Here's a story that typifies why I liked MAJ Quinn, and it provides a great illustration of the old adage that good things come to those who wait. Sorry that it's a little longer than most of my other posts.
Part 1 - The Mail Run
In October of 1990, the 511th MI Company deployed to Mt. Meissner for the month. Duty was pretty typical: you'd spend a few days pulling rotations in the vault chasing bad guys or on guard duty, and then you'd have a day off. Time off at Mt. Meissner didn't offer many activities; your options were mostly limited to playing racquetball, watching stale videotapes of AFN programming in the lounge, reading a book, playing cards, or hiking. I think that by this time the no alcohol policy might have been put into effect, seeing as how someone from another unit had flipped their vehicle off the mountain in an alcohol-related incident, so the guys that drank were deprived of that as well.
I think that I was reading a book on one of my days off when SGT DeGrood dropped by the room and asked if I'd be willing to ride shotgun back to Fulda for a mail run. The military had a two-person requirement for military vehicles, so DeGrood simply needed someone to fill the vacant seat. Even though it was my day off, I didn't have anything better to do, so I agreed to go along for the ride. Bear in mind, I was married and I lived off-post, so we wouldn't be picking up my mail on this run - this was just for the single guys' mail. I just figured, "what the heck," so I got into uniform and we drove off in MI-59.
As we approached Fulda, DeGrood mentioned that he'd like to drop by the finance office on Downs Barracks to cash a check. That sounded fine to me - I was just along for the ride. After he cashed his check, we climbed back into MI-59 - and the darn thing wouldn't start. We popped the hood and we checked what we could, but we couldn't figure out what was wrong - this day was obviously not turning out as we had expected. We had few options, so we figured that we could walk down to the PX area and catch the shuttle back to Sickels Airfield where the 511th was located, ostensibly to get the wrecker to tow MI-59 to the Motor Pool (MOPO) for repairs. It took us a few minutes to walk down to the shuttle stop, and DeGrood sat down on the bench near the stop while I leaned against the sign for the shuttle.
I had been looking towards the PX, which was in a different direction than where DeGrood was sitting. When I turned around, I saw the Regimental Commander (RCO), COL Bacevich, approaching the shuttle stop. I snapped to attention and saluted as I rendered the greeting of the day, but DeGrood was looking at the ground, apparently lost in thought. The RCO came to a stop right in front of DeGrood, who suddenly noticed that someone was in front of him and he looked up. When he recognized the RCO, he immediately jumped to attention and saluted.
COL Bacevich asked what the @#$% was DeGrood doing there, and DeGrood started to explain that he was waiting for the shuttle to the airfield when the RCO cut him off. I don't remember what the RCO was yelling at him, but I attempted to interject and explain that our vehicle had died and we needed to get the wrecker from the airfield, and then the RCO started yelling at me. I don't recall his exact words, but he said some pretty awful things and made some completely baseless accusations about DeGrood and me wasting time when we should be on duty. Bear in mind - all of this was in front of a large crowd at the shuttle stop and pretty humiliating. Eventually the RCO ordered DeGrood and me to walk back to the airfield and have our CO (CPT Quinn) call him and explain our behavior. I have no idea what expression was on my face, but I looked at DeGrood, and he looked back at me with that half-grin that he always had - that same grin that he made right after he made a joke about your wife or something. We looked at each other for a second, then we both turned back to the RCO and said, "Yes, sir." Then we started the long walk back to the airfield.
Truth be told, the walk to Sickels airfield and the 511th was perhaps a mile at the most, but it was aggravating because there was a principle involved; I was pretty offended, as was DeGrood, but I think that after we got over the initial shock of what had just happened we started to make a few jokes about the situation.
We eventually arrived at the 511th, and as we were walking down the road that led from the airfield HQ to the 511th barracks, we could see that CPT Quinn was holding a staff meeting in the cafeteria. CPT Quinn caught sight of us, and since we were obviously on foot when we were supposed to be in Mt. Meissner, he walked out to greet us and said, "This has got to be a good story." We filled him in on the details about what had just happened, and we let him know that the RCO was expecting a call. CPT Quinn said not to worry about it, and that he would take care of everything.
So now DeGrood and I went back into vehicle recovery mode. We went to the MOPO to get some of the maintenance guys to take the wrecker over to Downs Barracks and pick up MI-59. After we towed it back to the MOPO, we worked with the maintenance guys until MI-59 was back up and running. By this point it was evening - and the one bright point of my day was that my wife dropped by to pick up our mail so I got to see her for a few minutes.
Once we had MI-59 ready to go and we had packed it with the mail for everyone at Mt. Meissner, I dropped by CPT Quinn's office to let him know that we were leaving. CPT Quinn said that he had called COL Bacevich and tried to explain what the situation was, but the RCO had cut him off and said something to the effect that "CPT Quinn's NCOs had AAFES shopping bags," so he was upset that we were shopping in the PX when we were supposed to be on duty. I explained to CPT Quinn that we didn't have any shopping bags - and CPT Quinn had met us as we were walking up the the barracks empty-handed, so he knew that we were telling the truth. CPT Quinn remarked that "in that case, the RCO is simply out to save face - and he'll lie about it if he has to."
Then CPT Quinn advised us to avoid the RCO if at all possible - that's when I had to drop a bombshell: the RCO was scheduled to visit Mt. Meissner within the next few days. CPT Quinn asked if we could stay out of sight, but I informed him that I had already been scheduled to deliver the operations briefing. CPT Quinn told me, "That had better be one damn good briefing," and then he told DeGrood to stay hidden as much as possible.
Part 2 - Payback
After a few days, DeGrood and I were still pretty upset. We had talked a couple of times about whether there was anything that we could do from a legal perspective - but unfortunately the Army is what it is. If someone abuses their power and position, more often than not they get away with it.
Eventually the day arrived for the RCO's visit to Mt. Meissner. At some point they brought the RCO, his staff & entourage, and CPT Quinn to the vault, where I proceeded to give them a detailed briefing on everything that we had been doing at Mt. Meissner. I followed my briefing by giving everyone a tour of the vault area and the antenna fields, then I took them on a brief tour of the main buildings and barracks areas, and I ended the tour in the cafeteria.
COL Bacevich stuck out his hand and thanked me for a great briefing and tour, then he turned to CPT Quinn and asked, "So this is where your NCOs claim that they're making their mail runs from?" I was momentarily speechless, which wasn't like me in those days - usually I spoke without thinking. But the statement caught me totally off guard. Apparently it had caught CPT Quinn off guard as well, and he asked, "What?" The RCO cracked a smile and said, "You know, those two NCOs that I caught goofing off on duty the other day." I could not believe this - not only had the RCO completely failed to notice who I was - but he was now recounting his warped version of the story to CPT Quinn right in front of me.
At this point - I have no idea what came over me other than a complete lack of respect for my sense of self-preservation and I said, "Sir, I was one of those two NCOs." COL Bacevich was momentarily surprised, but then he picked up his story again by saying, "So you're one of those two NCOs that I caught shamming on duty?" I was suddenly emboldened by his arrogance, and I managed to keep my cool as I said something like, "No, sir - I wasn't even on duty that day. I was only in uniform because I volunteered to ride shotgun so that the single guys could get their mail." I continued to tell the real story of how MI-59 had broken down next the the finance office, how we wanted to take the shuttle to the airfield to get the wrecker, how we were humiliated in front of our peers by him, and how wrongly he had treated the entire situation.
The more that I spoke, the lower COL Bacevich's eyes sank towards the ground, and the further his staff and entourage backed away from him. I don't recall how long I spoke or everything that I said - but I know that I chose my words carefully (for a change) and I did my best to say everything in a respectful manner, even though I was making it clear to everyone in attendance that the RCO had behaved like a complete ass.
Once I had finished, COL Bacevich stared at the ground in front of me for a little bit, then he looked up at his entourage for help - but no one would make eye contact with him. He resumed staring at the ground, shifted in his feet a little, then he mumbled, "That's not the way that I understood the story the other day."
And then, before I could do anything about it, my mouth opened on its own and the following words spilled out: "That's okay, sir - let bygones be bygones. I've gotta get back to work. Thanks!" And I left the cafeteria. I swear that my brain was not involved in that final process - which is probably pretty obvious to everyone who reads this. It wasn't one of my most eloquent speech endings - but once it was said there was no taking it back.
I went back to the vault, where I met up with DeGrood (who was now out of hiding) and everyone else. As I was telling everyone what had just happened, CPT Quinn entered the vault. He walked up to me and kind of cocked his head to one side - like a dog trying to figure something out. After a brief pause he asked, "'Let bygones be bygones?' What the hell does that mean?" I replied, "Honestly, sir - I have no idea what that meant." CPT Quinn laughed, then asked if I still wanted to pursue anything against COL Bacevich. I replied that my desire for retribution had been satisfied; the RCO had humiliated me without cause, and I had humiliated him with cause.
Part 3 - Epilogue
In another of those weird, full-circle occurrences - the story didn't end there. DeGrood and I had orders to PCS back to the states when we finished up at Mt. Meissner, but fate was about to play a dirty trick on us. The Army was gearing up for the first Gulf War, and I was days away from having my household goods picked up and shipped to the states when the Army issued orders to freeze everyone at their present duty station. I did not react well to this news - but CPT Quinn was kind enough to attempt to see if anything could be done. Unfortunately, nothing could be done; this was an Army-wide policy, and the only exception to policy was if your household goods had been picked up - and I fell short by six days.
DeGrood and I were both in the same boat - we were both days away from our PCS dates and our orders were rescinded. But it wasn't just hard on DeGrood and me - there were several people who were about to ETS that were frozen in station as well. SPC Meyer's father had a heart attack, and while his father was recuperating his poor mother was trying to work their family farm by herself. I watched Meyers descend from his normal, outgoing, optimistic, happy-go-lucky self to a person who was withdrawn and quiet. I can't imagine what those months were like for him.
The 11th ACR was not going to be deployed to the Gulf, so we went into a holding pattern while every other unit in Germany that was being deployed started gutting us for everything that we had. (Radios, vehicle parts, etc.) It was around this time that CPT Quinn allowed me to go home on leave for Christmas to help alleviate some of my misery. Since my wife and I hadn't been home in three years, I have always appreciated that gesture more than he ever knew.
Skipping ahead a few months, the first Gulf War had ended, and the military started letting people ETS and PCS again. Meyers was finally able to go home, and I was really happy for him. Eventually the day arrived when DeGrood and I got our new orders - I was going to PCS on something like July 4th of 1991, and DeGrood was leaving within a couple days of my departure.
That was when the Army played its next wildcard - the 11th ACR received orders to deploy to the Gulf for post-war activities, and regimental HQ announced that anyone with a PCS date later than July 1st would have their orders rescinded. I could not believe it - for the second time in my tour at Fulda I was within days of my PCS date and I wasn't going to be allowed to transition. DeGrood didn't make the cutoff date, either - so the two of us went to see MAJ Quinn (who had obviously been promoted from CPT). MAJ Quinn said that he would try to get an exception to policy for the two of us. True to his word, he got back to us shortly after our discussion with good news - he got all the paperwork that we needed; all that we had to do was get COL Bacevich to sign our papers.
(You can see the irony here, can't you?)
So early on a Friday morning DeGrood and I made our way over to regimental HQ in order to see COL Bacevich and request that he sign our paperwork and let us PCS back to the states. We both vividly remembered our history with the RCO, but we were hoping that he didn't remember. When we arrived at the RCO's office he was busy, so his secretary asked us to wait. After a while she said that if we wanted to leave the forms with her, she would make sure that the RCO signed them, and we could pick them up that afternoon. Neither DeGrood nor I wanted to actually see the RCO, so this sounded like a great plan. We left our paperwork and promised to return that afternoon.
The hours ticked by, and the two of us decided to drop by regimental HQ and see if the RCO had signed our paperwork. We arrived at the RCO's office, and only the RCO's secretary was there. (The absence of the RCO was great news.) The secretary said that the RCO had signed our paperwork, and she handed everything back to us. That's when we noticed that DeGrood's paperwork was signed - and mine wasn't. (I swear that I am not making this up.) The secretary remarked that our papers must have stuck together, so she asked if I would leave my paperwork in her office over the weekend and she would make sure that it was signed first thing Monday morning. I hesitantly agreed - but what else was I going to do?
As DeGrood and I left the RCO's office, DeGrood turned to me - and he flashed that same half-grin again. He said, "You know what happened, don't you? I stayed hidden at Mt. Meissner and you pulled that stunt of yours - he's never forgotten your name." Of course that thought was already running through my mind, so I can't say that I found DeGrood's joke all that funny at the time, but many years have gone by and it makes me smile now.
So here's the end of the story - I spent an agonizing weekend worrying what would happen, but I showed up at the RCO's office on Monday to see if he had signed my paperwork. Those who were assigned to the 511th at that time realize that I didn't go to the post-war Gulf with them, so the short answer is - yes, the RCO signed my paperwork.
To this day I do not know if the RCO had actually managed to forget that smart-mouthed NCO who embarrassed him, or if he simply decided to let bygones be bygones.