More 511th History: Memories of Border Duty on a Cold Winter's Day

I have a lot of interesting memories from my days on border duty during the waning days of the Cold War. To be honest, it was a strange time to be stationed in Germany. The "Bad Guys" across the border were still poised to attack at any time, and the "Good Guys" on our side of the border were still prepared to repel them if the balloon ever went up. When I am asked to describe what it was like to serve along the East German border, I generally characterize my experiences as a giant game of "Cat and Mouse" or "Hide and Seek." We spent a lot of time trying to figure out where the bad guys were and what they were doing, and the bad guys spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were and what we were doing.

I have also explained that my time was generally broken down as follows: 95% boring, 4% interesting, and 1% terror. I can't really talk about the 1% terror, except to say that it was the most-addictive part of the job. Although, come to think of it - I can't really talk about the 4% interesting, either. Suffice it to say that the 5% of my job that wasn't boring can't be discussed until sometime after I'm dead, so don't bother asking. Seriously.

That leaves the 95% of my time that was boring, which is mostly open for discussion.

Here's the way that we typically operated along the border: we'd get a call at zero-dark-thirty that the bad guys might be up to something, and about 30 minutes after I got the call, our vehicles would be rolling out of the gates of our post and headed toward the border to determine whether the bad guys were up to something that wasn't good. This meant that I kept all of my military gear fully loaded in the trunk of my car at all times, so when I got the call - all I had to do was throw on a uniform, jump in the car, and head off to post, where I would quickly dispatch my vehicle and pull it into place with the rest of the vehicles that were ready to deploy. It didn't matter how crappy the weather conditions were - it could be raining, snowing, or freezing - when we got the call, it was time to go. (Sometimes we would roll out to the border when the roads weren't safe enough for travel, which meant that we would have to remain on the border until the roads were safe to come home.)

East German Border in Winter

Depending on which border site we were deploying to, it might take a couple of hours to get to our location, where we would immediately set up all of the gear that was necessary to figure out what the bad guys were up to. As soon as everything was set up and configured, we'd start doing what we were trained to do, until such time as we were able to make a good/bad decision on what the bad guys were actually doing. If you weren't the soldier who was determining what the bad guys were doing, there were a host of other activities for you to do: pulling guard duty, setting up camouflage, encircling the operations area with concertina wire, or pulling radio watch. If you weren't doing any of those things… well, we had so few people in our platoon that you were pretty much guaranteed to be doing one of those assignments.

You'll notice that I didn't mention sleep, because for the first few days of any deployment there usually wasn't a lot of sleep happening. Most deployments started out with all hands on deck, because we were trying to determine the status of the bad guys. However, after a few days things would start to calm down, and then we'd allow people to rotate on and off for sleep. (I've mentioned it elsewhere that my personal record for lack of sleep was four days... at which point I began to hallucinate.)

However, at any time we could be ordered to "jump," which meant to pack up all our gear in a hurry and rapidly deploy somewhere else along the border. Our next location might be 30 minutes away, or it might be hours away - it depended on what needed to be done. The jump order could have been because the bad guys moved somewhere else and we needed to follow them, or it could have been because the location where we were situated wasn't yielding enough results to figure out what the bad guys were doing, or it could have been because some @#$% idiot in charge decided that it would be amusing to torture his troops, or for any number of other reasons.

I'll paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson to sum up how I felt about my situation:

Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew.
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

We weren't always required to jump during a border deployment; on many occasions business was good enough to stay in one place for the entire time we were working. However, there were other occasions when we would jump more than once, and I recall one especially heinous winter deployment where it seemed that we were jumping every other day. (Or perhaps we jumped every day... that deployment is kind of a blur now that I look back at it.)

I mentioned earlier that sleep was often hard to come by, and for this deployment that was especially true. It seemed that just as soon as we would get set up in a new location and start monitoring what the bad guys were doing, we would get the order to jump, and away we went. I also mentioned earlier that we had far too few people in our platoon, which had another detrimental effect on all of our jumps: we didn't have enough people for there to be a driver and assistant driver in every vehicle, which meant that I was on my own every time I climbed behind the wheel of my truck.

Let me paint a mental picture of what that was like: I hadn't had sleep in days. I was cold. I was hungry. I was tired. I missed my wife and kids. I hurt in places that I didn't know existed after hours of sitting on a seat that was made by the lowest bidder as I drove through mile after mile of snow-laden roads under overcast skies. Night and day had a way of devolving into a constant, dismal blur due to the odd hours working inside gear that had no windows to the outside world, and there was no easy way to tell if it was morning or evening due to the oppressive nature of the unyielding blockade of gray clouds that blotted out the sun. As we made our way from location to location, we often took farmroads that meandered through scores of tiny German villages and fields that were buried by snow. We soon had no earthly idea which way was north or south... our sole point of reference was that we were following the map, and the map never lied.

Since I had no one else to keep me sharp as I drove on in solitude, I had to come up with a way to keep my brain engaged - and my solution was simple: screaming. I spend a lot of time alone in the cab of my truck screaming in order to force my anatomy to kick in some adrenalin that would keep me going for another few minutes, then I'd start screaming again to repeat the process.

If all this detail sounds miserable, let me assure you - it was.

At some point during this deployment we were on the road, and as often the case - we were somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The snow had reduced traffic down to a single lane, which didn't impact our travel at all since the Germans had the good sense to stay home where it was warm. In hindsight, I'll be willing to bet most of the bad guys were lying at home in their cozy, warm beds, too. I think it was probably only our platoon that was wandering the German countryside at that hour. Nevertheless, I was exhausted, and my throat hurt from screaming - but I had to go on, because that was my job. And if I didn't do my job to the best of my ability, good people could get hurt by bad people, and so I kept driving.

East German Border in Winter

My truck was following closely behind one of our M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, and the M113's tank commander was a great guy: SPC Heggie. As miserable as I was, Heggie had it much worse. I had the relative privilege of sitting in the cab of my truck as we drove, whereas Heggie had to sit in the commander's seat of his tracked vehicle for the duration of our journey, which meant that his entire upper torso was fully exposed to the cold, winter air. He was bundled up in all his extreme cold weather gear: jacket, scarf, goggles, helmet, gloves, etc., even a facemask that was designed to stave off frostbite in arctic conditions. But despite all that cold weather gear, Heggie still had to brave the icy winds of a German winter for hours at a time. My situation may have sucked, but Heggie's situation sucked even more.

We had been driving like that for an indeterminate amount of time, when I saw Heggie turn around and look at me for a moment. At the time, I thought that he was checking to see that I was still there, and I hadn't fallen asleep and driven off the road somewhere. That thought seemed to be confirmed when Heggie turned his back on me again, but I saw him press the microphone on his helmet to his mouth, which meant that he was trying to talk to the M113 driver about something. Of course, in those conditions - with the wind and the face mask and the incredibly loud volume of driving a tracked vehicle on a road - Heggie wasn't "talking" so much as "yelling" to the driver in order to compensate for the lousy conditions.

Then I saw the strangest thing - the M113 made a quick shift to the right, then it straightened out again. This meant that the right track of the vehicle was now riding squarely on the shoulder of the road, and running over all of the white, meter-sized markers that lined the edge of the avenue. Our nicknames for these road markers were "Machts Nichts" poles, because - according to prevailing opinion - the Germans would shrug their shoulders and say, "Machts Nichts (no big deal)" if they discovered that one or two of these road markers had been destroyed. However, this wasn't one or two machts nichts poles - it was dozens of them. As the M113 drove over them, I saw pieces of white plastic and crushed wood flying up into the air behind the tracked vehicle - and I began to laugh. I laughed long and hard, as though this was the funniest thing that I had ever seen in my life. Oh, I'm sure that the depth of my reaction was due to how punchy I was with exhaustion, but still - that was just so darn funny. Words cannot express how much I enjoyed that spectacle.

After ten or twenty seconds, I watched Heggie press the microphone on his helmet to his mouth again, and the driver of the M113 quickly adjusted his course back onto the roadway. Heggie turned around in his commander's seat to look at me again, then he pulled his facemask and scarf out of the way so I could see his ear to ear grin. I exploded into laughter once more, then Heggie replaced his facemask and scarf and turned forward to face the icy winds of winter once again.

More than thirty years have passed since this brief episode unfolded on a dismal day in the middle of nowhere, but I remember it like it happened yesterday. And Heggie - he holds a special place in my thoughts of days gone by like some sort of mythic Norse hero. He made my day - and he probably kept me from crashing my vehicle due to exhaustion or the inescapable reality of my miserable circumstances.

I really needed that laugh. And you can't buy experiences like that for any amount of money.

More 511th History: That Time I Was a Russian Major

At some point during my tenure with the 511th MI Company, I was requested by some high-ranking US military officials to help review the readiness of 11th ACR troops. The time was in the late 1980s, and a delegation could show up at any time for a surprise inspection during the drawdown of nuclear armaments in Germany. This was important work, and our senior leadership needed to know that our troops would do the right thing when the time came. On the other hand, they also needed to know that our troops would prevent bad things from happening, too.

With that mind, I was dressed in a Soviet Major's Uniform (from the Tank Corps), assigned a Russian "translator," and I was asked to pretend to be a particularly "difficult" guest during a faux inspection.

Soviet Army Armored Corps Officer Uniform

To be more specific, these high-ranking officials asked me to try getting into all sorts of mischief in order to evaluate how the unsuspecting 11th ACR troops would react. I'm the kind of guy that you don't have to ask twice - I could get into lots of trouble rather quickly, and my victims probably would have been seriously ticked off if they ever suspected that I wasn't who my official escorts said I was.

My translator was SPC Meyers, who was a good friend of mine from the 511th. We were both passably fluent in Russian, which was more than was necessary to fool our unsuspecting victims. All of our personal conversations in Russian were about what was going on, how much fun we were having, where to go for lunch after we were done, what we should do to mess with people, etc. However, whenever I would say something in Russian, my friend would "translate" something entirely different (and often exasperating) to our hosts.

Here's an example:

Me [Saying something innocuous in Russian to my translator.]
Translator "The major would like to see inside an Abrams tank."
11th ACR dude "No, that's off limits."
Translator [Saying something innocuous in Russian to me.]
Me [Saying something innocuous in Russian, but louder and angrier.]
Translator "The major is very upset; he says that's part of his inspection duties."
11th ACR dude "I'm really sorry, and uh - can someone help me? What do I do now?"
Translator [Apologetically in Russian to me: "He'd kick our butts if he knew we were so full of crap."]
Me [Angrily in Russian: "Yeah, but this is so much fun. Still, we'd better not show our faces around here for a few weeks."]

Ah, good times.

General Snetkov versus Ralph Kramden

I've shared on here before about how I had been COL Abrams' translator on the DDR border when GEN Snetkov (the CDR of GSFG in the late 80s) came through. (See https://bit.ly/2PIjcD9 about that.) But something that I don't think I shared here before was how much I thought that GEN Snetkov looked like Ralph Kramden.

GEN-Snetkov-vs-Ralph-Kramden

My German Skills are a Little Rusty

I attended a reunion this past August in Fulda, Germany, with some of the folks from the 511th MI Company. As we were leaving a restaurant after dinner one night, we bumped into a traveling Bachelor Party that was making its way through streets of the city. They were already a few sheets to the wind, which undoubtedly explains why they appeared to think that I was a hilarious attraction. (I have that effect on drunk people, so it seems.)

Anyway, they were sounding off with a series of German idioms, and after each one they would laugh uproariously and ask me to join in. This didn't seem possible to me, as I hadn't lived in Deutschland for 30 years, and even then I had been a Russian linguist.

However, as luck would have it - somewhere in the back of my aging mind was the sole German idiom that I had managed to retain for all these years, which I recited to the assembled crowd:

"Freier macht die augen auf, heiraten ist kein pferdekauf!"

This had the desired effect - they laughed even harder than before, shook my hand, offered me a beer, slapped me on the back, etc. After offering me some pomme frites, (which were stored in the groom's hat - ugh), they bid me "Auf Wiedersehen," and they wandered off to continue their evening's festivities.

Unfortunately, that idiom loses a little in translation, (especially when using Google or Bing translate), but trust me - it's pretty funny for a soon-to-be-groom to hear. What it says, in essence, is: "Open your eyes, free man - getting married is not like buying a horse."

Nevertheless, it's nice to know that occasionally your long lost language skills can still come in handy.

Open-mouthed smile

Remembering the Fall of the Wall

Today is November 9, 2019, which is exactly 30 years since the opening of the East German border; that event has since become known as "The Fall of the Wall." I was stationed along the East German border when it was opened, and I still have vivid memories of what the world was like at that time.

Tensions in East Germany had been building for some time, and thousands of East Germans had already fled through neighboring Warsaw Pact nations like Hungary and Czechoslovakia. When the border was opened unexpectedly on November 9, 1989, hundreds of thousands of East Germans poured into West Germany, where they were met with open arms by crowds of joyous West German citizens and US military personnel.

Within a few short years, the two Germanys were reunited, and the Soviet Union collapsed - which was the greatest manifestation of Communism's many, many failures. However, as a reminder of what the border was like before it opened, you might want to watch the following video.

Just two short months ago, a small group of my fellow 511th MI Company veterans and I met for a reunion at the former inner-German border. It was great for us to stand in erstwhile enemy territory next to the abandoned guard towers that had once kept the nation of East Germany prisoner. It was somewhat poetic that these relics of a bygone era are reduced to mere tourist attractions. (And by that I meant the guard towers, not us.)

2019-Reunion-Mosaic

Posing by the former border towers.

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but this is a chunk of the East German border fence that I have had in my office for the past three decades. I personally cut that section off the fence after the border was opened, and it's a nice little reminder that the plans of evil men everywhere will eventually fail.

Border-Fence-Plaque

The text is a little blurry, but it quotes Psalm 146:7 "The Lord sets the prisoners free,"
with the dates of 13 August, 1961 to 9 November, 1989.

More 511th Stories: Sometimes You Should Shut Up And Be In The Photo

In my last year at Fulda, I was chosen to be the translator for COL John Abrams, (commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment [ACR]), during a ceremony when GEN Boris Vasilievich Snetkov, (commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany [GSFG]), and GEN Alexandrov (commander of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission in Germany [SMLM]) came across the border.

EPSON MFP image

When the 11th ACR's official photographer for the ceremony heard that I was COL Abrams' translator, he asked if I had a top secret clearance; and if so, was he forbidden from taking my photo. Like many people, I hate having my photo taken, so I told him that it was against regulations to take a photograph of me.

Later on, however, COL Abrams followed up with me and said that I had done a great job as his translator, so he had instructed the photographer to make 8x10 copies of any of the photos from the ceremony for me to keep. (I think you can guess where this is going, even though I didn't at the time.)

The photographer called me when the proofs were ready, and when I showed up at his office, I discovered that he had - in fact - taken photos from dozens of angles, and yet he had managed to faithfully keep me out of every shot. The closest he came to having me in an image was during the pass-and-review, where I was walking to the right of GEN Snetkov. On the bottom left of the original photo you can see a sliver of my shadow, which completely disappeared when I scanned it.

EPSON MFP image

I learned an important lesson from this experience: sometimes you should just shut up and let someone take your @#$% photo.

Who Says the Military Doesn't Have a Sick Sense of Humor?

When I was stationed with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, Germany, I lived in a sleepy little village named Kleinlüder, which was over the hill and through the woods from post. At the time that I lived there, a Surface-to-Air Missile Battery was situated on top of the nearby mountain. Actually, they were kind of annoying, because we could hear them from our apartment every time they had an alert. (Oh sure, they were protecting us from invasion and all that... but I still wanted a peaceful night's sleep.)

Anyway, it's been more than 25 years since I left, and the land where that missile battery was located has long-since been sold off. However, I found it interesting one day recently when I was scrolling through the area on Google Maps and I noticed that the SAM battery's motto has managed to survive on one of the old launch platforms:

if-it-flies-it-dies

Now, who says that the Military doesn't have a sick sense of humor?

Smile

 

Note: Click the following link for the original map: https://goo.gl/maps/1gAHfk62oYH2

A Few Reflections on My Days in the Army

It dawned on me earlier today that this year - 2016 - marks 30 years since I first joined the military. In early 1986 I reported to Phoenix, AZ, for induction into the US Army, where I raised my hand and I repeated the following oath:

"I, Robert McMurray, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

Little did I know the adventure upon which I was embarking, and what a profound difference the next eight years would have on my life.

During my tenure in the Army, I was sent to a a lot of places where I did a lot of interesting things; there are a bunch of stories which I can talk about, and there are some circumstances which I will never be able to discuss. I had some amazing experiences, along with a handful of terrifying incidents, and there are a few decisions that I made about which I will continue to question whether I did the right thing for the rest of my life.

I spent months away from my wife and children in faraway places - quite often in deplorable conditions - and all for a paycheck which was less than I would have earned if I had stayed home and got a job flipping burgers for a living.

On the other hand, I was anorexic when I joined the Army, and in that respect the military may have saved my life. I weighed less than 114 pounds when I reported for Basic Training, and yet I still thought that I was hideously overweight. By way of contrast, I weighed 135 pounds when I graduated Basic Training eight weeks later, and I had learned how to be thankful for eating three meals a day.

Most of my time in the military consisted of serving at three different duty stations: the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, for a year; the 511th Military Intelligence Company in Fulda, Germany, for 3½ years, and the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Huachuca, AZ, for 3 years. (My remaining six months of service was spent in Basic Training and a variety of other undisclosed locations.)

Despite the passing of several decades, I am still friends with several of the people with whom I served, and I have done my best to regale my comrades-in-arms in other blogs on this website with some of the stories which I had taken the time to write down during our service together. We were privileged to be first-hand witnesses to some amazing times in history; from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.

Trojan Horse 1

That being said, moving on to each duty station was always a strange experience. Like everyone else before me, I was always the "newbie" when I arrived; I was surrounded by people who had been stationed there longer, all of whom had months or years of shared experiences, and they all knew how everything worked. By the end of my first year, I was no longer the new guy, and I would find myself teaching the newly-arriving recruits all the same important details which I had learned during my initial months. By the end of each tenure, I was an "old timer," despite the fact that I was only 25 years old when I left Fulda, and only 28 years old when I left Fort Huachuca.

I would love to say that I endured all of my military experiences with a positive attitude, but that would be far too dishonest. Those who knew me "way back when" can certainly attest to the fact that my attitudes about the Army often fluctuated, and usually in a negative direction. (That general attitude is reflected in several of my stories on this website.) Eventually I realized that I was not like some of my brothers-in-arms who could survive 20 years in uniform in order to earn their retirement, so I chose to exit the military after two four-year tours of service.

By the end of my time in the Army, I had graduated with honors from every school which I had attended, earned a college degree, received a bunch of awards and decorations, and served for 2,970 days. Nevertheless, it was time for me to go.

Awards-and-Decorations

I have never regretted my time in the service, although I must admit that I have no desire to repeat most of my experiences. (Rappelling from a helicopter might be fun, though.) Just the same, I am incredibly thankful for the guys with whom I served; it was an honor and a privilege to work with them.

More 511th Stories: Live Rounds on Guard Duty

During my tenure in Germany, the Army had decided that soldiers on guard duty would no longer be issued live rounds. Apparently this decision was based on a large number of suicides which seemed to occur when soldiers were left alone all night pulling a miserable duty shift in a miserable part of the world. However, what this meant for me personally was that every night that I pulled guard duty at Sickles Army Airfield, I was supposed to guard an entire flightline of very expensive Army aircraft with no way to defend either them or myself. (Remember that "Military Intelligence" is an oxymoron.)

M16A2

Actually, I didn't even have an unloaded M16 as some guards had in other areas of the world; apparently some of the locals had discovered that the guards were carrying unloaded M16s and attempted to steal one by overpowering some poor guy on guard duty. After that incident had occurred, no one carried an M16 on guard duty anymore. This meant that the only two things with me which resembled weapons were a cheap, wooden Billy Club and my three-battery Maglite.

Night_Patrol_Billy_Club maglite-3-d -cell

However, that was not the case when the 511th deployed to the border; whenever we were within the 1K zone, we always had our M16s, with three live rounds in one of the guard weapons and a sealed case of rounds hidden in reserve. Depending on the deployment site, the guy on radio watch would have the three live rounds in a magazine of his M16, and the roving perimeter guard would carry an unloaded M16. (Once again, this was to serve the dual purpose of cutting down on suicides and preventing a loaded weapon from being stolen.) The three live rounds were supposed to be enough to fire warning shots if a potentially-threatening situation ever presented itself, and the sealed box of rounds was kept in reserve for the unlikely event that full hostilities erupted.

m16-5.56-rounds

That being said, in all my time at the border, even though one of the guards had three live rounds in a magazine, there was only one occasion when someone ever felt the need to load them.

During one of our deployments near OP Alpha, SPC Terry was on radio watch and I was the roving guard when a group of three nosy civilians bypassed our "You Will Be Shot" signs and started poking around the perimeter of our site. Everything was surrounded by a triple-ring of concertina wire so they could not get close to any of the equipment, but still - we didn't want anyone nosing around our location.

I think it was SGT Bullard who tried to warn them away in German, but they weren't leaving. After a few, tense minutes of arguing back and forth with the civilians, SPC Terry had had enough and started to walk over to our position. And as he did, he pulled back on the charging handle of his M16, and when he released it we all heard the audibly familiar and oddly reassuring sound of a 5.56 round as it slid into the chamber. There was no mistaking what that sound meant; that M16 was now ready for business - all SPC Terry needed to do was to rotate his M16's safety knob to "Fire" and point the weapon.

And yet these civilians still would not leave, so CW2 Klebo ordered one of us to "Hit one of the civilians hard enough to knock him on his ___." I don't recall if it was SGT Bullard or someone else from our group who complied with the order, but someone other than me used his M16 to execute a textbook "Butt-Stroke to the Chest" maneuver and the guy went flying backwards, after which the injured imbecile unleashed a tirade of German expletives as the three civilians quickly hobbled back to their car and angrily drove away.

image1072

To this day, I still think that these clueless civilians had it coming; they had walked past several signs which made it clear that entry into the area was forbidden and the use of deadly force was authorized, plus we had someone who was fluent in German explain several times to them that they needed to leave. Despite all of our efforts, we eventually needed to make our point in a more forceful manner; and if the situation had continued to escalate, it was good to know that someone with live rounds was standing only a few feet away.

More 511th History: Meeting a British Sergeant Major

I saw the following sketch from Monty Python, and it reminded me of a story which I will relate in a moment. But first, take a quick look at the video:

Here's the story: several years ago, (more years than I would care to admit), I was sent to a remote British outpost somewhere in Europe to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) for a few weeks. Although I was working with the RAF, the post was actually shared between the British Army and the RAF, so I saw plenty of people from both services during my tenure there.

The work that we were doing was somewhat secretive, so there were several security checkpoints through which everyone was required to pass in order to get to the building where work was done. This usually meant a lot of time standing in front of locked gates, looking up into a camera, saying your name into an intercom, and then waiting for some disembodied security guard to push a button to let you through to the next checkpoint.

One morning I was waiting at one of the gates when a Sergeant Major from the British Army stepped up beside me, and I swear he looked just like Michael Palin in the video that I shared - complete with dress uniform cap and a riding crop tucked under his arm.

I'm not quite sure how things work in the British military, but in the U.S. Army we were taught to render the "Greeting of the Day" to our superiors, so I stifled my urge to laugh as I snapped to a more formal position, and then I exclaimed, "Good Morning, Sergeant Major!" He made no reply, and his eyes barely flickered in my direction; somehow his expression managed to register no emotion or formal acknowledgement whatsoever.

But as the two of us continued our vigil outside the locked gate, his countenance slowly began to change. It was barely perceptible, but gradually the corners of his mouth began to turn downward, while at the same time his arm began to flex and the riding crop began to bow under the mounting tension. My silent companion was like spring which was steadily wound tighter and tighter, and sooner or later I knew that spring was going to break.

Eventually the buzzer sounded and the gate opened, after which the two of us parted ways as we headed off into our separate sections of the building. In a few minutes I was regaling my RAF colleagues with the tale of my awkward experience with the Sergeant Major, and there was plenty of laughter all around. But that being said, I was quietly certain that my RAF comrades-in-arms were surreptitiously rejoicing over the fact that they were not serving in that Army Sergeant Major's chain of command.