This is part of a series of nodes tentatively titled Sixteen Years Before The (Antenna) Mast: My Life In The Bush With SIGINT. The previous node in the series is Berlin to the end of the line. The next node is Tools of the trade. Your understanding of what the heck is going on in here will be increased if you read Army Security Agency.
I don't remember very much about the summer of 1982, which is unfortunate since the events of those months derailed me from the path I was on into a completely different life that I hadn't planned for at all. It's my own fault; I was extremely drunk or asleep most of the time when I wasn't on duty, and for a good part of the summer I was on duty for about sixteen to twenty hours a day preparing for the annual IG inspection. The business with S hit me a lot harder than it really should have, but I was young and stupid and like most men my age, didn't know shit about women, something being in the Army didn't help with. So of course instead of talking to somebody about my fucked up state of mind, I did what millions of soldiers, Spaniards and Irishmen before me had done when confronted with unpleasant reality: I drank, and I drank hard.
Now, the great thing about being the unit armorer for the 331st ASA Company was that due to the flakiness of our new first sergeant, I was exempted from the morning PT formation and duty rosters. This was Dumb with a capital D; there was never a time in my military career when I didn't need PT to stay in shape, and since about half the company was made up of buck sergeants due to the low promotion score requirements of the 98 CMF (I may have been the only 98G in Europe who was actually promoted in the primary zone) my name would only come up on the CQ duty roster once every couple of months. Still, there it was; I was exempt from PT, which allowed me to sleep in until 0530, take a leisurely shower while everyone else was out running the streets of Gerszewski Kaserne in formation, and amble down to the mess hall fifteen minutes after it opened so as to miss the opening rush. This morning routine allowed me to nurse my hangovers in relative peace and quiet before I went to morning formation and from there to the arms room. Four hours later, it was time for lunch, and then an afternoon in the arms room, followed by dinner. Sometimes I'd skip dinner and just grab a brat in the bowling alley, which was the watering hole of choice for the 331st1. Then I'd drink half-liters of German beer until the bowling alley closed around midnight, go back to the barracks, and crawl into bed. And Tuesday through Friday were much the same. On weekends I kept to my room for the most part, drinking Myers' dark rum that I'd bought at the Class Six store mixed with Coke, emerging occasionally to use the latrine, shower, or go to the mess hall for food. The only thing that changed this routine was preparation for the IG, which started sometime in June, if I remember correctly, and this served mainly to reduce my drinking by the amount of time I spent in the arms room after dinner. Well, sometimes I'd go over to the enlisted club if they were having one of their occasional country music nights, and get sloshed on their booze instead of my own. For a change of pace. Several months went by like this.
Sometime in the middle of this semi-conscious drunken/hungover/rinse/lather/repeat cycle, I got an Article 15. Remember back when I went on leave right after the exercise following my Berlin TDY? My old platoon sergeant hadn't forgotten, and he'd written me up for disobedience of a direct order, to wit: failure to clean my field gear as per his direction. I didn't fight it. It was trivial bullshit, I thought, and apparently the company commander thought so too, because all I got was thirty days' restriction to quarters -- no reduction in rank, no forfeiture of pay, nothing. Since I was in the middle of preparing for the IG, I hardly left the barracks anyway, so I signed and got it over with. Then I went back to work in the arms room.
We passed the IG with flying colors, not that I got so much as a thank you for it. It wasn't too long after that, as summer began to elide into fall, that I woke up one morning utterly unable to remember anything about the previous few months. They were just...gone. A little over three months of my life literally pissed away. After that, I still drank, but not with the single-minded aim of getting hammered every night. I went out on the weekends and did stuff: volksmarsches, day trips to places I'd seen on wargame maps, and as the wine harvest got underway, I took the train north along the Weinstrasse and stopped at several small towns to visit the winefests.2 I'd always been fond of German wine, but toward the end of my tour I started buying it in case assortments from a local wine vendor who kept his stock in his cellar - and I mean the basement of his house.
It was during this time that I managed to make it onto the battalion's Nijmegen march team, a bizarre experience that deserves its own writeup, went out to REFORGER for the third and last time3, and had the door close rather firmly on my regular Army career. You see, ever since Basic I'd had a hard time keeping the weight off, and spent most of my time in uniform on the weight control program. Now, if I hadn't had the Article 15, they would have given me a waiver for the weight; conversely, if I hadn't been a fatbody, they would have waivered the Article 15. Pretty frustrating; they were paying out a very hefty reenlistment bonus for 98Gs at the time, five times one's annual salary, and there were rumors that with the economy picking up back home, they were going to reintroduce the GI Bill. Since I didn't have six months left in my enlistment once my two years in Germany were up in August, they extended me through the end of my four years and gave me a "December drop" so I could spend Christmas with my folks instead of in Germany. Most of my friends had gone back to the World or re-enlisted already, so it didn't hurt quite so much to leave in the beginning of December while the unit was out on winter exercises. I'd shipped most of my stuff home; all I was carrying was my B-4 and my duffle bag and a pair of issue boots that I hadn't worn in years. They were tied together by the laces, and after I threw my bags in the back seat of the retention NCO's car, I turned around and slung them into the air like a bola so that they looped around the empty sign brackets on the front porch roof of our barracks. Then I got in the car, and we drove to Frankfurt for the last time.
1 The NCO club was at a different kaserne, and the enlisted club in our kaserne was entirely too full of combat engineers, quite aside from their habit of playing disco five times a week.
2 I never did get around to visiting Munich for Oktoberfest. From all reports, it was a great time if you were into drunken brawling.
3 It would be my second REFORGER with the Signal Platoon; there was a shortage of teletype operators with Top Secret Compartmentalized clearances, and since as unit armorer I was just hanging around the company trains area anyway...