Law School

I don’t feel like I was a typical law student, if there is such a thing. I certainly didn’t feel like one. Most of my class at William Mitchell College of Law had recently graduated from college with an undergraduate degree. A few had worked a year or two after graduation, but even few more, like me, had families and children. I had recently left the Army and had two young kids. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but we made it work.

I chose William Mitchell mostly because it was the only school that offered a true night school path. My classes were generally started between 4-5PM and ended in most cases not later than 8:30 or 9PM. This was doable, but I knew would be very tough for my family. I was able to handle a full-time job and then heading to school, but it was Amy who would be mostly responsible for everything necessary for the kids and home life. Night school meant this was a three-year path to graduation, so we all had a difficult challenge in front of us.

The difficulty really started after my release from the Army in early July. In a very short time I had to find a job, figure out how to pay for law school, find appropriate lodging in Minnesota, and otherwise support my young family in the transition. This was in 1989, so the kids were only 3 and 1.

Amy also had to find employment. The meager job I found as a bailiff law clerk in Ramsey County was hardly enough. It wasn’t much more than minimum wage at the time. Once Amy found a job, we also had to deal with childcare costs. Not only was this a time of huge transition for us, but marked the start of some tough financial times for me and my family. We had no choice but to put ourselves on an extremely small weekly allowance.

As has been a pattern in our lives, we were looking for housing at a bad time. Interest rates were in the high teens, so even modestly priced homes were hard to afford. We were fortunate that my parents offered down payment assistance for our house. The home we found was on St. Paul’s west side. We ignored my father’s plea for a better location, but felt somewhat comfortable with the lower pricing we thought we could afford. We found a home where we could assume the current mortgage (not common in those days) and we jumped! That decision was certainly the best “affordable” one, but also led us away from what could have been more suitable in the long term. We were just happy to find something that got us out of my parent’s basement.

I was not ready for law school in any way. Yes, I was more willing and able to put in the effort than I likely would have if I’d gone straight from college. I found the classroom experience closer to high school than the freedom I had learned to enjoy at the University of Minnesota. First, there was assigned seating for most classes. Second, class sizes were much smaller, so there was no hiding in the audience. Beyond that, I had no forewarning about things such as “briefing cases,” teaching using the “Socratic method,” or grades that were based upon one mid-semester and one final exam. Because of this, and the fact that I’d been out of the education system for over five years, it took me an awfully long time to adjust.

One benefit that I had that others in my class did not was the fact that I was not particularly worried about my class standing. I found law school to be exceptionally competitive. Even though I’ve always been a competitive person, I had no idea that classmates would quickly do just about anything to make you look bad (if it made them look better). It was truly a dog-eat-dog world. There were some exceptions, so I was able to make a few friends. For me, though, I knew that I had a job at the end (assuming I finished and passed the bar exam!). My dad had promised a job to any of me or my siblings who chose to try. Much to his chagrin, I was the only one who took him up on it. Still, knowing I had a job took away a significant amount (much needed) of pressure off of me.

One of my goals in law school was to somehow balance the severe burden I was putting on Amy and the kids. I promised that I would always choose them over school as much as possible, except in very rare occasions. That meant stacking multiple classes as much as I could in order to allow at least one or two lighter days per week, so I could actually be home in the evening those days. I also promised Amy and myself that weekends were family time, a promise that I think I was able to keep more often than not. After my last class on Friday night until after dinner on Sunday, I completely ignored my studies and tried to be there for my family.

Though I tried to stay away from school when not in class (unlike classmates who seemed to live in the school library), I did meet a few fellow law students. Tom was an on again, off again law student and friend. I studied from time to time with Lisa, Todd, David, and others. My “best friend” in law school, though, was a young lady named Leah. Somehow Leah and I connected through a mutual love of baseball. I think it was during an extended Legal Writing class where we were trying to find the score of a Twins game. If there was anyone as ardent a Twins fan as I am, it was Leah. Those conversations between classes and during late-night studies probably saved my sanity.

As luck would have it, in the Summer of 1991, Leah happened to be dating a sports columnist from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A Minnesota Twins fan will recognize that 1991 was the year of the Twins’ second World Series Championship. Leah’s friend was able to score her two excellent tickets for the series. Knowing my love of the team, Leah graciously offered me two tickets to either game 6 or 7. I’m pretty sure she wanted to keep game 7, so I “settled” for game 6. The rest is history. My friend Toran and I saw the best game I’ve even seen. Kirby Puckett gained immortality by first snagging a ball about to ricochet off the center field wall that would have given the Brave’s the lead, and an inning later hitting a game-wining, walk-off homer at the bottom of the inning.

Most of my time in law school is a blur. I didn’t have time for much excitement. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it – or how any working parent can go to school at night! But pretty soon, I was coming near the end. Taking the cue from a few of my classmates, I took summer classes in order to lessen the burden as the classes got harder. But the classes didn’t really get harder. I had a much more difficult time with those first year classes than I did in the upper level courses. Perhaps it was because I was more interested in them. Or I was just more into the school mode and understood how to get along in law school. Either way, loading up on Summer classes enabled me to graduate in December, an entire semester earlier than the normal three-year course.

Like almost all of my colleagues, I took a Bar Exam Review course. The Bar Exam is MUCH different than law school and passing law school really does not in any way prepare someone to pass the Bar Exam! So, we studied. I actually took about a month off in order to study day and night – and was awfully glad that I did since there is no way I’d want to go through that agony again.

The day of my Bar Exam started okay. I felt that I had done my preparation and was relatively confident. Little did I know that it would soon turn into a fiasco that nearly cause me to have a stroke!

I’ve always had what seems to be a small bladder. Multiple cups of coffee does NOT help. The Bar Exam in Minnesota was quite strict about those leaving the exam area, even for the bathroom. I suspect there was a lot of cheating taking place that way. One of the ways they regulated this was to ensure only one person was allowed in the bathroom at a time. During the morning of the second day, I raised my hand to get permission to go. Once permission was granted, I left my seat and went to the bathroom. Imagine my surprise when someone else exited the bathroom as I was walking in! I continued in, did my business, and went back to my seat. Within a few moments, I was called up to the front of the large auditorium and told to bring my test and test booklet.

Not knowing what was going on, I complied. Once to the front of the room, one of the proctors asked me for the test materials and told me my exam was finished. Even though I had permission, I had apparently violated the bathroom rules and was being expelled from the exam. My blood started to boil. Rather than to take my punishment, I immediately objected (probably in a louder than necessary voice!). Everything around me seemed to start crumbling. It was six months till the next exam. Six more months until I could start getting on with my life (at least as a lawyer). The time I saved with Summer classes was wasted. Heck, I was already “old” for a new lawyer and no extra time was going to help.

As I was pleading with the proctor, the head proctor stepped over the find out what the trouble was. He was a sitting District Court Judge, Al Markert. Fortunately for me, I had clerked for Al. He backed me up 100%. He told the other proctor in no uncertain terms that I was his clerk and that he was certain of my integrity. He then grabbed the exam materials from her, handed them back to me, and told me to sit down and finish the exam. Whew! I was relieved. I could hardly focus for the rest of that day, but I somehow did well enough to pass! I am forever grateful to Al Markert for protecting me.

I was recently reminded of the terror of the Bar Exam – and the problems caused by not passing. I understand that the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners are currently contemplating postponing the Spring Bar Exam this year due to COVID-19. I feel so bad for those law school graduates who were hoping for that Bar exam. The study for a test such as the Bar exam does NOT age well. Like so many others missing big events, this year has made us all take a step back and appreciate what we had.

It probably does go without saying that law school is quite difficult. It certainly was for me. In so many ways, though, it really made me who I am today. I really do not identify myself first as a lawyer. Being a lawyer, though, is certainly a big part of me. One of my favorite sayings is the sign on my office wall that keeps me humble (see below). No, it isn’t becoming a lawyer that affected me the most, it was the struggle, the challenge, determination, failure, confidence-killing, and being able to overcome it all that is more important to me than the actual degree. Lawyer, sure, but I’d rather be known as a decent dad, grandfather, husband, brother, co-worker, and friend. Better yet, I want to be the man my dog thinks I am!

I love this sign given to me by my sister Jenifer!

A Lone Turkey

My purpose in this blog is normally to write about the various mentors and influences in my life. Today, like everything else around us, is different. This is more of a muse – random thoughts as I watch a lone turkey wander across the open field behind our house.

I feel sorry for this bird. If you know anything about wild turkeys, they tend to congregate in groups, called flocks. We often see them parading in line across the meadow in flocks of eight to twelve. Over the past few months, this has been nearly an every day event. If we don’t see it, Buster, our vigilant watchdog, eagerly announces their presence.

Thought they are quite regular, we notice that the flock can be occasionally absent for a day or two. I suspect that they get bogged down at an especially rich field of food. That was the case for the last two days . . . except for one sole turkey.

Rather than the typical march across the field, this poor turkey seems walking aimlessly around and across the field. He occasionally darts into the woods for a moment, but then comes back out. At first I was concerned that he was hurt. But he keeps walking and even flying on occasion.

Since I have been working from home every day, maybe I’ve noticed him more than I otherwise might. Still, this definitely feels like an anomaly. We finally determined that he was lost. Not that he doesn’t know where he is, but he appeared to be missing his flock. As wild turkeys are known to do, he was likely in a zone foraging and somehow didn’t hear the call to move on to the next field. That is not surprising given the amount of construction noise going on in our neighborhood.

So, for a few days, I watched this poor turkey and felt bad that he missed his comrades. I think it apropos for how we, as a society feel right now. We are cooped up. If we are interacting with friends and family, it is digitally. What if we were more like that lone turkey and had no way to connect? I suspect that there are many among us who are. I feel bad for them, as I do for the lone turkey.

We are managing this isolation quite well. Both Amy and I have introverted tendencies, though I clearly get energy through interactions with others. In Myers-Briggs-type testing, I often cross over the introvert/extrovert line. So, in this time of isolation, I find I do miss people. There are other things I definitely miss more. I love the vibe of drinking at a crowded bar or eating at a restaurant full of patrons. I miss sports, especially baseball! I miss church on Sundays.

As I think of the things I miss most, it is not necessarily interacting with people (which I still do virtually), it is enjoying activities surrounded by people. Though I am often annoyed at crowds, based upon what I am missing, it appears to me that I might enjoy simply being in and around others. More than ever, I want to take the headphones out and seek out the din of people.

So, even for introverts, I am convinced that we are supposed to be social beings. I sincerely hope that “social distancing” will quickly be forgotten once this pandemic is over. I also hope that we will learn to better appreciate the value of others around us. Rather than being annoyed by crowds, I want to embrace them and enjoy the moment!

I’m afraid that I don’t think I can say the same for our lone turkey. Several days ago, a large flock of over a dozen turkeys pranced through the field. A day later I saw just one turkey standing alone. I no longer think he is lonely. No, he just marches to his own drum. Good for him! I no longer feel sorry for him. I know that isn’t me.

Postscript: Interesting article in today’s Minneapolis StarTribune on the prevalence of wild turkeys! https://www.startribune.com/you-re-not-imagining-it-there-are-more-and-more-turkeys-among-us/569623502/

Honduras (Ahuas Tara ’88)

Just about the time I was starting to figure out how to be a good Air Defense Artillery Officer, I was involuntarily transferred into the Quartermaster Corps. The Quartermaster Corps in the Army focused on logistics (water, food, fuel, equipment issue and storage, etc.). The first step was the Quartermaster Officer Advanced Course at Fort Lee, Virginia in the spring of 1988. That was a special time and place for us since that was where our daughter, Kathryn was born.

After the Advanced Course, I was looking forward to an assignment in the United States, but don’t recall even getting a choice. We were assigned by our branch. Since I was a newer member of the Quartermaster Corps, I didn’t have much pull. I did, though, score at the top of my Advanced Course class, so I suspect someone decided to sign me up for a challenging assignment. I was assigned to the 937th Engineer Group at Fort Riley, Kansas.

I knew even less about Engineers and Engineering than I did about Quartermaster and Logistics. I arrived to the unit as the logistics “expert” they needed for an upcoming deployment to Honduras. What a fiasco that turned out to be! I was far from an expert in the Quartermaster Corps and my only experience was in the schoolhouse. They expected me to provide all the logistical support for a fairly strange and complicated mission – Ahuas Tara ‘88. This was also my first experience working with engineers in general. I can tell you from that – and other experiences – that engineers think differently. I don’t think that is a bad thing, as lawyers, too, have a different way of thinking and operating. I can say, though, that I don’t think my style worked for them. I was the constant “outsider” in the unit. My best friends were mostly the Warrant Officers, who are also sort of outsiders in most units.

It became clear to the Engineer Group Commander that I was not the right fit for this particular mission. Both my logistics experience and my operating style were a bad fit for what they needed. I operated fine with incomplete information, assumptions, hunches, and promises. They, on the other hand, demanded precision. I understand that when you are building things, but most of the Army operates quite differently. I was closer to the “normal” Army than engineers. The Commander chose to appoint another mid-grade engineer officer to serve as his primary logistical officer for the deployment, so I became the assistant. They had a hard time finding the right job for me, so I helped out as directed the best I could. The worst part of all, though, was that I would spend months away from our 2 year old son James and four month old daughter Kathryn. Poor Amy got the worst assignment, though, since Kathryn had bad colic!

Ahuas Tara was the name of the mission. The primary purpose was to build an airstrip and basic facilities in Southern Honduras, several miles from the Nicaraguan border. During this time the communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua was banging its drums and attempting to export communism throughout the region. They send regular incursions across the Honduran border. Our somewhat secret mission was to build the airstrip and basecamp to allow the United States to send troops and heavy equipment into Honduras within hours, if necessary. It was in direct response to the sporadic border clashes involving Honduran and Nicaraguan troops and U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels who had camps along the border.

As part of the deal to allow U.S. troops to operate in Honduras, the U.S. government committed to spending millions of dollars across Honduras building schools, libraries, orphanages, and other things of great value to the Honduran people. We had Soldiers not only near the border of Nicaragua, but were building across the country. That made the logistics challenges even more difficult.

One of my primary jobs was coordinating the various services provided by local Honduran companies. I found it interesting work. I learned first-hand the meaning of mañana. For our airfield mission it was critical to keep a supply of crushed rock. Quite often, I found myself knocking on the door of the owner of the Honduran company we had contracted with to provide crushed rock. If it wasn’t a sudden and unexpected to shut-down for a day or two, it was a situation where they provided the wrong gauge of rock. I didn’t speak Spanish, so always had an interpreter. Even so, it was awfully hard to get our point across that we wanted things NOW and per the SPECIFIC scope. Still, it was quite interesting to be invited into their mostly humble homes and offered a snack or drink.

Ice was other extremely important commodity that I had to deal with on a regular basis. Due to the intense heat, we needed ice – and a lot of it. We needed to contract with local commercial facilities to produce ice. We had our own equipment to produce clean water, but the Army did not have the ability to create ice in the quantities needed. Whether it was the crushed rock or the ice, we had REGULAR problems keeping a consistent supply. To the Engineer Group Commander, this always seemed to be my fault. The only problem with that is I had absolutely NO ability to affect when and how the local companies worked. It was quite a lesson on the stereotypical Latin lifestyle. Yes, siestas and mañana are real in that culture. The engineers liked that even less than they cared for me!

A day in the life of us in Honduras was not especially exciting, but it was somewhat interesting. As any deployment goes, we pretty much worked all the time, seven days per week. We generally got up pretty early. If you wanted to exercise at all, it had to be before the hot sun arrived over the horizon. I distinctly recall running the nearly one-mile perimeter of our barbed-wire base camp. As soon as the first peek of sun appeared over the horizon, it was an almost instant and extremely significant increase in the level of effort it took just to continue running. That heat was intense! We then showered in our shower tents and headed to breakfast. There were no tables to sit at, but there were standing tables. Before we got our food, we had someone physically watch everyone take their malaria pill.

Or offices were housed in large canvas tents. The entire basecamp had electricity from our own generators. We had limited furniture, but most offices, including mine, had desks fashioned from large cardboard boxes and the cheap folding chairs we brought with us. We had large (and noisy) fans running day and night. This was a required nuisance due to the heat. It also required that we utilize rocks to keep our various paperwork from flying away. After a long day at work, we took a break for dinner, but most of the time went right back to the office. There was little else to do, especially since we couldn’t leave our base camp after dark or without a required mission. We did have plenty of water and had sodas for sale. The engineers set up a television that provided some limited entertainment, but was pretty useless for most. I read an entire footlocker full of books.

Besides the shower tents, our only bathrooms were wooden outhouses. The “drop zone” for the outhouses consisted of 55 gallon drums cut in half. We contracted with Honduran locals to empty and burn the refuse every day. Going to the bathroom was slightly easier for men, as the engineers buried a number of large PVC pipes diagonally for “piss tubes.” This area was surrounded by about a four-foot solid plastic fence for a semblance of privacy. We had a few women, but not many. They were stuck with the outhouses and limited hours for the shower tents.

Everyone slept on cots in large tents. Since we were deployed with engineers, within a few weeks, almost all the tents were upgraded with wooden floors. What a treat! We had electric lights and several large fans that kept us relatively cool all night long. We slept about 20 per tent. I was assigned to a tent with the “ash and trash” of the unit that included an assemblage of Warrant Officers, a priest, occasional helicopter pilots, and the assigned lawyer. The lawyers rotated every few weeks since no one could expect them to survive in such awful conditions! One advantage of having the lawyers was that we always got updates on things going on in the unit. We never got personal details, but just ideas of the things going on.

One of the lawyers was a quite a jerk. He was formerly a Special Forces Soldier, who later became a Judge Advocate, so he was pretty full of himself. He did, though, cost the U.S. Government a boatload of money. We had an incident where a Soldier lost his rifle. This was a BIG deal and our basecamp was locked down for a couple of weeks. There were constant searches for the weapon. Someone was convinced that the Soldier had actually sold his weapon or was otherwise in cahoots with the Sandinistas from nearby Nicaragua. The poor guy claimed innocence, but had stupidly misplaced his weapon. Nonetheless, the lawyer personally participated in aggressive cross-examination of this guy in hopes that he would fess up. He eventually turned our Soldier over to the Honduran military so they could question and even torture him further. The lawyer would cheerfully report nightly about the sleep depravation, water torture, and other hazing conducted by the Hondurans. Years later I learned that the Soldier received a nice payout from Uncle Sam due to his treatment in Honduras. I don’t know whatever happened to that lawyer, but he should have been Court Martialed.

It was during this deployment that I decided to leave the Army. This had been on my mind for quite some time, particularly with two young children. I wanted them to grow up in a stable environment around family and to get to know their grandparents. My dad had offered my sister Pam a job if she went to law school. At the time, she was living in Mexico City. Much to Dad’s surprise I was the one who took him up on it. I had applied for Law School prior to that deployment and received an acceptance from William Mitchell School of Law while in Honduras. I wasn’t quite sure yet that I wanted to leave the Army, but based upon my experience in Honduras of 1) extended deployment away from family, 2) a bad taste in my mouth from working with the Army engineers, 3) and the uncertainty I felt about my future in the Quartermaster Corps, I made the decision to leave the Army.

It is funny that I find myself in the reverse of this situation now. Though in a career that I loved, as a civilian with the Army, I left that life so we could be closer to our own grandchildren! Again, I want my grandchildren to grow up around us and really get to know their grandparents! Funny how life really does come in a full circle!

The Courthouse

This is probably something that most lawyers can relate to. To me, The Courthouse is not just any old court. More specifically, for me it is the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Ramsey County Courthouse is an 18-story Art Deco building that opened in 1932. The entrance is highlighted by a three-story white onyx Indian God of Peace (now called Vision of Peace). This statute stands 38 feet high and weighs 60 tons. It is set within a dark hallway that has various memorials to Minnesota Soldiers who died in combat in the 20th century. The Vision sits on a revolving base that turns the statue approximately 132 degrees every 2.5 hours. I first saw this magnificent statue as a grade schooler. I remember a field trip to the Courthouse to see this and other sites (likely arranged by my father), but cannot place how old we might have been. I still remember, though, that it had a profound effect on me.

Indian God of Peace (Vision of Peace) towering over the lobby of the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Not only was I a casual visitor to the courthouse as a child, but my sister Pam and I attended various court sessions with my father while in grade school. That was before there was any such thing as a formal “take your kids to work” day. I think that my dad just thought it a good idea to provide a first-hand lesson in civics and the court system to us kids.

I was later a participant in a trial at the courthouse. In the fourth grade I was injured during a school gym class and someone had convinced my father to sue the school for the cost of the extensive dental work caused by the injury. In today’s climate, we probably would have settled for a tidy sum since the “game” we had played was rather rough and dangerous, but in the 1970s, we weren’t quite there yet. Although we lost, I got to experience my first trial. In fact, I was the star of the trial. I was the primary witness in court, as was my friend Toran. I remember being extremely nervous, but the lawyers made it pretty easy. Even the defense lawyer was direct, but kind.

It was many years later that I set foot in the Ramsey County Courthouse again. I think I stopped there to get my marriage license, but it wasn’t until I returned from my stint with the Army and started Law School that I actually spent some time there. As I was leaving the Army, my dad sent a letter to several Judges asking if they needed a law clerk. One of them passed the letter on to Mark Haakenson, the jury manager for the Ramsey County. Mark also ran a program that provided extra or substitute law clerks, called “Bailiff Law Clerks.” The pay was basically minimum wage, but it provided aspiring law students (and select others) insight into the operation of the court system. Mark told my dad to have me stop by when I returned from active duty. I did and was hired on the spot.

My fellow Bailiff Law Clerks were a veritable cast of characters. There were a couple of “elder statesmen” who had already graduated from law school, but could not find a legal job. That was a bit discouraging from the perspective of an aspiring law student, but there were some obvious reasons why they were not hired elsewhere. Although there were both law students and non-students in among us, we were all treated the same. Mark Haakenson and his staff were good to us, but again, the pay and some of the menial tasks, were nothing special. The best part about the job was that it provided some “free” time to study. If we wouldn’t have had homework, we would have been bored silly some days.

Since we spent a lot of free time together, we all got to know each other pretty well. I became very good friends with Tom Kempe and George Perez. We were probably the troublemakers of the group, as we often bounced baseballs, basketballs, and footballs across the cavernous jury room after the prospective jurors had been sent home for the day. I admit that perhaps a few courtrooms still have ball marks on the walls due to our athletic prowess (or lack thereof).

Tom, George and I definitely had fun at work, but we also extended that to our off duty time. We attended ball games together, played basketball together, organized and played on various softball teamsm and were generally great buddies both on and off duty. After our courthouse days, we saw each other occasionally, but we mostly lost touch after I left Minnesota. I still have fond memories of them. For over five years, they were a very big part of my life.

We had other great co-workers. Sharon & Mary Jo, clerks in the Court’s Civil Division, were two of our favorites. They knew the inside of the court system and helped in many ways. Plus, they were just nice, fun people. Court supervisors Mark Haakenson and Mike O’Rourke both made great impact on me, but in very different ways. Mark for his treatment of people and the way he dealt with the egos of jurors, law students, lawyers, and Judges. Mike was a Sergeant Major in the Army Reserve. It was Mike who convinced me to get back into the Army, only this time as a Reservist. Without Mike’s constant prodding and encouragement, I don’t know if I would ever have taken that leap. Needless to say, the Army Reserve became a central part of my life after that time, so I owe a lot to Mike.

I was at the courthouse for over three years. In addition to the friends and colleagues mentioned above, I worked directly for Judges Larry Cohen, Ken Fitzpatrick, and Al Markert. Each provide me inspiration in my life and as a lawyer. They were as different in personality and character than you could imagine. Judge Cohen was a former mayor of St. Paul. He was a liberal Democrat and we got along as well as I have with any boss I’ve ever had. It was different since there is a fairly wide chasm between a law student and a Judge, but he was firm, kind, and always encouraging. He also had an eye for the ladies. I think I was the first male clerk he ever had. He ran a very busy courtroom, but I had fun going to work every day.

Judge Fitzpatrick was the total opposite of Judge Cohen. Where Judge Cohen was outgoing and charismatic, Judge Fitz was reclusive. He would walk through the outer chambers every morning without even saying hello to me or his court reporter. Rather strange. After a trial, Judge Fitz would put a sticky note on the file telling me how to rule on the case. It was up to me to write the Court Order. Several times, the precedent didn’t agree with Fitz’s sticky note. That didn’t matter to him. He told me to make it fit somehow. I didn’t particularly enjoy working for Fitz, but I did learn from him. He demanded a lot from his clerk. Not only did I write his opinions, but I managed his calendar, screened his calls, and kept pesky attorneys and court management personnel away. The only people who received open access were two nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor who dutifully visited every month. They always left with a check! While not overly social, Fitz was definitely a generous man.

Finally, Judge Markert was perhaps my favorite. Like Fitz, he often had me draft his opinions. He was, though, much more willing to discuss the case and precedent. Judge Markert was what some people might call a gentle giant. He had been a lineman on the Minnesota Gopher football team and was drafted by the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, he was also drafted by Uncle Sam, so never played professional football. Judge Markert freely admitted that he wasn’t what he’d call the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he made up for it with a excess of common sense and uncommon kindness. He was a Republican, but truly a nonpartisan jurist. More than anything, Judge Markert taught me how to treat people. Treat them well and they will reciprocate. He also knew how to keep me laughing. He had a deep baritone laugh and laughed often. He even made me laugh without saying anything. Often, he would show up after lunch with a box of ice cream sandwiches – and would proceed to eat the entire box! More important than the laughter, though, Judge Markert would back me up any time – and proved it during a debacle when I was taking the bar exam (perhaps a story for another blog!).

After graduation from law school, I became a regular visitor to the Ramsey County Courthouse. I represented many clients and filed numerous documents on site, so for many years it remained a big part of my work life. The climax, though, was a Rotary meeting shortly before I left my law practice in Minnesota and rejoined the Army. This was a gathering that followed my year as President of the Saint Paul Rotary club. It is a club tradition to “roast” their outgoing President. For me, it only made sense to hold it – after hours – at the courthouse. This was a wonderful gala that started in a large meeting room. What followed, though, was hilarious! I was put “on trial” for something that I can’t even remember.

Uh oh. Doesn’t look good for the defendant!
If only I could have kept my defense attorneys sober.
This judge looks mean!

My fellow Rotarians served as judge and jury. Tom Farnham presided from the bench. I was assigned a couple of drunk defense attorney, Doug Bruce and Bob Jones. Rotarians served as the prosecutor, court staff, bailiffs, and jurors. Other Rotarians were in the gallery with various protest signs. As you might expect, I was pronounced guilty. I was led away in prison garb, only to be released to family and a heartfelt thank you from the club. It was quite a fitting way to end my long association with the Ramsey County Courthouse.

Working in Germany (volume II)

One thing special about military units is tradition. I believe, however, that my unit in Germany, 2/59th Air Defense Artillery, had traditions above and beyond what is typical. In my many years in the Army following that first assignment, I never experienced another unit that had quite the same. There were some similar traditions, but never the extent and number of unique unit customs.

The first tradition I will discuss is saluting. Even non-military readers will understand that saluting is a tradition unlike any in civilian life. Many units take that to another level and 2/59 ADA was one of those. The junior Soldier initiates the salute to a senior officer. In the 2/59 ADA, the junior Soldier would initiate the salute and state loudly, “Hot Shot!” The senior officer returned the salute and replied, “On Target.” It was a great tradition within the unit and very often officers would scold a young soldier who failed to abide by the traditional greeting.

Hot Shot motto stenciled onto the stairs in the O’Brien Barracks buildings.

Besides saluting, one of the first things we learned about in the unit was the “Hot Shot Board.” The legend was that the unit was such an elite unit that it could reject any new second lieutenants who were not up to snuff. I don’t recall the “punishment,” but I do remember the story was that anyone who failed the Hot Shot Board was either sent to a less desirable unit in Germany, or even sent back to the States! The Board typically took place within several weeks of a new lieutenant’s arrival. This was to allow the newbie to get some sense of the unit and its great lineage. The Board was convened by the Battalion Commander (a Lieutenant Colonel) and conducted by senior First Lieutenants in the unit.

As the more skeptical of you may have guessed, this entire debacle was little more than a initiation stunt where the new lieutenant was debased and made fun of, all for the pleasure of their new peers. The Commander’s involvement led to a degree of credulity that was hard for a newbie to rebut. Therefore, most new lieutenants looked toward the Hot Shot Board with a great deal of angst and trepidation. The real key to “success” was to get the new lieutenant so worked up that he could hardly sleep or eat or do just about anything. Ultimately, it was a right of passage, much like a fraternity initiation. It is definitely not allowed in today’s Army, but it was riding high in 1985!

For my Board, I was teamed up with another second lieutenant who arrived around the same time as me. I knew him from my Basic Officer Course, so it did help to ease the pre-Board jitters. The Board started with some seriousness, but quickly turned into a exercise of the two of us marching around the room with our hats over our faces (to mimic the use of a gas mask), while “tooting” our horns and calling out instructions to each other. It must have been awfully amusing to everyone in the room besides the two of us. Not only was I relieved to be ultimately let in in the gag, but I admit that I became a chief tormentor for many poor lieutenants who followed me.

Similar to the Hot Shot Board was the tradition at the end of one’s tour of duty with the unit. Upon someone’s departure, we held a formal “hail and farewell” ceremony. As part of the ceremony, the departing officer was inducted into the “Ancient and Honorable Order of the Oozlefinch.” The Oozlefinch is the unofficial mascot of the Air Defense Artillery. It is a fictional, featherless bird that flies backwards and carries the weapons of the Air Defense Artillery. As part of the induction ceremony, an officer stood while a fellow officer read a scroll that depicted the accomplishments and achievements that merited membership in this great Order. It most often included some of the most notorious and/or embarrassing events that occurred during the person’s tour. While it could be quite personal – and often extremely exaggerated (or even blatantly false) – these stories were regaled in a funny and endearing manner. They were truly a highlight of unit activities.

The Oozlefinch as adopted by the Air Defense Artillery Branch in the 1980s

A corollary to the Oozelfinch was the monthly award of the “Black Helmet” to someone during the monthly hail and farewell. This was a special award granted to the biggest screw-up during the month. Sometimes it was a huge screw-up and sometimes it was a minor infraction. It was always, though, a hilarious affair. Like the Oozelfinch stories, these were very often extremely embarrassing events. Some were based upon mere stupidity and some were cases of flat-out insubordination. The real point (in my opinion) was to provide a learning opportunity, particularly for young officers, to learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of their peers. Though embarrassing, the presentations were conducted with sufficient humor in order to allow the recipient an opportunity to save face. The most hilarious Black Helmet lore during my time in 2/59 ADA was that one lieutenant seemed to win the award time after time. Pretty soon, it was almost a given that 1LT Dave Shublak would do something to keep the rest of us from getting recognized for whatever dumb deed we did that particular month. Or, as we used to say, Dave had an uncanny ability to steal defeat from the jaws of victory!

Most of our hail and farewell events took place after work at the Officer’s Club. More accurately, by the time we arrive in Germany, Officer’s Clubs had become passé; therefore, the club on O’Brien Barracks was a Community Club. Our Battalion Commander, Jack Costello, was not a big fan of this. He (rightfully) felt that Officers needed a place to blow off some steam that is not in front of the Noncommissioned Officers and Soldiers. This was especially true when we made fun of ourselves during awards like the Oozelfinch and the Black Helmet. LTC Costello ultimately worked out a deal with the Club manager that gave officers exclusive access to a private room in the Club.

Ken Busse and I were assigned the task to make our new club room unique and special. We got almost Carte Blanche authority to do whatever we needed in order to make an Officer’s Club within the club. We started by changing the lock on the door and assigning a key to each of the unit’s officers. Then it seemed to us that the room was lacking adequate space. After pondering the situation over a few beers, Ken and I had the bright idea that if we took out half the bar, we would have more space for the patrons. Besides, the bar was adjacent to the main bar in the outer room, so we figured the bartenders could use that space whenever necessary.

The bar ran across one entire end of the room, so there was some merit to our plan. The problem was that we had an extremely limited budget and using government resources was not an option. I swear it wasn’t the beer talking, but it wasn’t long before Ken and I were physically sawing the bar in half with a hand saw. Unfortunately, we did not have a very good plan on how we would properly finish the raw cut end. I guess we envisioned turning the removed end into a corner joint back toward the wall. Sure, an “L-shaped” bar! Once we had completed a relatively straight cut through the massive bar top, we recognized that we had opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box. How do we support the new corner point in the bar? How about the electricity and plumbing running through the middle of the bar? How would we finish the top of the bar to make it appear less of a hack job and somewhat “professional?” All these questions and more caused us to “close” the Officer’s area of the club for several weeks.

Somehow, we were able to rebuild the bar into something useable. It actually didn’t look half bad. We got some help from some guys who had some more general contractor knowledge than we did and surprisingly made it work. It turned out to be a lot more work that we had initially set out to do, but everyone – even the Battalion Commander – was appreciative of our efforts. Unfortunately, though, the concept of an officer’s only section didn’t last long. Before too long we realized that the Officers on the barracks preferred to take their business to the local German establishments rather than going to the Club. In retrospect, I suspect that is part of the reason why the Officer’s Clubs were phased out in the first place. Oh well, live and learn!

There were several other traditions in 2/59ADA that I’d better mention. These are typical for every unit in Germany, so not necessarily unique, but still a whole lot of fun. The first was the annual Oktoberfest trip in Munich. It often got ugly and always included an eventful ride home (usually on the train). It is fortunate that we didn’t lose anyone along the way, though I seem to remember that Shublak might have turned up missing for a day or two!

Me with LTs Tomlinson, Sammy, and others at Oktoberfest 1987
Amy celebrating Oktoberfest with Joel Oguete and the gang.

The other interesting and fun traditions were the formally organized Officer Professional Development (OPD) trips and the less formal unit ski trips to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The former were called “battle rides” or “staff rides” with purpose to visit and learn from previous Army campaigns or individual battles. In Germany we had a plethora of sites to choose. In my time with 2/59ADA, we visited and studied such sites as the Malmedy Massacre, the Battle of the Bulge, the Siege of Bastogne, the Maginot Line, the Nurnberg Rally Ground, and Dachau Concentration Camp. All provided interesting insight into our profession of arms and the horrors of war.

Ski trips were fun, but again, not necessarily unique events. The best part of them in those days was to experience the magic of the area around the German/Austrian Alps. Garmisch-Partenkirchen remains one of my favorite cities in the world, even today. In the mid-1980s, it was unique as the town had several hotels named after American Generals from World War II. They included The Patton Hotel, The Abrams Hotel, and even the quaint Von Steuben Hotel that recognized German General Baron von Steuben, who assisted General George Washington in the U.S. Revolutionary War. Also in Garmisch was a commercial movie theatre that showed first-run movies in English on weekend nights. That was a rare treat since there was nowhere else in Europe at the time to see first-run American movies (at least in English). It was at that theater that I had my first taste of the “original” Budweiser beer that was imported covertly from Czechoslovakia.

Finally, I can’t say enough about the experience of skiing the Zugspitze. The “Zug” is part of the Alps and is the highest peak in Germany. Prior to skiing there, my only experience was the various local ski locales in Minnesota where you skied about 5 minutes down the hill and waited for another 30 minutes to get back up the lift. On the Zugspitze, you could ski for well over an hour without going back uphill! I remember having to stop to take breaks before continuing down the mountain. Yes, you had a long trip back, but by that time you really needed a break.

Throughout all of the above, I learned to love Germany and gained great appreciation for everything that the Army offered to me. It would be many years before I really learned to love the Army, but it certainly got its start with the camaraderie and great adventures from my time with 2/59 ADA in Schwabach, Germany. I remember all of my friends and colleagues with great fondness. That three-year tour clearly left indelible impression on me and my life.

Living Abroad

Arrival in Germany

All told, I’ve lived abroad – in Germany – for over five years of my life. Even though I haven’t been there since 2012, I can point to Germany as a place with so many highlights in my life. It has a magical draw to me and though I’m sure it is much changed, I can’t wait for my next adventure there!

I was elated when our number came up for assignment in Germany. We were headed from Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, to O’Brien Barracks in Schwabach, West Germany. It was West Germany at the time since this was in March of 1985. Until then, I had never been to Europe. Amy had traveled there on a school trip, but it was all new to me.

O’Brien Barracks slightly before our time, but it looked quite similar, except for a couple of brand new buildings just inside the gate that were in progress upon our arrival.

We started our trip with a layover in Washington, DC, so we could pay respects to my Uncle E.C. Grayson. At the time he was serving as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy. We spent the night in his beautiful home in Arlington before boarding our flight to Germany. We had a late afternoon flight, as is typical, to allow for a morning arrival in Germany.

We knew had a ride at the Frankfurt airport, but did not have much detail about our pickup. At that time, most correspondence between the US and Europe was by letter. Letters generally took a couple of weeks. My sponsor had written that he would pick us up at the airport. I had no idea how I would find him, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to identify a U.S. Soldier in uniform. Little did I know how wrong I was!

Sitting next to me on the flight was a full-bird Colonel. That is one step below General Officer rank, so I was a bit nervous talking to him. He asked about where we were going and whether our unit was picking us up. To the latter, I answered rather tepidly, “Yes, I think so.” He told me not to worry and that he would ensure I had a ride if my unit did not follow through. I did not know at the time that not only was he a Colonel, but he was the Chief of Staff of the First Armored Division (my unit’s higher headquarters).

Upon deplaning and collecting our bags, the Colonel spied us and guided us through customs. Outside of the baggage/customs area was a large throng of people, many of whom were wearing the U.S. camouflage uniform. The Colonel asked if we saw anyone with a sign identifying them as our sponsor. I had not and I must have had a dazed and perplexed look on my face. He quickly stated, “You are coming with me.”

This led to a string of events that were NOT good for me, my sponsor, or my new unit! After a drive and stop for my first German coffee, we arrived at the Division Headquarters in Ansbach, Germany. That was only about a 45 minute drive from Schwabach. The first thing the Chief of Staff did upon our arrival there was to call our new Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Costello, and chew him out for leaving a new Second Lieutenant stranded at the airport. He directed that they send a car for me ASAP.

Before too long, a car did arrive and transported us directly to the unit on O’Brien Barracks to sign in and then directly to our temporary lodging at Porlein’s Hotel in downtown Schwabach. I was told to get some sleep and to report back to the Battalion Headquarters the next morning. Whoever took us to the hotel was kind enough to discuss the arrangements with Herr and Frau Porlein, who spoke VERY little English.

Gasthof Hans Porlein – our first “home” in Schwabach.

That afternoon, we finally met my sponsor. Fellow Second Lieutenant Ken Busse arrived at the hotel after getting his butt chewed for failing to meet us at the airport. The only problem was that he had been there all along! The Colonel had rushed us through the exit area so quickly that we had missed each other. Ken chastised me (rightly so) for not sticking around since he clearly told me he would meet us at the airport. Fortunately, Ken was quite forgiving and he and his wife Lynn became our best friends during our tour.

Living in Germany

We definitely had culture shock when we arrived in Germany. Not only had I made the ultimate faux pas at our arrival, but I seemed to have a hard time getting in step with the pace and requirements of my job. I was quite happy that my first Battery Commander, Captain John Warnke, was more interested in training subordinates than beating them for their failures. Work was hard, but we also played hard. John and his wife Lynne brought us into their circle, so we quickly became part of the community.

Germany of 1985 was a much different place than it is today. It was at the height of the Cold War. The distance to Europe was also quite different in the age before Internet. One of our first lessons of the learned was how great the distance really was. Shortly after we arrived in Germany, Amy’s grandfather died. We weren’t even aware of it until about six weeks later when she received a letter from her mother. What a shock! At the time, we had been living in Porlein’s hotel. They had tried to call, but could not get past the language barrier. By the time we had a home and sent our new addresses, nearly two months had passed.

As indicated above, this was prior to Internet, so there was no email or social media. Even once we got a home phone, it was extremely expensive. We only called on very special occasions and on those occasions, we really needed to script our calls in order to keep the call short. That led to written letters as the preferred method of communication. As letters generally took a couple of weeks, almost nothing was true recent “news.” I can’t even imagine what life was when the only communication to and from Europe was via ship.

Partly because of the communication issues, we really had to make friends with our colleagues in Germany. There is a unique camaraderie that I’ve experience only as a Soldier living abroad in Germany. Nothing else really compares to the relationships and experiences. Not only were we separated from our families, but most of us did not have more than a very simplistic understanding of the language and culture. We learned to get by, but were always the most comfortable with our American colleagues. We were all in the same boat and we all needed each other.

The Army did a good job fostering the sense of community in Germany. That was a significant part of the mission. At the time we arrived in Germany, the Nuremberg military community exceeded 100,000 American Soldiers and their immediate families. Our “inprocessing” tasks included “Headstart” basic German language classes for Soldiers and their spouses, German driver’s training and testing, and orientation of the military community. The community itself was a self-contained little village. We had our own grocery store (commissary), shopping mall (Post Exchange, or “PX”), churches, Post Office, bank, barber and beauty shops, schools, child care, hospital and clinics, gymnasiums, liquor stores veterinary clinics, and just about every other community service needed for Servicemembers and their families. The Army even provided significant Morale, Welfare, and Recreation for those in Germany. This included recreational facilities and classes, tour and travel opportunities, and counseling services. It even included radio and television (one station each) in English.

In short, the Army provided everything that anyone could need to survive in a foreign country. There was very little need to interact in the German community, especially for single soldiers. Unfortunately, there were some who vary rarely stepped foot off of the Army base for their entire tour. We tried the best we could to get them at least some taste of German culture, but outside of the German beer (and women), some soldiers had no desire to explore.

One problem for us was that our Town of Schwabach did not have a large American base. Rather, we were an outpost of the greater Nurnberg community. As a result, family lodging was extremely limited and nothing was available upon our arrival. We stayed at the Porlein Hotel for over a month before we could find housing on the German economy. We quickly realized, though, how lucky we were. We ended up in an apartment on the second floor of a German family’s home. We had a shared entrance, but walked upstairs to our apartment.

Our landlords, Herr and Frau Schuler, were very nice to us. They had a small son, Alexander. Herr Schuler spoke a little English, but Frau Schuler spoke none. This created many interesting interactions since he was often away with work. He did, though, alert us to the various rules of the house. Not only were most stores closed on Sundays, but it was supposed to be a day of rest for everyone. He could not do yard work on Sunday and ensured we were aware that we could not wash our car or hang out our laundry on Sundays. He was a stickler for many other rules, such as where and how we parked, the correct way to open the gate, etc.

The house was on Bad Strasse, not far from downtown Schwabach. It was a wonderful location and had an orchard in the back yard and a small creek running through the front yard. Our apartment had a covered deck across the front of the house. It was quite a peaceful setting. Before long, though, we adopted our puppy, Schatzi, and really wanted our own fenced yard where we didn’t have to take her on a leash down the stairs and across the yard. In addition, it was clear that Frau Schuler did not like the dog, so we found a townhouse that suited us better.

We loved the experience of living among our German hosts. After leaving the Schuler’s apartment, we ended up in small townhouse village in which we were the only Americans. Schatzi loved the yard, but she was also a bit too fond of our wooden floating stairs. She took quite a chunk out of one of the stairs. Living amidst the Germans led to many interesting and awkward experiences. In addition to the stairs, we had an incident where we lost power during a big soccer game. Our home was in the middle of the row, so the community television antenna was on our house. When our power went out (from using too many transformers), the neighbors came banging on our door. The good thing was we got much quicker than usual response from the power company! Other issues included Amy having a slight problem with a garage door that caused a commotion in the neighborhood and Schatzi, though she loved the freedom of her own yard, would not quit barking any time someone walked by. Despite these and various other issues, we felt welcomed and really loved that home.

Our townhome at 14 Am Dachsbau, Schwabach. Note the television antenna atop our middle unit!

The group of officers that we associated with frequently planned weekend trips to other cities within Germany. Ken Busse was most often our translator. His wife Lynn and John Warnke’s wife Lynne were the travel planners. Most trips were only a short drive away. We definitely got to see much of the entire state of Bavaria. In addition to our travels, we became “Volksmarch” aficionados. A Volksmarch is generally a 10 or 20 kilometer hike through the German countryside. Each town sponsoring a Volksmarch typically offers some sort of prize for participants, usually a beer mug or medal. That became a regular activity most Saturdays or Sundays in the Summer.

Another frequent activity was eating out and drinking beer. It didn’t take me long to learn to really enjoy the German cuisine. I loved the fact that the Germans had a beer for every season. We bought beer by the rack. Those consisted of twenty half-liter bottles in a plastic rack. We went through racks and racks of beer! Every city had its own brewery. The larger towns had multiple breweries, so we were never at a loss for places to try new beers.

Schwabach was about a 30 minute train ride to the center of Old Nurnberg. We made that trek often, but I particularly loved during Christmas season. Nurnberg is the site of the world famous Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Market). It was awesome just strolling through the main square of the city. In addition to perusing the wares of peddlers, there were aromas of Gluhwein (spiced hot wine), lebkuchen (gingerbread), and of course, bratwurst. This was not your typical bratwurst like Americans are familiar with, but it was special Nurberger Rostbratwurst. You typically got a small sandwich roll (brotchen), with two or three Nurnberger bratwurst, and wonderful sharp German senf (mustard). They are heavenly and I think that the Christkindlesmarkt visits were the only time I chose wine over beer.

German fests are legendary. Almost everyone is aware of the Munich Oktoberfest. Yes, we got there every year, but nearly every town had its own fest. It wasn’t just the Fall beer fest either. There was a wine fest, a spring fest, and summer fest, a harvest fest, and just about any other reason to celebrate. We hit them all! They all served beer and wine, all had music, all had bratwurst and currywurst and pom frittes (French fries) and pretzels and many other staples. It was good, clean fun! If you didn’t visit the fests in Germany, you were missing an important part of the culture. Still my favorite was the Christkindlesmarkt, not only in Nurnberg, but throughout Germany and Austria. We tried a lot, but still enjoyed our home town version the best.

Not long after my arrival, most of the 2/59 Air Defense Artillery Battalion airlifted to the Crete Missile Base for our annual readiness drill and inspection. There, they chose the best – and worst – missile squads and platoons in Europe. My platoon came in dead last. I had a lot to learn as a leader. Still, I was awed at the opportunity to live in Europe and to visit Crete as a part of my job! In my next blog post I’ll focus more on my job, as well as on some of the interesting situations we found ourselves in.

Working in Germany

As should have been clear from my last blog post, I LOVED living and working in Germany. At that point of my career, though, I was far from the best Army Officer. We had an incredible group of Officer and Enlisted leaders in the 2/59 Air Defense Artillery Battalion. In my Battery alone, I can point to spectacular officers, such as John Warnke, Earnie Harris, Jeff Bergenthal, Mike Sullivan, and Ken Busse. A few others were closer to the bottom of the barrel, which made me look pretty good in comparison! There were so many other great officers in the Batallion (including: Charlie Gulac, Tim Eno, Lonnie Buff, Ben Cubitt, Lee VanBrederode, Mike Steves, Mark Borreson, Joel Oguete, Mark Carlson, Randy Wuerz, Arturo Thiele-Sardina, Ray Iram, Greg Marinich, Art Earl, Carlos Solari, Tim Tritch, and MANY others) in our small unit that I could point to, so it seems to me so many years later that I was clearly a “middle of the road” Lieutenant.

The people I really looked up to were our Battalion Commander, Jack Costello (who went on to retire as a 3-star General), his wife Mickey, my Battery Commander, John Warnke, my sponsor, Ken Busse, and my Platoon Sergeant Ted Fisher. In so many ways I was dragged along by the above just enough to become a serviceable Platoon Leader, as the Army life did not come naturally to me. I think I described this in more detail in an earlier blog post. Anyway, I followed the example of these and other fine Soldiers to get my footing.

My first introduction to the “real” Army was shortly after we moved into our apartment on Bad Strasse. We didn’t have our phone installed yet (about a six week wait in those days). We were woken suddenly VERY early one morning by an annoying buzzer that kept ringing in the hallway of our apartment. It was Ken Busse pushing the buzzer at the gate. I picked up the intercom and Ken explained that the unit had an alert – and that our platoons needed to be loaded up and ready in less than an hour. I had no car, so Ken had to wait for me to get dressed as quickly as I could.

“Lariat Advance” was the code word for a full alert for the troops stationed in West Germany during the Cold War. We simply called it an alert. Alerts occurred about once per month and were generally hated events, mostly because they typically occurred around 3AM. We never knew when they were going to happen, but there were always rumors of an upcoming alert. That was nearly as bad as the alert since you could hardly sleep the night of a rumored alert.

I don’t remember the precise timeline, but the standard procedure for an alert was to get full accountability of all our unit personnel within one hour of the initial kick-off. We then had another hour to get our equipment loaded onto our vehicles and lined up to depart the back gate of our small Kaserne. Some of the tasks during that second hour were: issuing weapons and gas masks to every Soldier, obtaining communication encryption codes, and Operations Order briefings that went first to the Battery Commanders from the Battalion Commander, then from the Battery Commanders to Platoon Leaders, and finally from the Platoon Leaders to the Squad Leaders (or simply to the entire Platoon). The typical instructions were to proceed via “road march” (i.e., riding in our tactical vehicles/weapon system to our nearby Basic Load Storage Area. We would stage our vehicles in the woods and in sequence load our full compliment of weapon systems. For us, that meant guided missile systems for the Chaparral and Stinger teams and 20mm basic load for the Vulcan anti-aircraft guns.

By mid-morning we normally got an “ENDEX,” which meant that the alert was over. Sometimes, though, the alert lasted a day or longer. In at least one case I remember that it kicked off a week-long exercise that we didn’t know was coming. This obviously also put stress on our families, who had no idea when we would be home.

We went to the field for extended times fairly regularly. Honestly, I didn’t love it, but those were the times when you really got to exercise your leadership skills. You got to put into action the various battle drills that your team ran through on an almost daily basis. It was in the field where you could really excel. I remember some great times while in the field, but there were many downsides, such as: sleeping in a cold cot, not getting much sleep (see a pattern about what I DON’T like?!), no showers, no bathrooms, and always being on the move. There was absolutely no downtime, or at least very little. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like my job as a Platoon Leader. I did. I just didn’t like things like alerts, Staff Duty, and extended field duty. I enjoyed the daily work with our platoons on maintenance and training. I truly loved working with Soldiers and Non-Commissioned Officers. There was a whole lot about the job that I loved, but like any job, certainly not all.

Another hated task was serving as Staff Duty Officer (SDO) about once per month. We needed to have multiple people on duty 24/7. Each Battery had a enlisted CQ (Charge of Quarters) and an assistant stationed near the unit headquarters. They kept watch over their respective areas overnight. The SDO was tasked to check up on the Battery locations throughout the night. This included a regular patrol route through each of the Battery areas, their motor pools, the arms room, our Basic Load Storage Area (BLSA), and other areas of high security. We had a Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) who was assigned the duty for several months at a time, so they really ran things, but the Staff Duty Officer was the Commander’s representative and took the brunt of anything that went wrong. The NCO worked nights regularly as their only job, but the SDO signed in after the normal workday was complete and was on duty throughout the night. On a good day, we might catch a few winks on a couch at some point during the night, but it was always an interrupted sleep. The only good thing was getting the day off (normally) once you were relieved of duty that morning.

As indicated above, field duty was a part of life in the 1st Armored Division. As my Air Defense Artillery Battalion supported the Division, when they went to the field, so did we. It was in the field that I learned NOT to like camping. We rarely slept well. Our radios squawked all night long, so even with a night-shift radioman, we were often up trying to figure out the various messages. It was when we were in the field that two very important moments in my life occurred. The first was in May of 1986. I got a radio message from our headquarters very early that morning. The message was, “the stork is coming.” That wasn’t some sort of coded message, but it was confirmation that my son was soon to be born. I had to quickly disengage and get myself back home if I wanted to be there to witness the birth. Fortunately, we were not far away and I made it back in plenty of time.

The second important event was during an extended field exercise at the Hohenfels Training Area in Bavaria. This was in October of 1987. My home team, the Minnesota Twins, were in the World Series against the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals. The games were on the Armed Forces Network, both television and radio. Since we were in the field, though, I had no access to television. My only access to games was radio. Unfortunately, all but one of the games were night games. Due to the time difference, that would have been in the wee hours of the morning. Given the little sleep I already had, there was no way I could even think about listening to the games. Instead, I had to rely on the AFN morning news or finding one of the few copies of the Stars and Stripes morning newspapers that made it out to the field.

On Saturday, October 24, 1987, the Twins returned to the Metrodome for Game 6. They were down in the series 3 games to 2. If they lost Game 6, it was over. Fortunately, that game was an afternoon game in the Twin Cities. Therefore, it wasn’t TOO late for me to catch at least part of the game. The Twins trailed until the bottom of the fifth inning when they clawed out a one-run lead. It was pretty late in Germany, but I couldn’t even think about sleeping. Then came the sixth inning. Kent Hrbek stepped to the plate with bases loaded and hit a grand slam! I was elated! With a five-run lead I felt I could finally turn off the game and get some sleep. Oh, and for Game 7, unfortunately I could not even catch the start of the game, but from Hohenfels, Germany, that Game 6 was magical to this long suffering fan!

Whenever we came home from the field, most wives had us undress outside our front doors. Yes, we smelled that bad. Our unit had no women, so there was NEVER much considerations for showers while in the field. I remember one time when I was on the Battalion staff that I actually got a shower at a sportsplatz, but that was the exception. In the winter, things seemed even worse. We seemed to spend more time just keeping our Soldiers warm and fed than accomplishing anything related to the mission. It was a treat to head to higher headquarters where there was almost always a toasty hot tent. The best mechanic was the guy who had a knack with vehicle heaters. Whoever that was quickly became my primary driver! Even then, it isn’t easy to keep a ragtop Jeep warm.

Besides the above exiting events that occurred during field exercises, two of my most memorable field experiences related to getting stuck. One earned me a nickname and the other brought me great appreciation for German farmers. The first was when we had a hard time finding a bridge over a small creek that would accommodate the weight of our vehicles. I had a string of five tracked vehicles and we couldn’t find a bridge without detouring several miles out of our way. Because of the difficulty keeping our tracked vehicles running, we avoided putting any extra miles on them. So, I decided that we would ford the stream where there was a rather gentle bank. The first Chapparal crossed the stream without too much difficulty. It did have some trouble, though, on its entry out of the water onto the bank. I directed the next vehicle to come at more of a diagonal route to provide a cleaner lift out of the water. Bad idea. We had a general idea of the depth of the water, but didn’t know how solid the creek bed was. The diagonal route took the Chapparal into a mucky bottom and it got stuck. Stuck bad!

Sergeant Johnson was my bad luck Squad Leader. Sure enough, it was his vehicle stuck in the mud. As a good leader should, I took all blame for getting him stuck. After a time it was clear that we might have to call a wrecker. That would cause just about everyone in the Battalion to know that I screwed up. Captain Warnke happened to come by as we were trying to figure things out. I think he tried to chew me out, but he couldn’t stop laughing. He even had me wade out to the sunken vehicle and snapped a photo that got shared throughout the unit. He also dubbed me, “Admiral Grayson,” a nickname that stuck for a while.

“Admiral” Grayson directing the recovery effort of the Chaparral sideways along the bank.

The second mud incident occurred during a reconnaissance of an area that the Battery would be occupying during a field exercise in Southeast Germany. It was springtime and the forest roads were terrible. They weren’t exactly roads, but were tractor trails through the woods. This time it wasn’t me with the bravado, but my driver who insisted that he could easily navigate the ruts. I was then the Battery Executive Officer, so this was after my earlier encounter with the creek. This time I was smart enough to make sure that no one found out about it. Also, we were over an hour drive from home and it would have been a long night if we had to call back to our unit for help.

My driver and I walked to a nearby farmhouse with the idea that perhaps his small field tractor could pull us from the mud. Our Chevy Blazer (we had recently upgraded from Jeeps) had bottomed out in deep, muddy ruts. The farmer came to investigate and chained his tractor to the vehicle. After several mighty tugs, it was clear that our vehicle was even more stuck than we thought. In my mind I started going through how this time might just torpedo my career. Suddenly, the farmer told us to hop on his tractor. He pulled up to his barn and opened the door. Inside was a HUGE tractor with wheels about eight feet high! That thing could have pulled our Chapparal out of the river by itself. It had no problem pulling our SUV out of the mud and we were soon on our way. My driver kept his word and that story never got out!

Other adventures were even more exciting. The highlight had to be the three trips to Crete. That was the only location in Europe where we could fire live missiles. It was quite a treat to spend a couple of weeks there each Summer, but it wasn’t all for fun. In addition to the missile firing, we were evaluated on our jobs. As I indicated in my last blog, that first year my Platoon came in dead last. Not just in the Battalion, but in the entire European theater. We had work to do. My Platoon Sergeant, SFC Fisher, squad leaders SSG Rivera, SSG Harrell, SGT Clapp, and SGT Johnson worked hard all year with the idea of redeeming ourselves the following year. When CPT Warnke asked if I wanted to try a different job, I declined. Nope, I said, I want to take THIS Platoon back to Crete and win! That we did. We achieved the top score in Europe that Summer. Redemption was ours! I couldn’t have been prouder of my team. We celebrated drinking ouzo in the port town of Chania and enjoyed the many sites on the island (yes, that included trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to keep our Soldiers away from the nude beaches!).

Only about half of our Battalion got to participate in the Crete trips. The rest comprised of the Vulcan weapon system teams and our radar operators. Instead of Crete, they conducted their gunnery twice per year on a small NATO base in Northern Germany, just outside the small town of Todendorf. We fired the Vulcans 20mm shells over the Baltic Sea. I only experienced it once, but it was a treat. To get there, though, we first had the tedious task of railheading our tracked Vulcan vehicles from Schwabach to Todendorf, together with the tedious “freight” train travel schedule. Once in Todendorf, though, we worked hard and played hard.

One of the signature events during each Todendorf trip was the unit dinner at a local restaurant. Two traditions were shots of rusty nail, which are unlike any rusty nail drinks I have ever seen in the United States, and the “boot.” I think the rusty nail consisted mostly of Tabasco and probably Vodka. It was deadly, both the night of and the whole following day! I am aware of only one person who refused to drink one and survived. The other tradition was the passing of the boot. This is more of a traditional German drinking game. The trick was to tap the table in some sort of sequence and then take a guzzle from a two-liter glass boot. If you got the sequence wrong, you drank a rusty nail. If not, you passed the boot to the guy next to you. Whoever got the first bubble from the foot of the boot had to guzzle the remainder. Good clean fun! Unfortunately, there were a whole lot of hangovers the following morning!

The best part of Todendorf for me was that after the firing and evaluations were over, we got the following day off. Many of the Soldiers slept and had a lazy day in Todendorf. The adventurous types hopped a ferry to Copenhagen. Since I’d never been to Denmark, I jumped at the opportunity. I still remember so much of that trip. The marvelous Tivoli gardens, wonderful food, beautiful women, and sights unlike those we saw in Germany. At one bar part of our small group got a visit from the reigning “Miss Denmark,” who wanted to practice her English. All in all, it was a fun day and a great way to wrap up a long week.

Yes, there are more hijinks from that first tour in Germany, but those will have to wait until my next blog!