In any large organization, there will always be a few malcontents. In that respect, the military services are no different from any other organization.
Now during the days of the draft, I could understand why some would have a bad attitude towards the Army – even if I couldn’t agree with it. Hell, I’m not completely sure it’s coincidence that “drafted” and “shafted” rhyme. (smile)
However, by the mid-1970s or so, that justification – as meager as it was – for having a bad attitude was gone. By then, virtually anyone serving was a volunteer (I think we still had a draft for selected healthcare professionals, but that was it). Everyone serving then had either raised their hand voluntarily when they first signed up – or they’d stayed on voluntarily after their draftee term of service had ended. So by that point in time, well, malcontents were just that: malcontents.
As malcontents do everywhere, sometimes in the Army they’d try to “get even” with “the man” – e.g., their chain-of-command. Usually, that didn’t work out so well. Whenever “Joe” made such an attempt, “Joe” generally forgot two key points:
- (Stuff) flows downhill; and
- Joe lives at the bottom of the hill.
However, every once in a while Joe managed to pull a good one. And I’m about to relate one such, as told to me by an acquaintance about 30 years ago.
Standard disclaimer: I didn’t see this firsthand; it’s a second-hand story. But the source claimed to have firsthand knowledge, and it’s an individual I trust. So I believe what follows to be the truth; any errors in relating it are mine.
Here’s what happened one day . . . .
. . .
Time: between late 1977 and late 1982 (other clues say it was probably in 1980 or 1981)
Unit: an Army combat support unit of company size
Scene: a field site during an exercise
Background, for non-Army types:
- In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Army’s primary focus was Europe (remember, this was during the height of the Cold War).
- While most Army combat units (infantry, artillery, armor, air defense) in Europe at the time (and in the Army in general) had tracked vehicles, many of the support units primarily used wheeled vehicles. And even in combat divisions, many of the support vehicles were wheeled vehicles.
- Combat support units often had electronic equipment. Putting this equipment in tents after setting up an operating location usually didn’t work out so well. So many units had shelterized configurations for that electronic equipment. These shelters were big metal boxes – formally called S-250 shelters and S-280 shelters – mounted on the back of 1 1/4 ton or 2 1/2 ton trucks; their purpose was to provide some degree of environmental protection for the equipment. They were actually quite mobile; it was really amazing where a good driver could get one of those things.
- Some equipment configurations required multiple shelters – pairs or triples – that were deployed together to perform the mission.
- The shelters (and their vehicles) were painted in woodland camouflage pattern. In 1980 or 1981, the Army changed that pattern – I think they went from a 3-color pattern to a 4-color pattern, but that memory is 30+ years old now and I might have it backwards – and all vehicles had to be repainted with the new pattern.
- When these units deployed their equipment, they also set up camouflage netting over that equipment. This was a lightweight net with embedded plastic/fabric strips woven into it in woodland colors, and with small metal rings (for radar dispersion) as well. Its purpose was to break up shapes and obscure the equipment, thus giving some degree of protection against observation from a distance or from the air. It came with poles and spreader assemblies so that it could be suspended off the vehicles in an irregular, hopefully somewhat tree- or hill-like, shape. When properly emplaced, it was reasonably effective.
- Units didn’t stay in one place for the duration when they went to the field. They moved periodically (called “jumping”) – because they were expected to have to do that a lot if the “balloon went up” in Europe. To do that, they tore everything down, packed up all their stuff (hopefully), moved, set up their equipment, nets, etc . . . , and resumed their mission.
- Although this was well after Vietnam, there were quite a number of Vietnam veterans still in the force. Many Vietnam-era terms and acronyms were still in common use. One such Vietnam-era 3-letter acronym in particular was a favorite of Army malcontents – and was absolutely detested by senior leadership. Let’s just say it does not stand for “Fun, Travel, Adventure”. (smile)
Now, back to the story . . . .
An Army Brigade Commander of a combat support brigade was flying, performing an aerial inspection/visit of his units during a field exercise. O6-level commanders could sometimes wrangle a bird for part/all of a day to do so in those days.
He lands near one of his units. The Company Commander of that unit is at the site.
The Brigade Commander is not a happy camper. He finds the Company Commander and verbally rips into him, tearing him a new one.
The Company Commander doesn’t seem to understand why he’s getting reamed. Finally, the Brigade Commander tells the company commander, “You really don’t know, Captain? Hell, get in the bird and I’ll show you.” (Or words to that effect.)
They got in the bird, and took off. They overflew the site.
The Brigade Commander pointed out to the Captain one spot where a group of the unit’s vehicles were clustered together.
This particular group was 3 vehicles with shelters that were typically deployed together. They normally were backed into a “T” formation, with a platform laid between the tailgates, for normal operations. I’m pretty sure these were the larger shelters, the S-280s; those were normally the ones used for multiple-shelter configurations. So the roofs of those shelters were pretty big – about 12ft by 7ft each.
The vehicles had been parked in their normal “T” formation. But the camouflage netting wasn’t yet up, so you could see the roofs of the shelters – which you can’t see from the ground, and can’t see too clearly when standing on the hood. And there’s often no place in a unit motor pool parking lot high enough to get a clear view of the shelter roofs, either – unless you want to climb a light pole.
Apparently some “enterprising lads” had taken a few liberties with the camouflage pattern on the roofs of those shelters – most likely during that 1980 or 1981 mandatory repainting. Because on those roofs, there it was – clear as day.
“Fun, Travel, Adventure.” Abbreviated to one letter per word, of course. In big honking letters 5 or more feet high.
They landed. A very sheepish and chagrined Company Commander got off the bird.
As I recall the story, the Company Commander didn’t get relieved. He actually ended up having a successful tour in command.
But he did get the roofs of those shelters repainted again posthaste. (smile)