Back around the time the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union fell apart and Germany won the World Cup, yours truly was in Charlie Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery, a Lance missile battalion located on Fiori Barracks in Germany.
Fiori Barracks, where anti-nuke protesters once locked themselves to the gates to tell us if we didn’t cut it out we were going to blow up the world, is now a sort of subsidized housing area, I’ve read. And like those of us stationed there, Lance missiles are a thing of the distant past.
Still, should you be so inclined you can find videos on YouTube of what a grunt once described to me as “ cartoon rockets.” I will say the first time I ever got near a Lance at a live fire it was a revelation and I have wanted my own ever since.
That was at the NATO Missile Firing Installation on Crete, where one morning I endeared myself to the Greek housemaids (all about 4-foot-2 with mustaches) for a reason I might or might not delve into later in this column. If not, well, let it suffice to say for us junior enlisted Army peons Crete was sort of like Vegas in that what happened in Crete stayed in Crete.
That meant should you get too much ouzo in you and run amok in downtown Chania after curfew and evade the first sergeant and battery commander long enough and then somehow invite every stray dog on the island back to share your barracks room because you just like the company of dogs, it eventually would become the stuff of tall tales and might wind up on an opinion page such as this one on Veterans Day, but it wouldn’t get you an Article 15 unless you really messed up.
And that brings me to this. When people tell me thanks for my service or I get my 10 percent discount at Lowes and the free license and tag, well, I really ought to remember to tell them it was my privilege. I’m not owed anything.
As a soldier serving in peacetime on the tail end of the Cold War, I got more than I gave. I was decently paid and had free food and lodging and a physical fitness regime. I got money for a college education. I got free clothes and health care. I even got to shoot machine guns and land mines and anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers and nobody locked me up for being a nut.
And, I got to go to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Aschaffenburg and Hanau, Germany – and Crete! – and then I got to come back to a place I lived at as a kid, good old Fort Stewart, to finish up. I didn’t even have to buy my own gas.
But no place was quite like Aschaffenburg and no battery was quite like Charlie Battery and no battalion was quite like the 3/12 FA.
I can say with conviction that I’d have stayed 20 years as a career E4 if I could’ve done them all in the 3/12 with the people in that unit at that time, but we were disbanded and some of us went into the 1st Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery and others went home.
The 32nd had its moments, mostly because by then Desert Storm was over and when we weren’t going on mandatory trips to the General Walker Hotel to have fun we were leisurely burning classified maps on Fleigerhorst Kaserne and drinking Apfelwein and chasing girls named Petra who didn’t shave their armpits very often if at all. That was my job for about eight solid months and I wasn’t that bad at it for a sawed off little troll from Upstate, South Carolina.
My wife says my days of chasing hairy-pitted girls are over no matter their name, but I wouldn’t mind a cold bottle of German apple wine or a hot cup of German spiced wine to knock the chill off around Christmas time.
On Veterans Day I tend to talk to buddies about what we got to do and what we got to see and how much we’d like to go back sometimes and do it again. Sure, there were times you hated it all, but the memories are mostly golden and so I’m a rich man no matter what’s in my bank account.
On this Veterans Day, weird as this might sound, thanks for my service.