I have never been able to sleep on an airplane. If there is turbulence I feel safest when I can grab on to the seat handles and squeeze them, pulling or pushing the fiberglass in an attempt to guide the plane. I always feel safest when I am in control. Lack of control makes me uneasy. I was to report to 21st Replacement Battalion in Frankfurt Germany. I had no idea what unit that was, what my responsibilities would be or what my life would be like. We were told, in a general way, that Army life was a lot like a civilian job as far as work and life were concerned. We would wake up, report to P.T., go to chow, report back to morning formation then be given our assignments for the day. That was the Army routine all through training. It wasn’t enough information for me. I was nervous not knowing. I knew my strong points of being a Medic, however, medical treatment was vast and all encompassing. I felt extremely inadequate at best.
I knew basic information of why the United States Army still had bases in West Germany. After World War II, Germany was divided in to two countries: East Germany and West Germany. East Germany was controlled by the communist Soviet Union. West Germany was primarily controlled by the United States. There was a wall separating the two countries. I grew up in the “cold war era” of the U.S. and we were taught through school and media that the Soviet Union was the enemy. They had nuclear missiles pointed at us everywhere in America, we were told. Frankfurt Germany seemed awfully close to the enemy. Would I be shot at? Would I be placed in a combat like scenario? How would I react under direct fire? I scoffed at the other sleeping soldiers on the plane. How the fuck can they sleep when we might be stepping off the plane into war? I spent the flight staring into the dark abyss outside the window looking for bullet tracers and fire. Our pilot reported we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. I knew there were Soviet submarines down there somewhere tracking our flight.
This was an unbearably long flight spent staring out of the window. Total travel time from home to Germany would be around fourteen hours with the layover in London. By the time the doors opened at the airport in Germany I was a neurotic mess. I scanned the skyline for planes and fire. My eyes darted back and forth along the horizon outside the windows of the plane in search of anyone who looked Soviet. The only thing I noticed was how incredibly clean the airport looked. I couldn’t see any garbage or graffiti. I wasn’t looking for debris or gang signs on the wall, however. I was searching for AK 47’s, tanks, Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV and Mikhail Gorbachev. The cleanliness of the airport was strikingly clean. As we exited the plane and marched into the airport, I heard announcements coming from the speakers in the ceilings in another language. It sounded like a soft female version of Adolph Hitler. I started to glare at commuters in the airport in an effort to let them know that I knew what they did. That’s why I was here. World War II had ended in 1945 and this was 1989. 54 years didn’t mean I wouldn’t shoot someone if they accidently showed a swastika arm band. Of course, I didn’t have any weapons on me, nor did I know where to get one in the Frankfurt “Flughafen”…, “yeah that’s right motherfuckers… I read my airline ticket. I know how to say airport in German”, I thought at them.
I really needed a nap.
A handful of people at the luggage claim seemed to be reading from sheets of paper that resembled mine. They all looked exactly like I felt. Young, weary, nervous and on the look out for Col. Klink from Hogan’s Heros. We all started to travel together. We boarded a bus that was exactly where the typed orders we carried told us it was. As an unsocial Sergeant checked off our names we loaded the bus. None of us knew where we were going yet we were all in Class A. uniform. Our orders told us we had to report in uniform. I knew enough that no one goes to war in the dress green “pickle suit”. I began to relax a little. The time was 0930.
21st Replacement Battalion was a large World War II style barracks. All U.S. Army soldiers, with orders for duty in Germany, reported to the Replacement Bn.. As we exited the bus, and reported to the C.Q. desk we were issued bunks, told when to report for next formation and informed of when lunch chow was. I put my uniform on a hanger in the wall locker next to my bunk, laid my duffle bag down on the floor next to it and laid down on the bare mattress in my brown G.I. boxer shorts with matching brown t shirt. I slept through lunch chow and woke up just in time for end of day formation. The time was now 1645 and formation was at 1700.
After head count formation we were told that we would be stationed here, temporarily, at the Replacement Bn. until we receive our permanent duty orders. This could take up to two weeks. Every day we would be expected to report, in uniform, for 0900 formation and end of day formation at 1700. We had to stay in the barracks at all times if we were below a certain rank. I was an E-1 (private), the lowest rank on the totem pole. For two days I watched Armed Forces Network on the T.V. in the day room. A.F.N. is the cheesiest television network ever created in the history of television. They showed mostly American movies, however, their commercials were painfully aimed at young American soldiers stationed in a foreign country. One commercial in particular was all about shining boots. I couldn’t help but laugh at the loud obvious attempt at a subliminal message. The guy in the commercial seemed to have met a beautiful woman and drove a motorcycle just because he shined his fucking boots. The only problem I saw with this dilemma was no one else in the day room laughed. One soldier actually went to get his boots and started to shine them. I was beginning to question my career choice when the C.Q. called my name over the P.A. system. My orders had arrived.
I was to report to the 12th Evacuation Hospital, Weisbaden Army Airbase, Weisbaden Germany the following day. I would be traveling by taxi.