Return to Hidden Stories

  Snapshot 1981

Drew Middleton, award winning New York Times reporter and columnist often wrote on the affairs of the American military with remarkable precision. In this mid May 1981 article, he discussed what was going well and not so well for the 7th Army. Three years earlier, he had reported in detail on the Blackhorse after a visit to Fulda. On this occasion, he spent no time with the border cavalry but rather concentrated on the 8th Infantry Division.

How much of what Middleton reported reflected the state of the Eaglehorse; your recollections are as good or better than mine. I left Kissingen shortly after the article was published and recall the squadron as hugely improved over what I first encountered three years earlier.

Gone were the troublesome M551s and reasonably reliable M60A1s - both replaced with the M60A3s with M1 scheduled to be fielded in a year or so. The Improved TOW vehicle, M901 added additional tank killing capability to the scout platoons; each troop had a dedicated FIST team and track that trained with the unit of a full time basis and the mortars had their own FDC track. We had newer GSRs sets, first generation thermal sights on tanks and in the hands of scouts, the HOW had the most recent model of the M109 howitzer and all the squadron’s five ton trucks were new. The jeeps and 2 ½ ton trucks were still vintage with the latter particularly troublesome.

In 1981, the barracks were crowded with the squadron at or near 100% fill and new troops seemingly arrived weekly as the MTO & E evolved. The billets were in need of a face lift and a plumbing upgrade and this happened in the mid 1980s. Was there drug and alcohol abuse - yes I suppose so but seemingly less than my earlier memories of the late 1970s. Had the quality of the troops improved - yes - most certainly.

Here is Middleton’s article, his snapshot of the Army in Germany in mid 1981 accompanied by my snapshots from the same period.

U.S. 7TH ARMY: READY TO FIGHT; Military Analysis

By DREW MIDDLETON, Special to the New York Times
Published: May 17, 1981

FRANKFURT— The United States Seventh Army, a basic element in NATO's defense of Western Europe, is enjoying a new confidence based on a flow of new weapons, more money for long deferred projects and a perceptible rise in motivation and discipline.

Balancing these positive factors are serious problems over the location of important units and suppliers, obsolescence of most of the Army's wheeled vehicles and appalling conditions at most bases and their barracks.

These conditions are so serious that a staff officer predicted that nearly half the commissioned and noncommissioned officers scheduled for assignment to the Seventh Army this summer would be ''no shows.'' This means that they will choose to retire rather than accept the shoddy billets and primitive working conditions.

The Seventh Army is not the perfect fighting machine its leaders would like it to be. But it is a better armed, more cohesive force than its detractors allege and is superior to the turbulent, drug ridden force of five years ago.

New Equipment Over Next 6 Years

These conclusions are the result of a week's visit to armored, infantry, artillery and supply units of the Seventh Army and talks with soldiers, noncommissioned officers and junior and senior officers in field and staff posts.

One cause for confidence is that over the next six years, the Seventh Army will receive more than 300 items of new equipment. These will range from protective clothing for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare to the M-1 tank and a family of antitank and antiaircraft missiles.

Other items, such as the improved TOW vehicle and the M-60A3 tank, are already reaching units. Others, like the TACFIRE and FIREFINDER team, are on the way.

TACFIRE and FIREFINDER are expected to strengthen the artillery, which, officers said, is deficient in numbers of guns and surface - to - surface missiles. FIREFINDER, based on radar, picks up enemy mortar and gunfire. TACFIRE instantly computes the range, battery and type of round to answer the incoming fire.

The Seventh Army's trucks and jeeps are wearing out. At one motor pool there were two two-and-a-half-ton trucks with more than 100,000 miles on their odometers. Others had gone 75,000 miles. Jeeps and trucks are afflicted with rust, and as they age the time needed for maintenance increases. 'Well-Trained Combat Army'

Gen. Frederick C. Kroessen, the Seventh Army commander, believes that he has a ''well-trained combat army'' that can defend the borders of Western Europe but that he must rely on reinforcement and resupply because there is ''no capacity in the European theater to sustain a battle.''

Officers and enlisted men believe that the existing deficiencies in some weapons will be met by a Defense Department acutely aware of the Seventh Army's needs. They are less sure that the Army will be repositioned to more tactically realistic sites and that working and living conditions will be improved.

The most striking instance of the need for repositioning is the location of the Eighth Infantry Division of V Corps. The Eighth is the largest division in the Army, with 4 brigades, more than 21,000 soldiers, 490 tanks and nearly 900 armored personnel carriers. A 'Worrisome' Situation

But the bulk of this division is stationed west of the Rhine River, in areas around Wiesbaden, Mainz and Mannheim. The estimate, perhaps optimistic, is that the division's covering force would take 12 hours to reach its war station near the Fulda Gap, in eastern Hesse state, the main force would need 25 to 27 hours and the artillery would take 20 hours.

If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has a week's warning of a possible Soviet invasion, these times would suffice. Most intelligence specialists believe that the alliance will have that much warning, but there is no guarantee.

The present situation, which one divisional commander called ''worrisome,'' could be improved if what the Army calls its Master Restationing Plan is carried out.

Relocation of the division's brigades is linked to a cure for the serious morale problem arising from the working and living conditions of the troops. These conditions are bad throughout the Seventh Army and the cost of correcting them would be astronomical. 'Generally Appalling' Conditions

One estimate is that $2 billion would be required to complete the restationing program. General Kroessen recently reported to Congress that conditions in Army base and housing areas are ''generally appalling.'' The large military complexes, he emphasized, are urban facilities that are old and obsolete.

Members of Congress interested in military affairs respond that NATO countries, specifically West Germany, should help pay for new construction. The West German Army and Air Force are housed in modern buildings superior to those available to the Seventh Army.

The Second Battalion of the 75th Artillery Regiment is based at Fliegerhorst, a World War II Luftwaffe base near Hanau. In most American prisons, such working and living conditions would probably lead to riots.

The battalion has only one maintenance shed, which has just two pits for vehicle repair. Water seeps through the ceiling. The lighting is poor, the working conditions cramped.

The barracks are even worse, although they appeared to be average for the Seventh Army. Six men occupy a room intended for four. The lighting fixtures frequently fail and, because of the need to save energy, only one light is used. In the winter the cold is so intense in most rooms that soldiers take their sleeping bags and head for the warmth of the boiler room.

The barracks' foundations are crumbling. Water seeps into the cellar, toilets back up. Water drips from the ceilings and runs down the walls.

With the soldiers living in these conditions. a visitor felt it remarkable that they retained their interest, even enthusiasm, for their profession.


April 2016


Return to Hidden Stories