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  Combat Readiness 1970s

Here are a pair of articles from the New York Times that provide an interesting snap shot of military life and combat readiness in the 14th and 11th ACR in Germany during the hectic decade of the 1970s. While both articles focus primarily on the cavalry squadron at Fulda, what reporters found at Downs Barracks was probably very similar to the state of affairs at Daley Barracks.

In 1972, when the first article was printed, I was in high school. When the second article hit the newsstands, as a brand new Second Lieutenant, I had been at Bad Kissingen for about one month and the very first letter I received from home contained the newspaper clipping with portions underlined in red or highlighted in yellow. My parents definitely wanted details and explanations.

If you were there, your individual memories may or may not agree with what the reporters found but as long as researchers are spinning microfilm rolls to learn about the V Corps border cavalry in the post Vietnam Army, they will leave with impressions based on these stories.


New York Times
David Binder
16 March 1972 (Stars and Stripes reprint date)

“ Nothing to do Syndrome “ - At Fulda. Boredom is the Real Enemy?

For the 2000 men of the Army’s 14th Armored Cavalry Regt, whose principal mission is to guard a section of the Soviet Bloc border near here, the major enemy appears to be boredom.

The problem comes up at every level from privates to commanding officers and in dozens of variations, the most extreme of which are alcoholism among senior non commissioned officers and drug abuse among young draftees.

But in the experience of CPT John Keller, a unit chaplain, it also appears in insidious forms among married career soldiers. “ I find I am doing much more marriage counseling here, “ he said.

“ We have a problem for instance, in that we don’t have American television here as some other posts do. That means a soldier and his wife have got to talk to each other in the evenings and suddenly, they discover they really don’t like each other. “

Many Facets

The boredom syndrome seems to have many facets, For the draftees, it is a defensive reaction to their first exposure to a foreign environment summed up by 22 year old Jim Aclin of Little Rock, Ark. “ They don’t like the Army and they don’t like it here and claim there is nothing to do.”

For older career men, it is perhaps the emotional letdown of serving in this quiet and conservative backwater region of Germany after the strain and thrills of combat duty in Indochina.

For nearly all, it is the unspoken question of what exactly the 14th Cavalry is dong here on an active mission nearly 27 years after the end of World War II and in an era of peace.

Doing its Job

Not that the Regiment isn’t doing its job, it’s eyes and ears - helicopters, rifle patrols, scout car sweeps, radar, infrared and other sensors - are continuously watching the East Germany frontier and the land beyond.

Neither the east German People’s Army, the West German Federal Army or the Soviet Army are as present at the border as are the units of the 14th, in the description of its commander, COL Egbert ( Bud ) Clark III. The other Army formations keep their distance. The US regiment’s “ border mission “ requires it to hunker down right on the line.

Clark’s men often combine training cycles with patrol duty at the border. One day recently, there was a 10 man rifle squad up on the hilly frontier, walking nine miles on reconnaissance and then flying back by helicopter as part of its training.

Fir Forest

Another formation was practicing a kind of shadow boxing war game between attacking tanks and defending scout vehicles in a fir forest south east of headquarter here. The crews of M114 scout vehicles would be doing just this sort of thing in the unlikely event of a Warsaw Pact incursion into West Germany. There doesn’t seem to be much boredom at the border or in the field for the armored cavalry, that begins back in the lime green barracks of the base on the western edge of Fulda. For the young, that often means a bowl or three of hashish, which is available in the town at one eighth of the price in the United States. For the NCOs, it is sometimes a bottle of whiskey and a quart or two of beer.

Clark, in command here since last year, enjoys respect as a man who salts his task mastering with a dry wit. He appears to be using every possible means to combat the problem of abusing alcohol and he counts alcohol as a drug.

He has established a special drug and alcohol counseling center in a Quonset hut on base. It is manned 13 hours a day by six troopers, most of whom have university training in psychology or sociology.

Since November, they have worked with 80 drug users, sometimes successfully. One of the troopers permanently detached for duty at the center is Aclin, of Little Rock, himself a former user. Another is an articulate black, Edward Purham, who says that Fulda’s unreceptive attitude toward his fellow blacks has made the boredom problem a bit more acute for them.

Purham said there were five Fulda nightspots which refused entry to black soldiers under various excuses. The regiment is considering putting them off limits and has sent out questionnaires in German to the owners.

The boredom issue also came up at a session of a so called “ bootstrap “ class of 23 officers and NCOs. Along with the attendant problem of drugs, Bootstrap is a new command wide program designed to stimulate communications between officers and lower ranking men and to work out joint policies.

The seriousness of purpose of these career troopers as they discussed their leadership problems with Clark was impressive.

But the colonel sounded almost desperate as he bemoaned the lack of interest in the regiment of the myriad of free time activities available to the men under a Special Services program. A lieutenant suggested that since the troops seemed to ignore pamphlets announcing excursions, sports events, theatricals and other events, it might be might be worth trying a loud speaker tuck on the base. A wan smile crossed Clark’s seamed face. “ We’ll try it, “ he said adding:

“ I’m half serous when I say I’ll order a company up to the Rod and Gun for skeet shooting or to church or over to the glider range at Wasserkuppe and march them there if I have to. Anything to deal with this complaint that there is no place to go and nothing to do.”


New York Times
Drew Middleton
May 15 1978

U.S Army in Germany Confident it is in Fighting Form

Fulda, West Germany, May 10 - The sirens sounded at 4 A.M. over the barracks in the sleeping city and the mist covered green hills of Hesse. Lights appeared. A tank motor coughed, caught and then throbbed steadily. A soldier running toward the motor pool shouted, “ This what they mean by ‘ the dawn’s early light, ‘ Sarge?”

The sirens summoned the First Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry to one of the alerts that are part of border duty. The jeeps sped out to points where they could observe and report any advancing Soviet forces. The tanks, 155 millimeter howitzers and armored personnel carriers pounded down the gray streets of the gray city to the positions they would occupy if “ it happens “.

Sirens also roused the Second Squadron at Bad Kissingen Within an hour the regiment, 3834 men strong and with 90 percent of its equipment operational, was deployed.

“ Sharp End “ of Readiness

This was the Seventh Army’s readiness and what the troopers call “ the sharp end “.

How ready is the Seventh Army to fight the Russians? A week of countless talks with enlisted men, noncommissioned officers, company and troop commanders and general officers led to two conclusions. First, the Seventh Army, despite some inadequacies in the most advanced equipment, is ready to meet and hold the first wave of any Soviet invasion from East Germany.

Second, the basic question is not the army’s readiness but whether it could sustain the battle at its present levels of ammunition, weapons and manpower.

Could Hold In First Stage

The Fifth Corps, deployed in the northern sector of the army’s area is believed capable of handling a first attacking echelon of six or seven Soviet divisions on its front in a battle whose first stage would probably last five to seven days.

There would be a two day delay, it is estimated, before the Russians renewed the attack on a corps that would then be at 50 percent of its strength in weapons, munitions and equipment. That is the point at which sustaining the battle becomes the key.

The issue is not simply whether airborne reinforcements from the United States would arrive to participate in the second phase of a battle. Rather, it is whether the army would have the resources in manpower and ammunition to keep the front supplied.

“ It is easy to see a situation in which tank mechanics would have to work all out to load ammunition for artillery and tanks.” a staff officer said. “ Who would be left to service the tanks? That would be one result in war of reducing the support units in peace.”

A Spasm of Combat

The consensus among officers is that the army would be capable of a spasm of intense combat that would use up ammunition and weapons at an unprecedented rate. The movement of supplies and reinforcements to the battle area, they conceded, would be difficult.

No one in the Seventh Army underestimates the weight and character of a Soviet attack.

“ Once the Soviet artillery hits, we must assume they will be using N.B.C. ( nuclear - biological - chemical ) weapons across the board, said CPT William Marshall who commands I Troop of the Third Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry.

Sgt. Charlie Smith, who was instructing soldiers on the use of gas masks, decontamination and detection agents and protective clothing, nodded and said: “ You guys understand that, don’t you?”

New Estimate of Tactics

The emphasis on training for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare is a long overdue element in Seventh Army preparations, inspired by revised estimates of Soviet tactics.

The Russians it is thought would try to seize Western Europe’s industries relatively intact. They have never been interested in developing the neutron enhanced radiation weapon, which kills troops but does little collateral damage because they have, it is said, abundant stores of chemical weapons including nerve gases that would have a similar effect.

Gen. George S Blanchard, the Seventh Army’s Commander, takes a restrainedly optimistic view of his force’s readiness.

The Seventh Army, he said, is at more that 100 percent of its authorized strength. More than 90 percent of his people are in their chosen occupational specialty “ doing what they have been trained to do. “

Equipment Exceeds Targets

Equipment authorized for active units is nearing 100 percent and exceeding Department of the Army targets, classified and unclassified material readiness reports bear out the general’s description.

The Seventh Army’s divisions and armored cavalry regiments have received all the 320 Cobra helicopters armed with the TOW antitank missiles. More will arrive soon to be deployed as reserves by the Fifth and Seventh Corps.

The improved model M 60 tank will go to the cavalry units later this year, although the troopers are pessimistic about receiving the new XM - 1 battle tank.

“ I’ll be out of the Army and retired before we see that baby, “ said SGT Reginald Jefferies.

The 155 millimeter howitzer, the army’s principal field gun, has been improved. The Dragon antitank weapon has gone to all units.

But the army still relies on the infantryman’s old Redeye antiaircraft missile and the Chaparral - Vulcan system to meet hostile air attack.

Production of the Stinger, a more sophisticated antiaircraft missile for infantry, has just begun. It will be two years before the army receives it.

There is an urgent need, armored unit officers say, for a new armored personnel carrier fast enough to keep pace with the XM - 1 tank and tough enough to take on a new family of Soviet armored personnel carriers.

The European Command is strengthening American representation on the far northern flank facing the north German plain. The first units of Brigade 75 are to arrive at Carlstadt between Bremen and Bremerhaven in September. By January 1979, two mechanized battalions, a tank battalion, an armored infantry battalion, a cavalry troop and combat engineer battalion will be deployed.

International Cooperation

The brigade will operate in cooperation with British, West German, Belgian and Dutch forces that would defend NATO’s vulnerable northern flank in the event of Soviet Attack.

For the brigade to do so effectively there is a need, senior officers say, for improvement in both equipment and procedures for command, control and communications in battle.

American equipment is old and in constant need of what one officer called “ patching “. Communications are relatively good at the international level, but at the level of division and battalion, it is unreliable.

Unit commanders surveying present inadequacies and promised new equipment share General Blanchard’s balanced optimism. They believe that with the expansion of the howitzer batteries from six to eight guns, the deployment of electronic intelligence battalions and the advent of improved or new tanks, the Seventh Army’s strength will increase.

Still a Narcotics problem

The Seventh Army is still plagued with narcotics problems. The command, noting an increase in narcotics use last year, after a four year decline, contends that this has not affected readiness. CPT Jim Young of Los Angeles, considers the drug situation better than it was when he was an enlisted man. “ There has been no shooting of hard drugs in his company,” he said.

“ I think we’re in pretty good shape, “ he said, “ I have three duds in the 161 people in my troop. I’ve had no court – martials in the 16 months I’ve been in command and I’ve had only four A.W.O.L’s . No, these kids are all right.”
Sheridans were painted one last time.
Lt Keuchenmeister was quizzical.
One last time to the ranges.
 In 1978, SFC Sperry was amused.
M60A1s were appearing everywhere
SGT McClellan went to the border camp.
Major Tartella found it all very funny.
PVT Brooks reached for a cigarette.

In 1978, we all were feeling pretty lucky

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