Reflections of A Cold War Warrior
Author: Steve Traywick
1979…not a very good year. Our country had recently celebrated its two hundredth birthday. The war in Vietnam was still a fresh memory for many veterans. The Watergate Scandal had toppled a president and was still an open sore. Jimmy Carter was president. The economy was terrible with double digit interest rates and gasoline shortages. No one knew it yet, but all hell was about to break lose in the Middle East.
Through this mess wandered a lost kid; me. I was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist home. I went
to a Fundamentalist Baptist high school. The people I attended church with would have made Westboro Baptist Church look like a bunch of bleeding heart liberals.
In 1978, my father had walked out on the family. I spent that summer with missionary friends in Honduras to get my head together and supposedly stay out of trouble and off drugs. The central highlands of Honduras are good for getting one’s head together, but they grew some of the best pot I ever came across.
Returning to the States I worked a few dead end jobs, but nothing I was really interested in. My one saving grace from being totally ignorant was that I had an early interest in reading. I’d read anything I could get my hands on but especially military history. The Yom Kippur war was fought in 1973 and I read some of the earliest accounts of it. I was impressed with how the IDF Armor Corps saved Israel from annihilation.
I’m not sure where I got the idea to go into the military from. My father, who’d served in the Navy as a hospital corpsman wanted me to go into the Marines. Of course, that wouldn’t work. I was just rebellious enough and over the age of 18 that whatever he wanted me to do I was going to do the opposite.
In the spring of 1979 I wandered into an Army recruiting station in Chattanooga, TN. I told the recruiter that I wanted to be on tanks and wanted to go to Europe. I also told him I didn’t want to be a mechanic or have to work on them. I don’t know how he managed to tell me with a straight face that that wouldn’t be a problem. I had no idea that anyone could type as fast as he did on that paperwork. I suppose he knew he had a live one and didn’t want to let me get away.
I won’t go into detail about Army Basic Training/AIT/OSUT. We all went through it. It’s the initiation one has to go through to join a very special fraternity. Everyone has stories about hard assed drill sergeants and the screw up in your platoon and the first time you got really drunk drinking PBR through a straw, ad nauseum.
A person has to go through that initiation to be part of the fraternity. You learn: How to dress; How to speak; How to walk; and The customs and courtesies. You lose your hair and civilian clothes to lose yourself in the anonymity of the whole. More lessons; Learning to do as you’re told immediately and without question. Learning the thousand and one details that make one a soldier. I can only speak for the Army and I can only speak for Armor. I know the other branches go through basically the same process.
When it’s over, you’re a soldier. Yet, something’s missing. You’d seen the unit patches on your drill sergeant’s and permanent party’s sleeves, but you don’t have one. You’re part of the Army, but that’s it…for now.
After AIT, there’s leave to let Mom know that you’re ok. It’s a chance to wear the uniform and maybe impress the girls back home. Maybe there’s a quiet word of advice or encouragement from the old veterans. Then you’re gone again.
In my case, there was a flight to Charleston, SC followed by a very long flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I got off the plane feeling folded, spindled and mutilated. I’d never had to deal with jet
lag before. There was a blurry day or two at the reception center in Frankfurt. Then assignments were handed out. I was going to something called the 11th ACR (whatthehell is an ACR???) in a place called Fulda (never heard of it).
“11th Cavalry”? Jesus, I haven’t rode a horse in years! I trained to be a tanker! Stupid Army!” Yeah, I was that young and dumb.
A dark, blurry bus ride… I think I slept the entire time. I was dumped out with bag and baggage in front of an antique looking building. I was told I was going to B Troop (“Whatthehell is a TROOP? This is getting weird!” On the walk over to B Troop (whatever that was) a few soldiers called out “NEW GUY!!!”
“B” Troop was another antique looking building. I checked in with the CQ (at least I knew what that was) and was issued sheets and a couple of blankets and taken up several flights of stairs to the top floor. “I think you’re going to first platoon. This is Billy Carter’s room. I have no idea where he is. Make yourself at home. Someone will probably be around tomorrow to help you get squared away. We’re off this weekend.” This was on Friday night.
I was in a four man room. Only one other bunk was made up. I took one, made the bunk in the prescribed way, and gratefully climbed into it and passed out.
[Editor’s Note: Steve Traywick was born in Union City, Tennessee on April 11, 1958 but grew up in Houston, Texas. Steve went into the Army in June 1979 as a 19E10 (M60A3) Tank Crewman. He arrived in Fulda FRG, Germany in November 1979. Strategically important during the Cold War because it was an area where tanks could invade, The Fulda Gap is situated between what used to be the East German border and Frankfurt. Steve was assigned to B Trp 1/11 ACR and served there until January 1984 when he was transferred to A Co 2/8 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. Steve continued his service with the 1st Cavalry Division until he left the service in 1989.]