The men who guard the gate

In 1970, when the citizens of the United States lost faith in the “domino theory” of the conflict in Vietnam, the U.S. Army deactivated the 12th Evacuation Hospital. The domino theory was a doctrine that believed if smaller populated countries could be saved from communism, the larger or “mother” country would collapse. The largest country of communism was the Soviet Union, or “Mother Russia”.

Conscription, widely known as the “draft”, had been implemented three times in the history of the United States. The third period being from 1940 until 1973, when military service in America became 100% voluntary. During the 1970’s the United States, under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, saw tough economic times resulting in less military spending with more focus on International Human Rights. As a result, the Soviet Union became increasingly belligerent causing N.A.T.O. allied countries to build up their armed forces and increase spending on weapons systems.

In 1980, under a promise of a much harder line on defense, President Ronald Regan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter in a landslide election. Immediately, President Regan began a substantial defense buildup, and from 1980 – 1985 the United States saw the longest peacetime military buildup in American history. The Army deployed new weapons, filled understrength units, increased training and boosted pay and professionalism.

In 1983 the 12th Evacuation hospital was reactivated in Heidelberg Germany, then relocated to Weisbaden at a later date. Slowly building up personnel, by 1989 the number reached 108 soldiers, roughly half strength of what the Army considered combat ready. I arrived at Weisbaden Air Base, 12th Evacuation Hospital, aka 12th Evac,  late October  that same year.

The 12th Evac was part of the 68th Medical Group, which consisted of 2 ambulance companys, a combat support hospital, a Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment Company and itself. All Medical Group personnel were stationed at the Air Base. The Airbase also consisted of an Aviation Brigade (mostly helicopters), a Military Intelligence attachment, a Military Police Company and a small undersized battalion of the 8th Infantry Division. The base itself was surrounded by farmland, guarded by M.P.’s and housed in 1940’s style German barracks. In the center of the base was “the eagle’s nest”, an enlisted mans eatery and club. The eagles nest name was taken from Adolph Hitler’s retreat in the Bavarian Alps, captured by American forces in early 1945.

On my way to the Airbase from the 21st Replacement Battalion I noticed several things that were unusual to me. First, was the taxi cab itself. I climbed into the back seat of a brand new S series Mercedes Benz. Mercedes’ were everywhere at the airport, the neighborhoods and the roads themselves. I had seen only one or two back in Illinois, but never did I actually ride in one. The inside smelled of new leather, each seat was delightfully designed for ultimate comfort. I knew this because I hopped around the back seat trying out each one as we drove along the autobahn . The obviously irritated driver kept glaring at me through the rear view mirror.

I also noticed that almost every German citizen I met, which by this time was four, spoke fluent English. They seemed disgusted with the fact that they had to address me in English. They always reluctantly replied to me in my native tongue, however, when they realized I spoke absolutely no German and wasn’t seeming to go away. The landscape was absolutely beautiful. As we drove along I couldn’t help but wonder how everything was so clean.

The autobahn itself was spotless. The autobahn, the German version of our expressways, had no speed limit. The S series Mercedes seemed to just glide along the beautifully paved highway with little to no effort at all. Everything inside the cab itself was digitalized and expensive looking. I imagined myself as a new American prince, sent by lavish transportation to help save a weary and tortured land. I stared out the windows at the country side that was greener and fuller than I had ever seen before. It reminded me of the movie Wizard of Oz when black and white Dorothy entered Munchkinland in Technicolor. I was the American prince entering Technicolor Deutchland along the yellow bricked autobahn.

As we approached the Base itself I noticed the gate. Two armed guards stood outside the perimeter of the base near the entrance. They watched the taxi cab purposefully as we neared them. Both soldiers carried M-16 rifles, locked and loaded, swung over their right shoulders. The taxi driver purposely stopped about 30 meters from the guards and swung a u turn as to face the taxi away from the base itself. I found this to be interesting. It was as if the driver was purposefully showing the guards he meant no harm and did not want to be mistaken as a threat. The Army already paid the driver so I just exited the cab, retrieved my duffle bag from its trunk and walked towards the gate. I had my green Active Duty Military I.D. extended in front of me in my right hand, just as my orders told me to do.

The guards seemed like robots to me. I didn’t try to make any conversation with either guard because they had that distant look. While they mechanically checked my bag, my I.D. and patted me down, they took turns monitoring the road ahead. Once I proved to be who my orders said I was, they pointed me about 300 meters down the only road on base. They showed me the building in which I was to report, then lost all interest in me whatsoever. I headed down the road inside the base itself feeling like no matter what kind of threat tried to get through that gate, those two motherfuckers would gladly die trying to stop it. I can honestly say I had never had that distinct feeling about someone else before that moment. I always knew, when I was little, that my mama would fight like hell to protect me. But that was an instinct my mama had. These two soldiers looked like they had no instinct but one…

And that instinct was to kill.

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