Continue the Mission is the fifth 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 was willing to give his life to keep you free. His first three posts, Every story has a beginning and this one is mine, Reflections of a Cold War Warrior, Reflections of a Cold War Warrior Being There, and Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Duty are great reads!
Author: Steve Traywick
“If you mess around and inadvertently cross the border and the East Germans pick you up, we don’t know you!” Squadron border briefing
Prior to taking over border duty, the entire troop had to sit through a border briefing. The briefing was primarily for new guys that had never been up to the border before. It consisted of a slide show of the East German border troops, their towers, the fence, their vehicles and aircraft. We were not to try to speak to the East Germans. We were not to make any hand gestures such as letting them know they were number one. If we did and they got a photograph of it with our name tags, we would be in hot water.
When a troop had border duty there was always something going on. Chances were that if a trooper wasn’t pulling tower duty, ops duty, gate-guard, roving guard or standby squad he was out on patrol. There were two types; jeep and ‘air insertion’. Jeep patrols were run out of OP Alpha day and night regardless of weather.
There were usually two jeeps and six men per patrol. Each jeep had a driver and observer. The patrol leader and assistant patrol leader would each ride in the shotgun seat of a jeep.
We didn’t have a patrol road like the East Germans did on their side. Our patrols followed old trails, muddy farm roads, and the occasional hard ball or paved road. There were a series of numbered check points running along the border from Third Squadron’s sector in the north to Second Squadron’s sector in the south. These check points usually coincided with an East German tower. The patrol would make its way to each check and radio in their arrival. If a tower were occupied or there was some activity a spot report would be sent out to the ops room at OP Alpha and from there to Squadron border ops and on up the chain to Corps.
Jeep patrols in the winter were usually brutal. The jeeps were open and had little or no heat. We would stuff ourselves into every bit of clothes we had: Long johns, wool socks (usually two pair), heavy field pants with liner, a sweater, wool shirt, winter coveralls, parka and liner, overshoes or extreme cold weather boots (Mickey Mouse boots), a scarf, pile cap and gloves or Artic mittens. Along with all that, we would wear our LBE (pistol belt and suspenders with a canteen, ammo pouch, and first aid kit; our steel helmets, gas mask and personal weapon would round it all out.
We always carried a map and set of binoculars in each jeep and sealed ammo cans with live ammunition. We all carried empty magazines for our weapons but weren’t supposed to put even an empty mag in a weapon when on patrol. We generally ignored this and kept a loaded mag in our weapons when out. We all had some amount of scrounged ammunition from going to the small arms ranges. Our attitude was better locked and loaded than sorry. Even though we rarely expected trouble, we knew the BT’s kept loaded magazines in their AKMs. If that was good enough for them, it was good enough for us; screw Regimental Border Ops.
Night patrol in the winter was one of the most miserable experiences a soldier could go through. Depending on the weather, usually cold and either raining, misting or snowing and, with the condition of the trails and roads, night patrol usually took all night. We would roll back into OP Alpha half frozen and wind burned, usually to hot coffee or soup and heat to help us thaw out. There would be a debriefing to report anything unusual and then off for some much-needed sleep.
The two platoons that stayed in the rear had their own jobs to do, too. One platoon would wait for its turn to move up to the OP for their two week tour. The platoon not slated to go up that trip would provide any support needed and conduct foot patrols.
The foot patrols were supposed to be inserted by helicopter, but no one usually bothered coordinating with the air squadron for a couple of Huey’s to fly the patrol up the to the insertion point. Instead a two and a half ton truck (deuce and a half) was laid on with a driver to drive the patrol up to the start point for the patrol. The guys on patrol would dismount and start their walk; the truck would drive to the pick- up point and wait for them. Foot patrols did basically the same thing the jeep patrols did. They would walk an eight to ten kilometer stretch of the border and report any activity they saw.
On my first foot patrol, some genius thought I should be an M60 machine gunner after we left OP Alpha. The M60 machinegun was an infantry or scout weapon. I had seen them but had never handled one before. I had no idea what I would do with it if I needed to use it. To top it off, I had no ammunition for it so it was about as useless as tits on a boar hog. It was too heavy and bulky to even use to butt stroke anyone.
As we hiked the trace, we were walking along the face of a hill. The border was to the downside about twenty meters away. Before I knew what was happening, my feet slid out from under me and I was sliding down the hill clutching the M60. As the border post passed in front of my face, the words of the Squadron briefer came back to me; “If you cross the border and the East Germans pick you up, we’ll deny that you’re one of ours.”
When I finally came to a stop, I only hesitated a second before I rolled over and started pumping my legs trying to get some traction and get back up the hill. As my boots couldn’t get a grip into the slick grass my legs felt like they were running ninety miles per hour while my body barely made any headway. The M60 hanging around my neck certainly didn’t help. My hands pulled at the grass trying to help with the climb.
When I finally got to the border marker, I wrapped my arms around it and made sure I was on the west side of it. Safe, I continued up the hill. The patrol had stopped to wait for the new guy. I did notice that no one had come down to help me. The patrol leader, SSG Bala, stood there grinning at me.
“You through fucking around, new guy?”
I managed to pant out a “Yes.”
“Good, Charlie Mike.”
And we continued the mission.
[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.]