More 511th History: Ghosts of Borders Past

One of the places that the 511th MI CO liked to use for operations was affectionately known as the "Schlossberg," which is German for "Castle Mountain." This location earned its moniker because the decaying ruins of Brandenfels Castle were perched on the end of a ridge facing East Germany, and it earned its popularity with our squad because it was near the border and in a great location for finding Bad Guys. We approached this site from the west, where we'd be hidden from sight to the east, and we drove down a long, muddy road then up the hill to where the castle was located.

Once on site, we'd pitch camp west of the castle, thereby using it to mask our position from the east. The TRQ-32 was parked facing west, with its rear door facing the castle; this arrangement allowed us to throw the vehicle in gear if an emergency arose (like being attacked or overrun). Once the TRQ was situated and leveled, we'd set up the antennae, then we'd wrap bales of concertina wire in a horseshoe around the rear of the TRQ-32, leaving us with security to the rear and a hasty exit to the front.

Once we were set up for operations, we'd go through the rest of the necessary tasks, like setting up the 8‑man tent for sleeping, arranging our other vehicles for duties like radio watch, and setting up camouflage netting when necessary to obscure our equipment. I used a lot of knots that I had learned in the Boy Scouts to secure the camouflage netting, which always seemed to amuse or amaze my colleagues. (One of my favorite knots was the Clove Hitch, which was great for suspending netting or tarps between trees.)

We'd run the TRQ-32 by day, and its loud generators could no doubt be heard in the villages below the Schlossberg. When we shut down the TRQ-32 for the night, the guy on radio watch would take over double duty using the TRQ-30 manpack radio to listen for Bad Guys in the dark. (I occasionally found Bad Guys by night, yet I still wonder if my fellow squad members didn't bother.) Between light discipline, the lack of generator noise, and the abundant foliage, our squad would essentially vanish at night.

The biggest drawback to the Schlossberg site was a single road for entrance and exit; in theory we could have driven down the side of the hill if our situation had taken a turn for the worse, but I'm glad that we never needed to attempt such a feat. Nevertheless, we manned a guard post near the road a couple hundred meters from camp, and we ran commo wire for field telephones that allowed the guy on guard duty to talk to the guy on radio watch. We found a natural depression in the ground that we could use as a shallow foxhole for guard duty, which offered a modicum of protection from the wind, and we piled several dead logs around the rim to create additional shelter. However, there was no overhead cover, so when it rained - you were wet (though you hopefully had a poncho or rainsuit with you).

band-of-geeks

In the above photo, my EW squad is posing at the Schlossberg with Brandenfels Castle behind us. What this photo doesn't show is the amount of tree cover that masked the site from the air, which also made the site darker than the inside of a coffin when the sun retreated beyond the distant horizon. We diligently practiced our light discipline within our camp, which - when combined with the absence of natural moonlight or stars - created an environment that was mind‑numbingly black by night.

I have been asked occasionally why we didn't use Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) when we were deployed to the Schlossberg, which warrants a brief explanation. NVGs are wonderful tools, but in real life they don't work like they do in action movies. Hollywood seems to think that NVGs allow people to magically see in the dark, but that's not how they function. NVGs are light amplifiers, which means that there must be some source of light for them to amplify. In many situations, the sparse light provided by stars might be sufficient for NVGs to work their magic. But due to the dense tree cover overhead, there was nothing for them to work with at the Schlossberg, so our NVGs were worthless.

This lack of light made guard duty after sunset at the Schlossberg an especially creepy experience. As I mentioned earlier, our guard post was a couple hundred meters from the rest of our camp. Despite our best efforts to create shelter from the elements, guard duty was frequently a bitterly cold assignment, and shifts were usually doled out in two‑hour blocks. Each man was responsible for getting himself up, getting dressed, and finding their way through the dark to the guard post to relieve the previous guard. If you showed up a few minutes early for your shift, you were a hero; if you showed up a few minutes late, you were a jackass who was worthy of universal contempt.

On a particularly miserable night, I was tired of sitting in the foxhole and freezing. I grabbed my M-16 and leaned against a tree to the side of the road, where I was able to stand opposite the wind, which made me a little warmer - perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. In any event, as the time neared for my relief to arrive, I heard footsteps walking quietly down the road toward my position. Of course, it was pitch dark, so the next soldier on the rotation, SPC Nadalalicea, had no idea where I was.

At one time or other, we'd all been in that situation, and the only way you could find the guard post was to ask the darkness for assistance. To that end, I heard SPC Nadalalicea starting to whisper my nickname, "Fred...?," as he approached. As he drew near, I continued to stand next to my tree and remained silent. SPC Nadalalicea came to a stop within a foot of me, but he still had no idea where I was. Once again, he quietly whispered into the darkness, "Fred...?" I didn't bother to whisper when I made my response - at full conversational volume I said, "I'm right here, Nada." He screamed, hurled a few obscenities, then told me that I'd just scared the poop out of him. I think if he could have seen me, he probably would have hit me.

There are interesting things about being on guard duty when you can't see anything. As one might imagine, your mind plays tricks on you. The tiniest sound is amplified into something far greater than it is, and everything is perceived as a threat until you can convince yourself otherwise. This situation leads me to an anecdote that I used to tell my children as a ghost story when they were younger.

As I would sit there in the dark, trying to stay warm, and watching for something I can't see, I would hear the faint sound of footsteps that sounded like they were approaching. At first, I would do nothing but listen, just to make sure that I wasn't imagining it - and I wasn't. The footsteps wouldn't go away, and they would quietly grow louder as they approached. It wasn't time for my relief to arrive, so my only recourse was to ask the darkness for assistance. I'd quietly whisper, "Hello...?," but there was no answer. However, the footsteps would stop.

For a several minutes I'd continue to sit there, straining my ears to hear... anything. I undoubtedly held my breath as I waited for something to happen, but unrelenting silence was my only reward. Eventually I would begin to relax, thinking perhaps that I had imagined the entire affair. However, with unwavering regularity, as soon as I thought the experience was behind me, I would begin to hear footsteps approaching, and the entire scenario of casting questions into the void with no response would repeat itself. Despite those ghostly footsteps, no one ever arrived at the guard post.

If my experiences on guard duty had been mine alone, you'd have sufficient grounds to think me a little unbalanced or easily agitated. However, I wasn't the only one to hear those inexplicable footsteps, and it made everyone on guard duty more than a little uncomfortable. During my tenure in Fulda, I never found a sufficient explanation for what happened to everyone who sat alone in the dark at that lonely guard post, but some years later I came up with a somewhat plausible theory. My hypothesis, however, is another story for another day.

Facing the Horrors of War

Like many of my colleagues from the 511th MI Company, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp during my tenure in Fulda, and it was a sobering experience. It is difficult for any rational individual to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of horrors that took place in that single camp. On that note, I just read the following article from HistoryNet, which describes the retributory actions of US soldiers during the liberation of Dachau:

I have to admit, I find it difficult to find fault with soldiers who retaliated against the guards that were still defending the camp with the US Army arrived. It is easy during a time of relative peace to passively judge the actions of soldiers who exacted vengeance upon unarmed guards several decades ago, and it is likewise easy during peacetime to believe that any of us might have behaved differently in a similar circumstance. Nevertheless, none of us trod the path those soldiers walked, and I am willing to bet that coming face to face with Dachau's camp guards - whom we now perceive as inhuman monsters - could alter anyone's sense of morality.

 


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

More information about the Dachau Concentration Camp and the reprisals that were taken by US soldiers is available in the following WikiPedia articles:

Excuse My French

As a military brat, the scenario depicted in the following image could easily have played itself out in our household when I was growing up. Winking smile

Excuse my French

Although I must admit, in the years since my exit from the Army (where I had been serving as a military linguist), I have found the ability to utter colorful vocabulary in foreign languages extremely beneficial during times of crisis... though I am careful to choose a language that is not likely to be understood by the people around me.

Open-mouthed smile

Al Gore and the Invention of the Internet

There is an age-old story circling within political spheres that former Vice President Al Gore once claimed to have "invented the Internet." And in contrast to that story, there is a counter-rumor floating around that Gore never said any such thing. To help put this issue to rest, Tech Insider created a video a few years ago that was designed to promote the idea that Gore has simply been "misquoted" over the years.

In deference to Tech Insider's claims, there is a vast difference between being "misquoted" and "misspeaking." Al Gore has NOT been "famously misquoted" with regard to his comments to CNN in that video, in which he clearly says, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." That is a direct quote, not a misquote. Of course, history tells us that Gore was misspeaking when he said that, which could be attributed to hubris, deceit, or ignorance.

Putting things in perspective, Al Gore uttered his now-infamous boast during his failed presidential run against George W. Bush. Gore's campaign took place at the height of the Internet dot-com boom, when billions of dollars were pouring into the economy as a result of the Internet explosion. With that in mind, it is not outside the realms of probability that Gore was attempting to ingratiate himself to voters by claiming that he was the one responsible for all of that new-found wealth. Which, if you think about it, is a pretty good strategy, as long as you can count on what Jonathan Gruber once called "The Stupidity Of The American Voter." In other words, you can say anything you want - like claiming to invent the Internet - as long as your voters are too stupid to know better.

Nevertheless, Tech Insider's and other people's insistence that Al Gore has been "misquoted" are ludicrous. Regardless of his reasons for doing so, it is a matter of undisputed fact that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. And it is also a matter of undisputed fact that Al Gore did not invent the Internet.


If you'd like a brief introduction as to what really happened when the Internet was created, the following three-minute video should tell you everything you need to know.

By the way, if you've read some of my old blogs, you'll see that I wrote the Request for Comments (RFC) document number 7151, which defines a method of multi-hosting for the Internet's File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Since that document has been published as part of the Standards Track for the Internet, I can legitimately say that - unlike Al Gore - I actually took the initiative and helped reinvent the Internet. Oh sure, it's only a small, obscure part of the Internet, but still... I can honestly say that I did something that Al Gore can only claim to have done.

What I’m Thankful For This Thanksgiving

Unless you've been deployed to a forgotten, backwoods, nowhere of a hell hole and one of these packages is your Thanksgiving meal, you may not realize how truly thankful you should be for the things that you have.

MRE-Turkey-Loaf-and-Diced-Turkey-With-Gravy

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all my comrades in arms (and their families) who are deployed far from home and their loved ones, and keeping the peace so that others might be able to spend time with their families.

My Halloween Zombie Story

Here's a story from my distant past for your Halloween amusement...

Back in our High School days, my good friend James and I loved horror movies – the scarier or the gorier the better. On weekends, we loved to host horror movie marathons at James' house in the Tucson foothills, where it was nice and dark after hours, and his parents were cool enough to let the two of us invite over a bunch of friends to participate in our fright fests.

On one such occasion, several people were on their way as dusk was beginning to fall, and one of the people we were expecting was Carrie, who was a friend of ours from Drama class. Since zombies had been the theme of choice on multiple occasions, we hatched an evil plan to play a prank in that genre on Carrie. James and I had a few gallons of stage blood lying around, as one does, and I suggested that we rip up the front of one of James' shirts so it looked like it was torn open by a zombie, then cover his chest with cold cut meats that matched his skin color as best as possible, then drown everything in stage blood while James was lying in the middle of the street. We quickly set everything up in front of his house, then we waited for Carrie's car to turn down his street.

After a few minutes a car was headed our way, and I sat in the street next to James as I began to slowly rip pieces of flesh off James' chest and eat them, with copious amounts of stage blood dripping down my face. The car came to a halt next to our macabre spectacle, and when the occupants rolled down the window, I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t Carrie – it was the parents who lived next door to James. They looked at me with a genuine amount of fear and asked, "Is he okay?," to which I replied with the first thing that popped into my head, "He's delicious."

 Open-mouthed smile

James' neighbors quickly drove away, and by some miracle they didn't call the cops on us. Carrie arrived a few minutes later, and we repeated the whole scene for her benefit, with the expected results. I believe her words – or at least her thoughts – were along the lines of: "The two of you are not right in the head." (It's quite possible that she still holds that opinion of us.)

 

PS - I should mention that James' neighbors never asked him to babysit again.

The Unfortunate Demise of the Basic Training Shark Attack

Earlier today, one of my fellow veterans shared the following video from Business Insider about the United States Army Infantry School’s decision to no longer conduct the unofficial ritual known as the Shark Attack during basic training. By way of definition, the Shark Attack has traditionally been the first experience that new recruits have in Basic Training, when Drill Sergeants descend on raw recruits and scream at them until they begin to understand who’s in charge.

 

Despite CSM Fortenberry’s comments in that video, the Shark Attack totally has it's place in today's Army, and the idiots who don't think so are... well, IDIOTS. The purpose of the Shark Attack is to mentally separate recruits from civilian life, and nothing does that better than having a Drill Sergeant screaming in your face. The Shark Attack also instills a sense of fear at the outset of training, which is absolutely necessary for some new recruits to create a foundation for discipline where they'll listen to their Drill Sergeant’s orders for the rest of their training. If you take away the Shark Attack, you take away one of the best tools for teaching recruits that their lives – as they knew them – are over. (For the next few weeks, anyway.)

Personally, I hate, hate, HATE the "kindler, gentler Army" approach that today's military leaders are trying to create. Combat is neither "kind" nor "gentle," and taking away the rough edges from military training creates soldiers who are ill-equipped to deal with the mental pressures that soldiers will experience after they leave training. It doesn’t matter if new recruits are volunteers or draftees – soldiers need to be tough enough to endure the rigors of combat life, and the Army is doing their soldiers a great injustice if they fail to prepare recruits for their new lives.

Quite frankly, this entire discussion is just one of many ways where the people who are "in charge" of the Army simply do not "get it" with regard to how the actual day-to-day business of the military is conducted.

I'm so glad I got out before this toxic cancer of stupidity infected the Army.

I’m a Russian Language n00b

After graduating the Defense Language Institute (DLIFLC), then three years working a live mission, and then graduating the Foreign Language Training Center Europe (FLTCE), I was asked to provide real-time translations from English into Russian for church services for political refugees in West Germany who had defected from the East.

I thought that I was pretty darn good with the live mission vocabulary, but my self-confidence in the language completely evaporated when I realized that I knew absolutely zero of church-related vocabulary in Russian. For instance, I didn't know basic verbs like "pray" or "baptize," or basic nouns like "angel," "salvation," "altar," etc. I didn’t even know the name of books in the Bible like "Римлянам," "Второзаконие," "Деяния," etc.

Yup - I quickly realized that when it came to church vocabulary, I was a totally worthless n00b.

The Day I was a Sports Legend

Back in my early days as a Technical Support Engineer at Microsoft, my boss had a dartboard outside her office, and several of our fellow team members would play darts on their breaks. I suck at darts, so I never joined them.

One day I happened to be walking by, and one of the guys asked, "Why don't you ever play with us?" I replied, "You wanna see why?," then I grabbed one of the darts and threw it with barely a look in the direction of the dartboard.

I fully expected to miss the board by several feet, and thereby demonstrate to everyone my complete lack of skills. However, by some miracle the dart landed dead center in the bull's-eye. Rather than show everyone my expression of dumbfounded surprise, I quickly collected myself, then I turned to the people gathered around and asked with a feigned air of superiority, "Do you REALLY want a piece of me?"

Then I walked off, leaving my stunned coworkers in awe while I basked in the glow of a victory that I could never have achieved if I had tried, and like any great athlete - I left the sport at the top of my game.

bullseye