Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Being There

Being There is the third in a series of Reflections of a Cold War Warrior written by Steve Traywick. This series provides a rare behind-the-scenes view of what a recruit in the military experiences in the transformation from boy to warrior; from a kid next door to a man who is willing to give his life to keep you free. His first two posts, Every story has a beginning and this one is mine and Reflections of a Cold War Warrior are great reads!

Author: Steve Traywick

Saying that I was naive in those days would be a massive understatement. Even after Basic/AIT I was still a blank slate.  I knew how to wear my uniform.  I could march and salute. I could spitshine boots. But I still wasn’t a soldier.  I didn’t know it yet, but my real education was about to start…in all sorts of ways.

My first weekend in Fulda was uneventful.  At some point I found the two most important institutions on post; the chowhall and the PX.  Trust the most inexperienced G.I. to figure out in short order where to get fed and where to find beer.

The one event that stands out happened Saturday night.  I had bought a book at the PX and was lying on my bunk reading it when there was a booming knock on the door. Then it flew open and I

SSG Mark McDowell (Photo Courtesy of Steve Traywick)

SSG Mark McDowell
(Photo Courtesy of Steve Traywick)

met Mark McDowell.

He was a little over six feet tall; dark haired with a pockmarked face and what I’ve considered to be a Moroccan mustache.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d started his military career wearing a fez, riding a camel and carrying a saber.

A deep voice growled, “Who’re you and where’s Billy Carter?”

I vaguely knew that Billy Carter was my roommate.  I’d seen him twice.  He’d come into the room and given me a disgusted look and went to the shower.  He’d come back, get dressed and leave without a word.

I told him my name.

“My name’s Mac.  I’m your tank section sergeant.  You’ll probably be my loader but we’ll work that out later. ”

“Yes, sergeant.”

“I said my name’s Mac,” he responded

“Ok”

“Right…” He walked out leaving me scratching my head.

The only time I saw my roommate, Billy Carter, was when he’d come in from somewhere, take a shower and leave to go somewhere else.  He would occasionally look at me, shake his head and mutter something about a “fucking new guy”.  Other than that, I stayed beneath his contempt.

I found out later that Carter was short and short-timers simply didn’t have the time or desire to get to know anyone they didn’t already know. Their minds were on home and what they were going to do when they got there.  I think that’s an age old condition with all soldiers.

Other than meeting Mac, I was on my own until Monday morning.

Monday morning, I met 1st Platoon, B Troop 1/11 ACR. I didn’t know it yet, but for the next four years they would be home and family.

More training…

The next two weeks were taken up with in-processing and Head Start classes.  Head Start was two weeks of classes to acclimate incoming personnel to the language and customs of their host country; Germany in my case.  We were taken on a tour of Fulda, the high point of which was the

Dom Cathedral

Dom Cathedral

Dom cathedral.  The Dom was founded in the 700’s AD by St Patrick. I was raised Baptist and had never set foot in a Catholic church before.  The beauty of it and the sense of peace were breathtaking.  I wish I’d thought to go back. I’d love to go back now and just sit for a while.

We were taken on a walking tour of Kreis Fulda. Parts of the old wall that surrounded the city were still standing.  Houses had been built into the wall and people lived in them.  They still do as far as I know.  I was struck by how short the doorways were. I didn’t measure them, but they were well short of six feet tall. Our tour guide explained that each generation gets a little taller than the last one and that the doorway height reflected how tall people were when the houses were built.

We also drew TA50. This is equipment that belongs to the parent unit but is issued to the soldier for use during the time he is assigned to the unit.  It has to be signed for. It has to be returned in good order when the soldier leaves the unit to go to his next assignment.  It has to be in better shape when turned in than when issued.

Some comic had drawn a cartoon of a lieutenant holding an alligator at the issue counter.  The clerk behind the counter was saying “Well, if you didn’t want it, Sir, why did you sign for it?”

We were issued a sleeping bag, pistol belt, LBE (load bearing equipment; suspenders that attached to the pistol belt that kept the belt from slipping to one’s knees when all the required gear was attached), canteen and cover, wet weather jacket and trousers, overshoes (priceless in Germany), cold weather parka with liner and hood, field Jacket liner and scarf (also priceless), steel pot, liner and camouflage cover, ammo pouch for .45 magazines (not CLIPS!), rucksack and straps (we’re tankers and we ride, for Christ’s sake!). The list and pile of gear seemed to go on forever. Sign for all this gear. Cram it into two duffle bags. Haul it to the barracks. Assemble what needs to be assembled. Learn from a buddy what needs to be stashed in a ready bag and stash it. Store the

M60A1 Patton tank during 8th 'Tank Day' in Military Technical Museum Lešany.

M60A1 Patton tank during 8th ‘Tank Day’ in Military Technical Museum Lešany.

rest in the prescribed military manner.

Germany was cold most of the time.  It seems like they only had about two months of semi-warm

temperatures and for one month out of those two it was raining.  Most of the TA-50 issued was to keep the soldier from freezing or getting frostbite.  I won’t go into each item issued or this would read like a Tom Clancy novel.

After Headstart, I joined the platoon. There was only one small problem. We didn’t have any tanks

The M60A3 main battle tank (Courtesy of Army-Technology)

The M60A3 main battle tank (Courtesy of Army-Technology)

.  The Squadron had turned in the M60A1’s and was waiting to draw the M60A3 tanks, the tank I had trained on in AIT.  We weren’t due to transition until January. [Editor’s note: Glad nothing happened where tanks were needed!]

I spent Thanksgiving at Mark McDowell’s house offpost.  Most of the platoon was there.  There was a keg or two of beer and Mac and his roommate had cooked a huge turkey with all the trimmings.

Thanksgiving Dinner (Courtesy of Keath Beaty Toronto Star)

Thanksgiving Dinner
(Courtesy of Keath Beaty Toronto Star)

Not bad for a couple of bachelor NCO’s.  There were also a couple of pieces of hash there.  Almost everyone got nice and high and then had dinner.  The most amazing thing I remember about that day was the completely stripped turkey skeleton left on the platter.  There wasn’t a shred of meat left anywhere.

 

[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.]

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