In early 1982 B Troop 1st Squadron 11th Armored Cavalry was a rough and tumble outfit.
Like every other combat arms unit in the Army we were convinced that we were the best. While we were technically and tactically proficient, we lacked Army discipline. We did have a somewhat Wild West, hands on brand of discipline, in that it wasn’t unheard of for an NCO to knock some sense into an unruly private behind the tank line in the motor pool.
Of course, the barracks could be a zoo on the weekends. Paydays, about a third of the troops would be in the clubs downtown trying to meet girls or in the brothels doing the same. Most of the rest of the guys would have made substantial investments in cases of beer or bottles of liquor and be sitting barracks rooms playing poker, tonk, or spades. There was the occasional fight. These were usually over and forgotten in a matter of minutes. As long as the fight didn’t turn into a riot or the music get too loud no one bothered us. By Sunday afternoon we would begin putting the barracks back together for Monday morning inspection.
We were just kids. Oh, we thought we were grown men. After all, we wore the country’s uniform and operated her most state-of-the-art (at the time) equipment. We had a tough job. We kept a watchful eye on the Russian Bear. We were ready to confront the Bear if he decided to cross the line onto our turf. We often froze on jeep patrols along the Iron Curtain. Most of the country wasn’t even aware that we were in Germany with a mission. And no one ever bothered to thank us for our service, not that we cared.
I met a young American woman in a gasthaus one night and in true GI fashion tried to get to know her better. She was amazed that there were so many Americans around Fulda. I explained to her that we were an Army unit and what our job was. She asked what the unit was called. When I told her that we were the Eleventh Cavalry, she looked me straight in the eye and said “I didn’t know the Army still used horses.”
I’m originally from West Tennessee. We pride ourselves on being able to tell outrageous tall tales and keep a straight face. Explaining to the young lady how trying it was to patrol the Grenze on horseback in the dead of Winter in five even sometimes ten feet of snow took all the self-control I possessed.
We didn’t know it, but the party was about to end because Lucifer was coming to B Troop.
1st Sergeant Luther B. Brunner stood about five foot eleven inches and weighed in at about one hundred seventy five pounds. He had a runner’s build and ice blue eyes. The blue eyes of a psychotic, rabid Siberian Husky. He was a Vietnam veteran, a former drill sergeant (not something to make a line dog feel warm and fuzzy), and a former member of the Third Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) which was established in 1784 and is the ceremonial unit for the US Army. They conduct funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and provide the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Every inch of the man screamed out “SOLDIER”. Any 1st Sergeant who could post a framed photo of himself wearing a Continental Line uniform (complete with powdered wig and tri-corn hat) on the wall of his office without embarrassment was a special kind of badass; unfortunately, for us, we didn’t realize it for quite a while.
Brunner opened the ball with a complete top to bottom barracks inspection followed an in-ranks inspection. Both were pronounced unsatisfactory. The BDU uniform was just being made available to troops. Of course, Brunner had at least four starched sets. The toes of his boots were mirrors. He expected us to appear as he appeared; perfect, immaculate. We rarely bothered to do more than a brush shine on our boots for guard mount and then only to possibly to ‘make the man’ and get a day off. Brunner expected us to be and appear to be soldiers. Shoe brushes were put away and there was a run on cloth diapers at the PX. Instead of brush shines, spit shines started to appear. An approving nod from Brunner meant more than a DSM. There was no disapproving shake of the head. The bill of the BDU cap was about four inches wide. If a soldier failed to meet Brunner’s standards, he would slide the bill of his cap under the bill of the offending soldier’s cap; the steel blue eyes would lock onto the frightened eyes of the offender; Brunner would give a cold, little smile and announce “Son, I will FUCK YOU UP! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?” A squeaky “yes, first sergeant” would be the response and God help the kid who was found with the same deficiency twice. The Troop’s appearance began to improve.
Early on Brunner announced that the Troop’s physical fitness was lacking. From now on, the troop would run a minimum of three miles a day (as opposed to the maybe two) and would work up to a ten mile run. This from a man who ran five miles to post, led the three mile run, and then ran the five miles back home in the evening. 1st Sergeant Luther Brunner NEVER bullshitted. The daily run did in fact increase to three miles a day. The Troop ran as a unit with the CO leading and Brunner as enforcer. The CO lead, but the run was all Brunner’s. God help the young troop that couldn’t maintain the pace. The further and faster we ran; the better we looked, the higher the pride and esprit of the Troop rose.
Came the day we fell out for PT and found three deuce and a half trucks parked in front of the barracks. Muttered “Oh shits” went through the ranks. “Get on them Goddamn trucks!!!” We complied. “Pack it in! Make your buddy smile!” The rear flaps were lowered and secured. We didn’t know where we were going. If you fell out of the run, how would you know where you were and how to get back to post? Brunner was a devious sonofabitch.
The trucks moved out. We rocked back forth in the backs. The temperature was about 35
degrees. After about thirty minutes the trucks stopped. “Get off them goddamn trucks and fall in!” We complied. Brunner didn’t mess around. While still numb, we were given a right face and moved from quick time to double time. We moved out in an ‘Airborne shuffle’. The run went on and on. Very few fell out, and if they did, they made sure to keep the Troop formation in sight.
The run went on and on. Tired and footsore, we began to feel good about ourselves. We could see Church Hill in the distance. We knew were getting at least within a couple miles of post. But, for some reason we turned off the main highway. Instead of passing Church Hill on our left, we seemed to going straight toward it. We not only ran toward it, we ran up it the 500 meter high switchback road that was the hill. We were heart-sore, footsore and outraged! Of all the low down, sorry, dirty tricks! Once to the top, the pace slowed and the troop circle the crown of the hill until all stragglers had caught up and then retraced our footsteps down. After that, it was an easy two kilometer trot to post.
We had done it! We had done the infamous Brunner ten mile! Our feet and muscles hurt. We ached, but we had done it! At recall formation that evening it was announced that PT would again be at 0600 the next morning as usual. Faces fell and curses were muttered. We were going to run regular PT next morning in spite of the feat we had just performed. Well, screw Brunner! Bastard! We’ll just by God do it and show him!
0600 next morning…we fell in for PT. We did the usual daily dozen exercises to warm up. We then made a right face and headed out the usual route for the daily run. We were pissed. We were still sore. As we headed for the front gate, we moved from quick time to double time. Instead of heading out for the gate, we suddenly made a right turn as if to go around the parade field. A hundred meters and then another right turn; and again and again and we were suddenly standing back in front of our barracks. A left face and then “FALL OUT!” We had run an entire half mile. Brunner was on his way to being an enlisted man’s hero.
Often, we ran as a Troop on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Usually, Tuesday and Thursday were ‘Platoon PT’. On an early spring morning, 1st platoon left out on a platoon run. The Sergeant in charge, a young E5 named Day was leading. He had already told us. “A klick to Haimbach and a klick back. No sweat”. So, the morning began. We did, indeed do the Klick to Haimbach (the first small crossroads town up from the barracks), but we did not turn around.
In every group of young soldiers there’s usually at least one that will say some smartass
thing regardless of the situation. On this particular morning, the young smartass happened to be me.
“Where the hell you going, suckass?” I yelled from near the rear of the formation.
“DID I JUST HEAR YOU CALL THAT SERGEANT A ‘SUCKASS’ SPECIALIST???” Came the voice of God behind me.
“No, first sergeant.”
“BULLSHIT!!! I KNOW WHAT I HEARD! WE’RE GONNA TALK ABOUT THIS SHIT WHEN WE GET BACK!!!’
Oh, my dear God in Heaven! That’s Brunner! I’m dead! I AM FUCKING DEAD!!! I’ll be a buck private by lunchtime. I’ll probably be in Leavenworth by Monday. Oh JESUS! I’m fairly sure my heart had stopped beating. I’m not sure whether not I peed my pants.
We got back to the barracks and fell out. No one spoke to me. I only receive some sympathetic looks and head shakes. My buddies were sympathetic but no one wanted to get to close to the condemned. Scenes from the old TV western, Branded flashed through my mind. The condemned marched to the doors of the fort. The buttons ripped from his uniform. His sword broken (never mind that I didn’t have a sword). His hat ripped from his head. The gates of the fort closed. The condemned would now be me.
I went home to change into my duty uniform. I bid my wife goodbye. I was sure I was on my way to a court martial. I would be lucky If I weren’t in Leavenworth within a couple of days. I went to work. I went to work and made it through first formation. None spoke to me, but my platoon sergeant did give a sympathetic shake of his head. We marched down to the motor pool to do whatever work we had going on that day. About midmorning, while standing on the front slope of my tank, I happened to look down the vehicle line to see my platoon sergeant and Brunner walking together. They were obviously coming to get me. The MPs were probably right behind them. The only thing I could think of to do was get out of sight. I climbed over the turret, scampered across the back deck and dropped behind the tank line. Not knowing what else to do, I went and had a cigarette behind the equipment conex.
About ten minutes later, platoon sergeant came around the conex chuckling.
“What are you doing back here, Traywick?”
“What you think I’m doing back here, Sarge?”
“Yeah, well, the First Sergeant saw you take off and wanted to talk to you.”
“Sarge, I really didn’t want to talk to him.”
“Yeah, he figured that so he told me to give you these.”
Sarge dropped a set of sergeant’s stripes in my hand.
“Congrats, son, you’re an acting jack.”
“Sarge, you know as well as I do that the only reason he’s giving me those is so he can have the pleasure of ripping them off again.”
“Well, try not to screw up too bad and maybe he won’t.”
[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.]
Other Posts by Steve Traywick
- Reflections of a Cold War Warrior
- Every story has a beginning and this one is mine
- Reflections of a Cold War Warrior Being There
- Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Duty
- Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Continue the Mission
- Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – The Men
- Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Christmas
- The Green