemy." While the following anecdote isn't exactly what is meant by that statement, my situation always reminds me of that saying.

From April through June of 1986, I attended Basic Training in Fort Leonard Wood (FLW), Missouri. (Or, as we trainees liked to call it, "Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery.") At the time, Basic Training was eight weeks long, during which trainees were taught all of the basic essentials for becoming a soldier; combat skills, physical fitness, navigation, communications, first aid, and - of course - basic marksmanship.

The standard-issue rifle at the time was the M-16A1, and soldiers were taught to fire from several positions: prone, sitting, and standing supported in a foxhole. However, foxholes on the FLW ranges were not actual foxholes; they were culvert pipes buried vertically in the ground, with wood pallets in the bottom on which shorter soldiers could stand to gain a little more height, and each foxhole was fitted with a wood cover to keep the rain out at night. (At least in theory; I still spent a lot of time in the mud at the bottom of a foxhole...)

All of that being said, on one particular occasion, our company had an unexpected lesson in checking out your environment before settling in. One of the ranges had 40 foxholes arranged in a single firing line, and I was assigned to lane #1. We were the first trainees on the range, so the first order of action was for everyone to uncover their foxhole for that day's marksmanship training.

When the Range Safety NCO in the tower gave the appropriate command over the range loudspeaker, everyone pulled the cover off their foxhole, and then everyone but me jumped in. However, I actually looked down before jumping in; that was a very good thing for me to do, because I saw the tail end of a black snake slither under the wood pallet at the bottom of my foxhole. I spent part of my childhood living near the Florida swamps, so I knew of several black snakes with which no one should be taking any chances, so I simply stood up and raised my hand for assistance.

The Range Safety NCO saw me from his lofty perch in the tower, and he bellowed over the loudspeaker, "Lane 1: what is your problem???"

As loudly as I could, I shouted back, "Snake, Drill Sergeant!"

And then I watched as the soldiers in firing lanes 2 through 40 looked beneath them in panicked unison to see if they had snakes in their foxholes; it was suddenly and abundantly obvious that I had been the only trainee who had bothered to check his foxhole before jumping in. (Note: No one else had an uninvited visitor; I was the only 'lucky' one.)

One of the drill sergeants quickly made his way down the firing line to my foxhole, whereupon he grabbed my M-16, jumped into the foxhole, and proceeded to beat the snake to death with the butt of my rifle. Once the snake - which turned out to be a lethally-venomous Water Moccasin - was good and dead, the drill sergeant climbed out of the foxhole, returned my M-16 to me, and headed back down the firing line to check on the other trainees.

With my area secured and my miniscule misadventure at an end, I finally climbed down into my foxhole, and I proceeded to blast lots of little holes in the downrange targets.

Posted: Nov 11 2017, 20:34 by bob | Comments (0)
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Graduating from 3rd AD PLDC

Someone posted to Facebook that he liked going on Temporary Duty (TDY) when he attended the Army's Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC). I'm not sure where he was sent for PLDC, but I had to attend the 3rd Armored Division's school, which was notoriously awful. However, PLDC was required in order to become a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), so I had to attend if I wanted to be promoted.

With that in mind, here is the response that I posted to Facebook:

3rd AD PLDC in Butzbach was pretty bad.

We started out with 320 students and graduated with only 240 - they threw out 33% of the students for the most-ridiculous of reasons; I watched the cadre as they literally yanked students out of the class for looking sideways in a chow line and tossed them from the program.

I had an instructor tell me on day one of PLDC that he personally hated my MOS; he promised to make my life a living hell because of it, and he delivered on his promise. I got lots of crap for my MOS, and I was assigned to an extra cleaning detail every evening with another person in the same MOS.

The cadre used sleep deprivation for the duration of the course; so lights out was at 2400 every night, followed by reveille and morning PT at 0400. (Although everyone stayed up for at least another hour or so each night shining boots/shoes by flashlight and ironing uniforms.) Rooms had to be perfect for inspections, so no one ever used their wall lockers or slept in their beds; we slept on the floor next to the bunks and hid the clothes we wore in rucksacks.

I attended in January, 1990, and as you might imagine - German winters can be quite cold. Because of that, I developed a debilitating case of Trench Foot during our week-long bivouac ("field problem") because my feet (and every ounce of clothing) were continuously soaked for several days and exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees. One of the instructors caught me limping, and despite my insistence that nothing was wrong, he forced me to go see the medic. I had severe blisters all over my feet, and after the medic applied copious amounts of moleskin and bandaged my feet, she said: "I'm supposed to report this, but they'll bounce you from the course and you'll have to start over. So do your best to pretend not to limp." (I lost the feeling in my toes for a few weeks, and after I returned to Fulda I walked with a limp for the next several months.)

Although to make matters worse, our bivouac happened to coincide with the "Burns' Day Storm," which was - according to Wikipedia - "one of the strongest European windstorms on record." (http://bit.ly/2gQHNnM) Gigantic trees were being knocked over everywhere and literally crushing tents, so with huge branches falling from the trees around us we had to hurriedly break camp and expeditiously evacuate from the forest before someone got injured or killed.

Despite all of that - I had the 2nd-highest GPA for the course and was one of only five students to graduate with honors. (I was promoted to E5 upon graduation since I had already made my points.)

3rd AD PLDC Graduation Certificate

PS - If the military taught me anything, it's that I can push myself to persevere through conditions that I never thought possible.

Smile

Posted: Oct 19 2017, 04:18 by bob | Comments (0)
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Who Says the Military Doesn't Have a Sick Sense of Humor?

When I was stationed with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, Germany, I lived in a sleepy little village named Kleinlüder, which was over the hill and through the woods from post. At the time that I lived there, a Surface-to-Air Missile Battery was situated on top of the nearby mountain. Actually, they were kind of annoying, because we could hear them from our apartment every time they had an alert. (Oh sure, they were protecting us from invasion and all that... but I still wanted a peaceful night's sleep.)

Anyway, it's been more than 25 years since I left, and the land where that missile battery was located has long-since been sold off. However, I found it interesting one day recently when I was scrolling through the area on Google Maps and I noticed that the SAM battery's motto has managed to survive on one of the old launch platforms:

if-it-flies-it-dies

Now, who says that the Military doesn't have a sick sense of humor?

Smile

 

Note: Click the following link for the original map: https://goo.gl/maps/1gAHfk62oYH2

Posted: Apr 06 2017, 22:30 by bob | Comments (0)
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Why Some People Join the Air Force Instead of a Real Branch of Service

An old Army buddy of mine recently posted the following joke on Facebook:

WHY I JOINED THE AIR FORCE

DoD was conducting an "All Service" briefing and the leader posed this question:

"What would you do if you found a scorpion in your tent?"

A Sailor said, "I'd step on it."

A Soldier said, "I'd squash it with my boot."

A Marine said, "I'd catch it, break the stinger off, and eat it."

An Airman said, "I'd call the concierge desk and find out why there was a tent in my room."

Truer words were never spoken. Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Jan 03 2017, 23:25 by bob | Comments (0)
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A Few Reflections on My Days in the Army

It dawned on me earlier today that this year - 2016 - marks 30 years since I first joined the military. In early 1986 I reported to Phoenix, AZ, for induction into the US Army, where I raised my hand and I repeated the following oath:

"I, Robert McMurray, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

Little did I know the adventure upon which I was embarking, and what a profound difference the next eight years would have on my life.

During my tenure in the Army, I was sent to a a lot of places where I did a lot of interesting things; there are a bunch of stories which I can talk about, and there are some circumstances which I will never be able to discuss. I had some amazing experiences, along with a handful of terrifying incidents, and there are a few decisions that I made about which I will continue to question whether I did the right thing for the rest of my life.

I spent months away from my wife and children in faraway places - quite often in deplorable conditions - and all for a paycheck which was less than I would have earned if I had stayed home and got a job flipping burgers for a living.

On the other hand, I was anorexic when I joined the Army, and in that respect the military may have saved my life. I weighed less than 114 pounds when I reported for Basic Training, and yet I still thought that I was hideously overweight. By way of contrast, I weighed 135 pounds when I graduated Basic Training eight weeks later, and I had learned how to be thankful for eating three meals a day.

Most of my time in the military consisted of serving at three different duty stations: the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, for a year; the 511th Military Intelligence Company in Fulda, Germany, for 3½ years, and the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Huachuca, AZ, for 3 years. (My remaining six months of service was spent in Basic Training and a variety of other undisclosed locations.)

Despite the passing of several decades, I am still friends with several of the people with whom I served, and I have done my best to regale my comrades-in-arms in other blogs on this website with some of the stories which I had taken the time to write down during our service together. We were privileged to be first-hand witnesses to some amazing times in history; from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.

Trojan Horse 1

That being said, moving on to each duty station was always a strange experience. Like everyone else before me, I was always the "newbie" when I arrived; I was surrounded by people who had been stationed there longer, all of whom had months or years of shared experiences, and they all knew how everything worked. By the end of my first year, I was no longer the new guy, and I would find myself teaching the newly-arriving recruits all the same important details which I had learned during my initial months. By the end of each tenure, I was an "old timer," despite the fact that I was only 25 years old when I left Fulda, and only 28 years old when I left Fort Huachuca.

I would love to say that I endured all of my military experiences with a positive attitude, but that would be far too dishonest. Those who knew me "way back when" can certainly attest to the fact that my attitudes about the Army often fluctuated, and usually in a negative direction. (That general attitude is reflected in several of my stories on this website.) Eventually I realized that I was not like some of my brothers-in-arms who could survive 20 years in uniform in order to earn their retirement, so I chose to exit the military after two four-year tours of service.

By the end of my time in the Army, I had graduated with honors from every school which I had attended, earned a college degree, received a bunch of awards and decorations, and served exactly 3,700 days. Nevertheless, it was time for me to go.

Awards-and-Decorations

I have never regretted my time in the service, although I must admit that I have no desire to repeat most of my experiences. (Rappelling from a helicopter might be fun, though.) Just the same, I am incredibly thankful for the guys with whom I served; it was an honor and a privilege to work with them.

Posted: Nov 11 2016, 01:39 by bob | Comments (0)
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More 511th Stories: Live Rounds on Guard Duty

During my tenure in Germany, the Army had decided that soldiers on guard duty would no longer be issued live rounds. Apparently this decision was based on a large number of suicides which seemed to occur when soldiers were left alone all night pulling a miserable duty shift in a miserable part of the world. However, what this meant for me personally was that every night that I pulled guard duty at Sickles Army Airfield, I was supposed to guard an entire flightline of very expensive Army aircraft with no way to defend either them or myself. (Remember that "Military Intelligence" is an oxymoron.)

M16A2

Actually, I didn't even have an unloaded M16 as some guards had in other areas of the world; apparently some of the locals had discovered that the guards were carrying unloaded M16s and attempted to steal one by overpowering some poor guy on guard duty. After that incident had occurred, no one carried an M16 on guard duty anymore. This meant that the only two things with me which resembled weapons were a cheap, wooden Billy Club and my three-battery Maglite.

Night_Patrol_Billy_Club maglite-3-d -cell

However, that was not the case when the 511th deployed to the border; whenever we were within the 1K zone, we always had our M16s, with three live rounds in one of the guard weapons and a sealed case of rounds hidden in reserve. Depending on the deployment site, the guy on radio watch would have the three live rounds in a magazine of his M16, and the roving perimeter guard would carry an unloaded M16. (Once again, this was to serve the dual purpose of cutting down on suicides and preventing a loaded weapon from being stolen.) The three live rounds were supposed to be enough to fire warning shots if a potentially-threatening situation ever presented itself, and the sealed box of rounds was kept in reserve for the unlikely event that full hostilities erupted.

m16-5.56-rounds

That being said, in all my time at the border, even though one of the guards had three live rounds in a magazine, there was only one occasion when someone ever felt the need to load them.

During one of our deployments near OP Alpha, SPC Terry was on radio watch and I was the roving guard when a group of three nosy civilians bypassed our "You Will Be Shot" signs and started poking around the perimeter of our site. Everything was surrounded by a triple-ring of concertina wire so they could not get close to any of the equipment, but still - we didn't want anyone nosing around our location.

I think it was SGT Bullard who tried to warn them away in German, but they weren't leaving. After a few, tense minutes of arguing back and forth with the civilians, SPC Terry had had enough and started to walk over to our position. And as he did, he pulled back on the charging handle of his M16, and when he released it we all heard the audibly familiar and oddly reassuring sound of a 5.56 round as it slid into the chamber. There was no mistaking what that sound meant; that M16 was now ready for business - all SPC Terry needed to do was to rotate his M16's safety knob to "Fire" and point the weapon.

And yet these civilians still would not leave, so CW2 Klebo ordered one of us to "Hit one of the civilians hard enough to knock him on his ___." I don't recall if it was SGT Bullard or someone else from our group who complied with the order, but someone other than me used his M16 to execute a textbook "Butt-Stroke to the Chest" maneuver and the guy went flying backwards, after which the injured imbecile unleashed a tirade of German expletives as the three civilians quickly hobbled back to their car and angrily drove away.

image1072

To this day, I still think that these clueless civilians had it coming; they had walked past several signs which made it clear that entry into the area was forbidden and the use of deadly force was authorized, plus we had someone who was fluent in German explain several times to them that they needed to leave. Despite all of our efforts, we eventually needed to make our point in a more forceful manner; and if the situation had continued to escalate, it was good to know that someone with live rounds was standing only a few feet away.

Posted: Aug 22 2016, 12:07 by bob | Comments (0)
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Some of the Best Names in the Army

During my time in the Army I knew some people with very interesting names for their chosen profession, and here are just a few of my favorite examples.

When I was at DLI our unit had someone named SGT Kill. Considering the fact that the Army's unofficial job description is to "kill people and blow things up," her name was amazingly apropos.

At Fort Devens I knew a German Linguist named SPC Lauscher, whose last name means "eavesdropper" in German; it's like he was born for the job.

There was also a SGT Major at one of my units. He was actually a Sergeant by rank, and his last name just happened to be "Major," so for obvious reasons his name sounded downright powerful, didn't it? I never followed up to see how long he stayed in the Army, because his name could have been a lot more fun as he went through the ranks: Staff Sergeant Major, First Sergeant Major, Sergeant Major Major, Command Sergeant Major Major, etc.

But the following true story is the best:

When I reported to Fort Huachuca, I had already been in the Army over 4 years, so I had seen lots of instances of practical jokes played on new arrivals at each duty station. For example, a lot of pranksters employ "supply lists for newbies" to poke fun at their victims. (Everyone remembers new recruits asking for "Squelch Grease," "Chemlight Batteries," and "Grid Squares," right?) However, on one occasion when I actually needed something specific for one of our trucks, one of my coworkers said, "Go see Private Parts in the Supply Room." I laughed and replied, "Look, I didn't enlist yesterday; who really works in supply?" My colleague quickly responded, "No really - that's his name."

Feeling that I had been duped but still needing repair parts for my vehicle, I headed to supply, where I actually met with a guy named Private Parts. I'm not sure who had the bright idea of assigning a guy with that name to the supply room; that was either a cruel practical joke or a job that he was destined to do. In either case, I took one look at him and said, "Dude, the drill sergeants at Basic Training must have unleashed hell on you." He winced slightly and replied, "You don't know the half of it..."

Posted: Jun 29 2016, 01:33 by bob | Comments (0)
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More 511th History: Meeting a British Sergeant Major

I saw the following sketch from Monty Python, and it reminded me of a story which I will relate in a moment. But first, take a quick look at the video:

Here's the story: several years ago, (more years than I would care to admit), I was sent to a remote British outpost somewhere in Europe to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) for a few weeks. Although I was working with the RAF, the post was actually shared between the British Army and the RAF, so I saw plenty of people from both services during my tenure there.

The work that we were doing was somewhat secretive, so there were several security checkpoints through which everyone was required to pass in order to get to the building where work was done. This usually meant a lot of time standing in front of locked gates, looking up into a camera, saying your name into an intercom, and then waiting for some disembodied security guard to push a button to let you through to the next checkpoint.

One morning I was waiting at one of the gates when a Sergeant Major from the British Army stepped up beside me, and I swear he looked just like Michael Palin in the video that I shared - complete with dress uniform cap and a riding crop tucked under his arm.

I'm not quite sure how things work in the British military, but in the U.S. Army we were taught to render the "Greeting of the Day" to our superiors, so I stifled my urge to laugh as I snapped to a more formal position, and then I exclaimed, "Good Morning, Sergeant Major!" He made no reply, and his eyes barely flickered in my direction; somehow his expression managed to register no emotion or formal acknowledgement whatsoever.

But as the two of us continued our vigil outside the locked gate, his countenance slowly began to change. It was barely perceptible, but gradually the corners of his mouth began to turn downward, while at the same time his arm began to flex and the riding crop began to bow under the mounting tension. My silent companion was like spring which was steadily wound tighter and tighter, and sooner or later I knew that spring was going to break.

Eventually the buzzer sounded and the gate opened, after which the two of us parted ways as we headed off into our separate sections of the building. In a few minutes I was regaling my RAF colleagues with the tale of my awkward experience with the Sergeant Major, and there was plenty of laughter all around. But that being said, I was quietly certain that my RAF comrades-in-arms were surreptitiously rejoicing over the fact that they were not serving in that Army Sergeant Major's chain of command.

Posted: Dec 15 2015, 02:39 by bob | Comments (0)
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Time Marches On

Here are a pair of photos of my dad and brothers with me, and there is a difference of 25 years in between the two images. I stumbled across the second image as I was going through some old photos, and it was taken in 2011 at my daughter's wedding. The first image I have posted on Facebook before, and that photo was taken in 1987. It's kind of amazing to see what the passage of time does...

I don't know what the deal is with those other guys who all appear to have aged, but I haven't changed a bit.

Smile

Posted: Dec 05 2015, 01:17 by Bob | Comments (0)
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More 511th History: Happy 4th of July

Here's a 4th of July story for you from our days in the 511th...

Anyone who remembers Steve Meyers will recall that he had no fear - although sometimes he had no common sense, either. Steve backpacked across Europe with no cash as a teenager, wandered off in Turkey without knowing the language or telling anyone where he was going, and managed to pull off a two-week vacation using his MAC flight privileges to visit Athens, Jerusalem, and Cairo and still made it back in time for duty. Steve was an amazing guy who simply went where no one else would think to go.

But what some of you who joined the 511th after the Fall Of The Wall may not know is that our unit used to work with members of the British RAF before they rotated back to the UK. We deployed to the border with them several times, and a few of us were sent to work with the RAF somewhere further north (in locations about which we cannot speak). ;-)

Anyway, during one of those deployments along the border, we were having coffee with a few of the Brits, when Steve turned to them out-of-the-blue and asked, "So, how do you guys feel about when you lost the Revolutionary War? Are you guys still upset about that?"

For a flash of a second you probably could have heard a pin drop all the way across the border, then one of the Brits - without looking up from his coffee - replied in his best British accent, "Lost? I think not. We simply left it to you. Have you been home lately? Ah, what a piece-o-crap."

This comment was followed by a well-deserved round of laughter, and all was well in the world. :-D

Happy 4th of July everyone!

Posted: Jul 04 2015, 14:46 by Bob | Comments (0)
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