Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tales of a Cold Warrior - Beginning of Beginning

If you've read my Who Is This Guy? entry, then you know that I was active duty army from 1980-1984. After that enlistment, I was in the reserves (active and inactive) until 1986. This series is a description of what happened during that period as best as I can remember. It was a fun / scary / cool part of my life, and definitely left a mark on me. 

I joined the Army before I graduated from high school. There were several reasons for this. Mostly, I really was not ready for college. I had not scored outstanding on the standardized test and did not have notable grades, therefore I was not in line for scholarships. I had not settled on a ‘life direction’ at that point either. Conversely, I had become very active in Army JROTC in high school. Not really for the military aspect, though I was competent enough in those areas (marching, orders, etc.), but I had joined the rifle team and really enjoyed competitive shooting. I was not a natural talent for shooting. Instead, I became competitive by spending many an afternoon, (mostly) motionless, peering down a rifle barrel in the range in the school basement.

It is hard to imagine in today’s environment that our school had a rifle range. A report of a bunch of kids with guns at the school, shooting for hours, now invokes thoughts of an encounter like Columbine. The way rifle teams worked back then (as now) was that they are sponsored by the JROTC units at each school. While all schools had a ROTC element, not all had a range, but those that did had a rifle team. Much like the football team, there was a rotating schedule where we would pack up our guns and gear, and travel to other schools to compete. Our rifles were .22s, made specifically for competitive shooting, with heavy large barrels to negate the minute aiming point changes caused by the heat friction of a fired round. They also had thicker stocks, as well as rails for the attachment of various support accessories allowed by the rules. We were the top team in our area. I wish I could say that it was due to my superior skill, but that was not the case. We did have a ‘natural’ on our team, Scott Manus, who (when he showed up), on more than one occasion shot a perfect match.

There were two ROTC instructors. They were Maj. Rahm and a crusty old master sergeant whose name I do not recall. Maj Rahm, whom I ashamed to say I just discovered  passed on last year, by and large handled the rifle team, while the sergeant handled the drill team. Maj. Rahm shot on one of the Army’s pistol teams, so as an instructor he was invaluable. Oddly enough, he was not really that big an influence on my decision to go into the Army. What ROTC gave me was comfortableness with the military, such that the decision to commit to the next 4 to 6 years was logical and natural.

At that time, the Army was the best branch for someone that wanted a guaranteed career path at the time the enlistment contract was signed. The other services promised they would try to give you the training you indicated you were interested in, but the Army was the only on to guarantee it. So considered my options. I knew I didn't want to go into the combat arms, as I did not have confidence that I had the physical conditioning necessary. A failure at any point there (airborne training, ranger, SF) meant being thrown to to 'leg' troops, which even then, years after the end of Vietnam, had the reputation for societal dregs. Similarly, I was not interested in the more mundane administrative jobs (cook, mechanic), as those did not seem particularly challenging or interesting. During my initial evaluation the Army gave us an intelligence test. Since I scored relatively high on that, my recruiter told me about a new program the Army had established for a direct career path for Counter-Intelligence (CI) Agents.

Prior to then the career path for CI was an unsure thing. If you wanted to go into CI, you had to perform duties in a related field, then apply and compete with others for a training slot. The new path was to give ‘uncredentialed’ agents enough training so they could function as support personnel for full agents. Once the initial training was completed, the CI specialist would be assigned to tactical units where they could do little harm. After that assignment, they would, upon recommendation of their commander, be returned to training and awarded their credentials.

This was all of course all bullshit, but to my younger self brain, being a CI agent with a badge was about the coolest job ever.  It was true that credentialed agents at that time in non-tactical assignments did not wear a uniform, so after getting your badge, your days of wearing green were done.  Beyond the dress code though, the nuts and bolts of the job were decidedly unexciting, though occasionally entertaining, and the same in either environment. I will expand on this thought later. The germane point here is that the thought of being a badge toting spy catcher in the Army was a cool enough draw to pull me in.

Next: Lifting My Hand and Swearing

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