Back in the Army

When I left the Army in 1988, there was no looking back for me. For a number of reasons, I wanted to leave all that behind. There were some great times, but overall, my experience was not terribly positive. There was something, though, that seemed to keep pulling me back. A big influence was one of the supervisors I worked with in the Ramsey County Courts. Mike O’Rourke was a genuinely nice guy who worked in the Civil Division of the courts. He quickly took to me when he learned I had recently left active duty. Away from the courthouse, Mike was Sergeant Major O’Rourke. He was very active in the Army Reserve at nearby Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

I think Mike started recruiting me into the Army Reserve on the first day we met. I listened, but still had a very bad taste in my mouth from the end of my active duty career, so didn’t take it too seriously. Besides, I was much too busy with my law school studies to have any “free” time to devote to the Army Reserve. But Mike didn’t stop. As I neared the end of law school, he started to break me down. He even found a unit that seemed appropriate for me and set up a time and place to “interview” with several members of a newly-formed unit, the 19th Corps Material Management Center (CMMC).

The 19th CMMC was a high-level logistics unit. It managed supply chains across the Army Reserve and had connections with active duty Material Management units within the United States and Europe. Besides the various military benefits that Sergeant Major O’Rourke had highlighted to me, this particular unit appeared to have various opportunities to travel to work with a sister unit in Germany. That intrigued me. My dad was to be my new boss after I passed the bar and he had only positive things to say about this. One of his regrets had been not sticking with the Navy Reserve after he finished law school. So, sometime in the Summer of 1993, I started the paperwork to join the Army Reserve with the 19th CMMC.

I can’t say that I liked the work, but I did meet some very interesting characters. This was not a typical Army Reserve unit where you worked one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. Because of our link to the active duty supply chain, we had to work more regularly. We had people staffed every Monday and Thursday evenings. Every Soldier had to work two four hour shifts during the month and one Saturday per month. The Saturday “drill” was scheduled, but the weekday drills were pretty open. Everyone just had to work at least two evenings per month.

The actual “work” was somewhat of a mystery to me. At the time, I was still much of a novice in Army logistics. Since this was what I’d call a higher level of logistics, it consisted of tracking supplies on a macro-level. We managed supply orders, tracking, delivery, and storage/warehousing. All this was done by computer. At the time, it was not common for everyone to have a computer on their desk and Microsoft Windows was still in its infancy. Even though we “managed” everything by computer, in actuality, we did not. Rather, our work consisted of scouring through very large and long printed spreadsheets. These were printed with a dot-matrix printer on continuous sheets and arranged in large binders. They were separated by warehouse and type of supplies. Different teams within the units had responsibility for the different warehouse operations and/or types of supplies. My best recollection of my work was organizing the sheets into the appropriate binder and going through and highlighting line-items that had triggered some sort of error code. We then had to look at another spreadsheet to find the particular details for each transaction that we had highlighted.

A more technical explanation of our work is that a daily computer cycle created various reports that we “worked.” Each report consisted of customer (unit) requisitions for various supplies or parts. We reviewed and looked for computer error codes, which indicated requisitions that had not been processed due to some sort of problem. In most cases, the customer used an improper unit of issue for the part or supply, used an incorrect (or obsolete) stock number, or the item exceeded a cost threshhold and needed additional approval. There were a number of other problems that we had to deal with, but the above were the most common. The hardest part was learning all the various error codes and figuring out the appropriate action(s) to solve them.

Example of the type of print-outs that the 19th CMMC worked on. We had thousands of sheets such as these.

We never saw a resolution, so it was difficult work to get too excited about. Perhaps the error was cleared on a later print-out, but I didn’t find much satisfaction in that. Mostly, I found the greatest interest in these weeknight sessions to be the people. I worked closely with a young Soldier whose full-time job was working on a turkey farm owned by the University of Minnesota. They were breeding turkeys specifically to increase the size of the turkey breasts. The project was successful enough that most of the turkeys had breasts so large that the male turkeys could not mount the female turkeys. My co-worker’s job was to manually inseminate the female turkeys. First, he had to obtain semen from male turkeys. Thus, his primary job was to cause the male turkeys to ejaculate and to collect the semen. He told stories of being physically attacked by the male turkeys on Monday mornings, since they had spent the weekend waiting for their sexual release. You just couldn’t make this up!

Our drill weekends (Saturday) consisted of some spreadsheet work, but focused mostly on basic Army Soldier skills. That meant PT (physical training), weapons training, tactics, first aid, and various other mandatory training sessions. This was okay, but I still didn’t feel like I fit in very well. It didn’t become “fun” for me until I was tapped on the shoulder by the unit commander and asked if I would accompany a small group from the unit for a two-week tour in Wiesbaden, Germany, in September of 1993. I jumped at the opportunity and was ecstatic. I had not been to Germany since we left in early 1988, and so much had changed in the intervening years – mostly the Berlin Wall coming down and the return of many US forces back to the United States. I couldn’t wait to get back and see what may have changed.

The trip to Wiesbaden was for us to participate in part of a large NATO exercise. Five members of our unit supplemented the active duty team for the exercise. After arrival, we were bussed to Wiesbaden Air Base and provided rooms in a run-down barracks. I recall being a bit taken aback by the general appearance of the post. It all looked much more run-down than any base I’d ever seen. It started, though, as I noted all the grafitti along the highway on the route from the airport. This new Germany was not nearly as clean as the country I remembered.

After we settled into the barracks, we received brief directions to the messhall and were told to be ready at 6AM the following morning to head to the field. It wasn’t until this briefing that we realized that most, if not all, of our time in Germany would be in a field location. We had been hoping for a day or two to explore Germany, but that did not appear to be high on the priority list for this two weeks. Most of our small group trudged off to the messhall before hunkering down early due to jetlag. A Sergeant and I, though, had a different idea. Heck, we were here for two weeks and that night might be the only opportunity we have to drink German beer and to experience the country. Sergeant Mike Kreinbring went on to become a well-respected Sergeant Major and we remained friends. Mike and I hopped into a cab for the town of Wiesbaden. It wasn’t until after a hearty Germany meal, a couple of great beers, and a stroll down Wiesbaden’s main walking street, were we ready to call it a night. Even with the short night’s sleep, it was worth it to us.

The following thirteen days confirmed our worst fears. We were trucked to a large warehouse in the middle of nowhere. It could have been anywhere in the U.S. and we wouldn’t have known anything different. So much for experiencing Germany! We slept on cots in large open bays. As “luck” would have it, we were there to provide bodies for the night shift, so we never even had to fully adjust to the time change. It was not particularly fun work and very little happened in the exercise at night. I remember getting a lot of reading done. We just kept hoping that we’d be able to have a day or two at the end of the exercise to get out and see Germany. Unfortunately, the exercise continued a couple of days past the expected “ENDEX.” Except for a detour back to Wiesbaden Air Base to drop off some supplies and pick up our luggage, we continued in the Army truck straight to the Frankfurt Airport for our return flight. This experience was not exactly what any of us had hoped for, but it did create a longing in me to return to Germany again. Next time I wanted to see it all! Little did I know then, but that was a bit closer to reality than I might have guessed.

Despite the downside of this particular tour, I was intrigued enough to stick with the Army Reserve. I was making some new friends. I wanted a chance to return to Germany. I was actually starting to figure out what logistics were all about. Since I was a brand new lawyer in private practice, I was not making much money. The couple hundred dollars each month in my Army drill pay was something my family could really use. So I stuck it out and the rest is history. My Army Reserve story – the good and the bad – will be further memorialized in blogs to follow.

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