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This node will make a lot more sense if you read I joined the Army in order to die, and they sent me where I could die first.

In 1979, very few soldiers arriving in Germany went directly to their units. This was because the Army, huge bureaucracy that it was, was terrible at internal communications and didn't always match the supply of freshly trained grunts, omelet drivers, tongue-tied teletype manglers, et cetera to the units that actually needed them, even assuming that the Training and Doctrine Command had produced the right combination of square pegs to match all the round holes to start with.* So it was that most soldiers got off the plane at Rhein-Main Air Base, just outside of Frankfurt, and went to the Seventh Army Replacement Battalion, whose job it was to put the right soldiers in the right slots.

Most soldiers didn't stay long at the repple-depple; the clerks assigned there would glance at their orders, check to see that the slot was still open, and send them on their way with tickets for the railroad or a phone call to the unit (if it was located in the Frankfurt area) to come get their newbie. Some people would arrive in the morning and be gone before lunch; most of the others would be gone by the end of the day. I wasn't most soldiers. 98Gs were in perennial short supply, because most linguists were pretty sick and tired of dealing with the Army after four years of active duty, and the reenlistment rate was pretty awful despite the reenlistment bonuses, which were among the highest in the Army. (You could easily make $30,000 for a six-year reenlistment, and in 1979 that was still quite a bit of cash.) Sometimes people did reenlist, though, and that would put a kink in the pipe of the replacement process until somebody came along to bang on the side and get the flow going again.

After a couple of days watching several hundred other soldiers flow through the depot while I remained stuck there, I got impatient. I was trapped in a unit that treated me marginally better than a basic trainee but worse than I was used to after a year at Monterey and four largely hungover months at Goodfellow and Devens, and I was tired of it. I knew where I was supposed to go. My orders were very clear and specific. They did not say, "Proceed to the Seventh Army Replacement Battalion and hang out for an indefinite period while they scratch their asses and decide what to do with you." They said, "Proceed directly to the 340th ASA Company (Regimental Support), 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, APO NY XXXXXX" I took a copy of my orders and went to one of the depot clerks. I explained the situation calmly while looming over his desk dressed in my Class As, which already had the Blackhorse Regiment patch sewed on. Clerk swallowed and gave me a ticket for the Inter-City train to Fulda. I caught the shuttle to the Frankfurt Bahnhof, where despite my poor command of German I managed to find the correct train and an empty second-class compartment. It was a great train ride, much more comfortable and fun than the miserable Amtrak ride from Baltimore to St. Louis that had started my Army career. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and this one ended at Downs Barracks, home to the 340th ASA and Headquarters, 11th ACR. I was greeted by the charge of quarters, who had been in a German class at DLI slightly ahead of mine, who informed me that the company was already overstrength - due to a lack of barracks and motorpool space, they were operating on a 30% "slice" of their table of organization and equipment. I also got to meet the company commander, who was pleased at my initiative, determination, and obvious affection for the unit, but regretfully informed me that he had no room for me. He also passed on the word that Seventh Army was Not Pleased with me and wanted me back first thing Saturday morning.

So I got to spend the night in the transit barracks at Fulda before getting a lift back to the train station and taking the train back to Frankfurt. On arrival at the replacement depot, I got a chilly reception. The clerks didn't appreciate me gumming up the works, and a staff sergeant expressed this sentiment to me in great detail. Not yet having learned to shut my mouth, I replied that if someone had bothered to tell me what was going on, maybe I wouldn't have insisted on being shipped out to a unit that was already overstrength. Staff sergeant glared but had no reply. It was a hollow conversational victory, since I spent another three days hanging around the depot before getting my orders amended. My new home was going to be the 331st ASA Company (Ops Fwd) in Karlsruhe, two hours south of Frankfurt by train. So much for the paths of glory, I thought grumpily. A corps support company on the French border, bah.

Which shows you how stupid I was.

*There were instances where TRADOC screwed the pooch in dramatic fashion. At one point, there was a Europe-wide shortage of cooks; at the same time, Field Station Berlin had a temporary excess of DF operators and Morse Code interceptors. The unhappy sigint specialists were promptly assigned to permanent KP in the Andrews Barracks mess hall under the supervision of the none-too-pleased pair of cooks remaining at FSB, one of whom was exiled to the Field Station while the other rode herd on the disgruntled KPs at Andrews. Later, one of these canine sexual encounters would lead to my promotion to sergeant despite the wishes of my company cadre. But that's another story.

This is part of a series of nodes tentatively titled Sixteen Years Before The (Antenna) Mast: My Life In The Bush With SIGINT. The next node in the series is She Lit Her Thumb On Fire. Your understanding of what the heck is going on in here will be increased if you read Army Security Agency.

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