My Rotary Journey – the Seeds

I have been a member of Rotary for nearly 30 years. Hard to believe, but Rotary has actually been a part of my life much longer than that. My first memories of Rotary were asking my grandfather (Papa) about his Rotary pin that he dutifully wore on his lapel every day. I also remember accompanying him on occasion to special Rotary meetings at the Saint Paul Athletic Club. These were quite formal affairs in a giant ballroom with well over 300 men in attendance. These particular meetings were set aside for members to bring their children or grandchildren to the club.

Nearly every major business in town was represented at the meetings. Most of the time it was the CEO or President of each company. Though there were over 300 members at the time, membership in the Saint Paul Rotary Club was still quite exclusive. My grandfather was the retired President of Western Fruit Express, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway. For a young kid, this was high society. The meetings generally kicked off with a gathering of cigar, pipe, and cigarette smokers around the bar about an hour prior to the meeting. My granfather smoked cigars, but I have little recollection of him drinking much. Anyway, because he had my sister Pam and I in tow, he avoided that part of the meeting whenever we joined him.

It was MUCH later that my father got involved in Rotary. He had become a well-established lawyer in Saint Paul and was active in many volunteer and social activities in town. He had been active in the Ramsey County Bar association, taught at the University of Minnesota, and was President of the Saint Paul (later Ramsey County) Humane Society for many years. It was in the latter role that he became friends with Dr. Jim Olin, a veterinarian who was longtime Rotarian in Saint Paul. Jim was a past president of the Saint Paul Rotary Club and past District Governor of the Rotary District. You would think that between Jim and my grandfather that my dad would be a shoo-in for membership. You would be wrong!

One of the Charter Members of the Saint Paul Rotary Club was a lawywer named William H. (Bill) Oppenheimer. The Oppenheimer Law Firm is now a nationwide firm and has always been a big player in the Twin Cities legal market. They maintained a strong presence in the Saint Paul Rotary Club and used their influence to exclude any other lawyers from the club. One of the early tenets of Rotary was to have a wide range of vocations, so it was very common to have only one Doctor, one Lawyer, one Stock Broker, one Insurance Company, one Funeral Director, etc. As a result, even though there were many members, it was still quite difficult to gain entry into the club. That is changed now, but it served to exclude many otherwise good members over the years.

After my Dad had been rejected numerous times, Jim Olin had an idea. Each time that my dad had applied, he had to provide the area of law that he practiced. Each time, the Oppenheimer member would state to the membership committee, “we do that” and objected to the application. All it took was an objection from a current member to exclude a new member in the same vocational category. Finally, Jim presented my dad’s application as “Attorney – Mortuary Law.” Upon reviewing the application, Oppenheimer looked up and said, “What the heck is that?” Jim replied, “Well, it looks like you don’t do it!” With that, the committee approved my dad’s membership!

Because of his many connections in the club, my dad became active in Rotary very quickly. We participated in many events as a family. One of the most worthwhile projects was getting involved in Youth Exchange. This necessitated the entire family getting involved since we hosted high school students from Honduras and Japan – a boy and a girl. Each stayed with us for approximately three months. Jose’ was the first. Since he was a boy and close to my age, I became responsible for him. He went just about everywhere with me. He liked school and was somewhat of a novelty. He definitely enjoyed that, especially the attention of the girls! He didn’t like my job nearly as much. At the time, I had a paper route. I got up very early EVERY day. Jose’ stayed with us in the middle of the winter and HATED trudging through the snow with me. Many times he failed to join me, but most of the time he did.

Yoko was our second exchange student. As a girl, she was Pam’s responsibility. Like with Jose’, we learned a lot about a culture different from ours. Unlike Jose’, who basically followed the rules, Yoko quickly took to the new freedom that she found in the United States. For her, that meant dating, something she was not allowed to do at home. Serious dating was also contrary to the rules of Rotary Youth Exchange. Yoko knew her steady boyfriend was a clear violation of the rules, but she persisted anyway. As much as we tried, we could not get her to tow the line. She became secretive about it and started to disassociate with Pam and our family. It was about this time that she moved on to another family. I think the Rotary counselor got involved – and ultimately threatened to send her home early – but she did finish out the year. I don’t know if she gave up the boyfriend, but at least she figured out it had to come to an end soon anyway.

That was not the end of Rotary Youth Exchange for the Grayson family. My sister Pam spent a year in South Africa in 1979-1980 and brother Jon followed her footsteps a few years later. His was a year with Rotary Youth Exchange in Birmingham, England. Strangely enough, I did not participate in Youth Exchange for a multitude of reasons, but I did spend an extended weekend at Camp Enterprise, hosted by the Edina Rotary Club. Even though it was a short event, Camp Enterprise had a huge impact on me and directly led to my interest in public speaking and politics. MUCH later, I became involved in Rotary Youth Exchange again, but that is a story for another day.

After a long time as an an active member, my dad was offered the opportunity to “run” for President of the club. In those days, the office was much more competitive than it is now, which often led to hotly contested elections. Dad lost to Bob Johnson, who went on to become an influential District Governor after his term as President. It was shortly after that election that the Saint Paul Rotary Club changed its procedures and nominated a slate of officers, with only a confirmation “vote” by the entire membership. It was under these new rules that Dad finally became President. While he was one of the first presidents elected by a committee rather than the general membership, it was not without issues. Dad was hugely popular in many circles, but less so in others. Keep in mind that this was the late 1980s and women had just been admitted into Rotary in 1978. Things were changing and Dad wasn’t changing fast enough!

My father almost became the first Saint Paul Rotary President to be impeached. As most Presidents do, Dad added some personal touches to the weekly agenda. The one that led to problems was his practice to start each meeting with a story or a joke. Unfortunately, being “old school,” many of Dad’s stories were off-color. In his defense, he had jokes that offended everyone, so there was definitely no intentional targeting, bias, or discrimination. I don’t know the story that was the tipping point, but I can venture a guess based upon his repitore. A number of prominent women in the club lodged complaints. It wasn’t until other women, including future Club President Carolyn Brusseau, stepped in to mediate, that the office was saved. Dad toned down his act and eliminated most jokes, but he survived the year.

I formally became involved in Rotary in 1993 after joining my father in his law practice. I really had no intention joining, but one day my Dad dropped an application form on my desk and told me to fill it out and get it back to him. I don’t think I ever completed the application – I was worried about the cost of membership – but several weeks later I received a letter from the Saint Paul Rotary Club informing me that my application had been approved. When I protested to Dad, he told me that the firm would take care of my membership. So, that was truly the beginning. Everything before that was just a prelude to the journey that I was about to embark on. Rotary has provided me so many mentors and friends over the years. Even though it wasn’t my idea, Rotary has greatly impacted my life. More about my personal Rotary story in my next blog!

Kaposvar, Part 2

Not only was my Army career looking up after I got to Kaposvar, but so was my fitness and social life. Yes, the Captain’s Club was fun, but there were also a number of poor influences. I was certainly drinking too much beer; the food in the mess hall was plentiful; I was hardly working out; and all that started adding to my waistline! My new influences were fellow Captains in our Kaposvar home – Laurel Devine, Mercer Hedgeman, Ken Speaks, and Ben Tuck. All were quite physically fit and I started mimicking their routines.

There was no way I could keep up with Mercer. He was a former Division 1 football player from Rutgers University. Mercer worked out two times per day, so there was no way I could keep up with him! Laurie, Ben, and Ken were more my speed. Ken lived at Taszar, so he wasn’t a regular, but Laurie, Ben, and I were a workout team. It got rather old running around our small former Soviet Army base. As we ran more, we needed more space. At one point we found a mostly abandoned “back gate” that abutted the woods. We were able to work around the NATO concertina razor wire and through a break in the fence line.

Mercer signing an autograph for a young Hungarian girl. He was the first black man she’d ever seen and thought he was someone famous. As you can tell from her face, she is overjoyed!

There were rumors about this “back gate” and a few brave souls apparently found some running trails in the woods. At first it was just Laurie and I who had the guts to try, but we quickly convinced Ben that this was “safe.” Keep in mind that we were restricted to our base, unless off on official duty. That meant written permission from a senior official. We somehow convinced ourselves that fitness was definitely official duty. In getting around the restriction policy, we reasoned that the woods were truly an extension of the base. It wasn’t as if we were walking around in town or in someone’s back yard.

So, the running really started with earnest. Sometimes it was only two, but often four or five of us. Almost always, it was me and Laurie, and we were dedicated. So dedicated, in fact, that we made a pact among ourselves that we would run the Twin Cities Marathon upon our return. At one point this was just four of us, but that later grew to others within our unit, to include some back in Wiesbaden (fat chance!). We ended up finding trails for miles and miles outside of that back gate and ran just about any chance we got. Before too long the rumored and unofficial back gate running route was actually approved. Even then, though, we rarely saw more than a couple of runners during our routines.

One terrible experience occurred while in the makeshift gym after one of our runs. The gym was basically a large fest tent with a plywood floor. It housed various workout equipment on one side and a small basketball court on the other side. Laurie, Ben and I were stretching in the workout room and Mercer was across the room on weights. I was laying on the floor stretching my legs when a Soldier staggered out from the basketball court area and fell face-first right next to me. He was out cold. Laurie and I immediately tried to waken him, but it quickly appeared that his heart stopped. We started CPR while someone summoned an ambulance. Someone found the unit surgeon, who quickly replaced us performing CPR, but the Hungarian ambulance didn’t arrive for another 45 minutes.

It was painful to watch the female military doctor frantically performing CPR without a break for nearly an hour. By the time the ambulance crew took over, it was apparent that the Soldier was dead. We later learned that he had suffered a brain aneurysm. He died within moments and no amount of CPR could have saved him. I can still see that doctor working so hard without avail to save him. His friends on the basketball court said he complained of a severe headache and left the game shortly before he collapsed. A few days later, we held a unit memorial. Like all of us on our small base, his was a familar face. There were no dry eyes at that memorial.

Another memorable occasion in Hungary was the Fourth of July in 1996. This was the first real holiday that we had. They opened up the Taszar airfield to a Hungarian “market” of sorts. Vendors from outside the base sold local goods that most of the Soldiers never had the opportunity to see. A large fest-tent messhall catered an old fashioned USA barbeque feast. There were games and other activities all day on the airfield, including a 5K run. At dusk, the First Armored Division band started playing. Pretty soon a fireworks display started. They shot off directly above us – perhaps the closest I’ve ever been to live, commercial fireworks. The highlight was when red, white and blue fireworks displayed above while the band played the National Anthem, America the Beautiful, and other patriotic songs. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite the chill – or was ever so proud to be an American Soldier – than when saluting the American Flag in a foreign land that night in Hungary.

My job continued to be interesting, but the same was not so true for Mercer and Laurie. They worked for another unit – the forward portion of my 19th CMMC unit from back in Wiesbaden. Their boss, Lieutenant Colonel Quimby, reported regularly to Colonel Hubbard back in Wiesbaden. LTC Quimby had an issue with the pair before I arrived – he feared some sort of secret romance between the two. Unfortunately, them making friends with me seemed to make it worse. It should have been better since we started to hang out as three, but it did not. Hubbard had warned Quimby that all I did was stir up trouble and Quimby didn’t want any part of it! We were scrutinized by Quimby every time he saw us. Poor Mercer, the active duty officer reporting to Quimby, got the worst of it!

Later in our tour we were authorized R&R outings. This included an opportunity to spend a weekend in Budapest – and I think some got were able to get back to Germany if they had family there. I actually got two weekends in Budapest. The first was a weekend with just Ben and I. We shared a room in a Dominican Convent right next to the famous Matthias Church on the “Buda” side of the Donau River. This is also adjacent to the Fisherman’s Bastion that houses a statue of St. Stephen and overlooks the river. St. Stephen is revered in Hungary and was its first King in the year 1000. In short, we were staying, literally, within the most famous sites of Budapest. It is in the area called the Holy Trinity Square. The convent is remarkable and Matthias Church is probably one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever stepped foot into. It is quite unique with its mosaic tile throughout.

Ben and I had a great weekend touring both sites of the Buda and Pest neighborhoods. The history was remarkable and I learned so much, including the great Hungarian uprising in 1956 that was ultimately quashed by the Soviets. We also ate great food and freely drank alcohol for the first time in months.

I was later lucky enough to visit Budapest again. This time it was mostly as a chaperone to make sure that Laurie and Mercer remained platonic friends! Still, we made the most of that short weekend. We walked miles and miles exploring the city. The hotel was NOT the same. This time it was a run of the mill hotel on the Pest side of the river. Mercer and I shared a room, though I don’t recall spending much time there. Even though I really enjoyed the company, nothing could compare with that first taste of freedom – and the spectacular location – that I shared with Ben.

Sadly, I’ve mostly lost touch with Mercer, Ben, Ken, and many others from my time in Kaposvar. I’ve remained fast friends with Laurie, but we have not gotten together in a very long time. I’m proud to say that of the six or so who agreed to run the Twin Cities Marathon, Laurie and I were the only two who competed – and completed! We even ran it again several years later with our friend Kay.

Laurie, me, and Kay. Twin Cities Marathon finishers!

Upon our return to Minnesota at the end of the mobilization, Laurie and I remained close. We both left the 19th CMMC and joined a training unit for a short time before I moved on to another new unit. We remained close until Laurie moved away. At my urging, Laurie applied for active Army duty and was selected for a coveted Active Guard-Reserve Soldier position. Though she moved away, this turned out to be a great move for her. We kept in touch regularly and our families got together several times when I was in Baltimore and she in Washington DC.

I learned much from my deployment to Germany and Hungary. This was very much an exercise in perseverence. Overall, it was a difficult time, but through it I learned to trust my instincts. Sadly, I also learned to be wary of who to trust. I learned that our Nation’s fear of the Soviets was unfounded in many ways. The Hungarians, like the Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavians, and ultimately East Germans were begging for freedom. The Soviet Union, much like historical “empires,” were overly-extended and burdened by the cost of maintining their military presence abroad. This was evident in Hungary by the very poor facilities, vehicles and tanks on blocks in the motor pools, and jets left rotting on the runways.

There are so many lessons I learned from my friends. Mercer demonstrated a daily dedication to fitness. In addition, he remained one of the most professional Soldiers I’ve ever seen, despite the continual put-downs and undeserved ass-chewings from LTC Quimby. Ben was an extremely competent Soldier and helped me learn logistics like I never had before. He was also good about keeping his head down (i.e., how to stay just outside the target zone), unlike me, who always seemed to end up in the middle of it! I definitely learned a lesson or two on that from Ben.

Laurie remains the best friend I gained from that deployment and she made a huge impact on me. Laurie is always upbeat and friendly. She is definitely not afraid of what people think of her. I initially thought that she was one of the happy, go lucky types, but I quickly recognized a dogged determination behind that always-cheerful facade. Not that her cheerfulness was fake, but in those days it often masked her competence and dedication. Laurie made her start at the Dorothy Day Center soup kitchen and ended up retiring as a senior Public Affairs Officer at the Pentagon. Though I think I’ve always had a healthy dose of humor, I believe I lost it for a time, especially as related to the Army. Laurie helped me realize again that humor and a smile are the best ways to deal with difficult circumstances. Except for a few isolated incidents, that is a lesson that has stuck with me my entire life.

Was this deployment hard? Definitely. Did it make me a better person and a better Army Officer? No doubt. In fact, it set the stage for the next stage in my Army career. Shortly after returning home, not only was I promoted to Major, but I finally transferred to the Army Judge Advocate General Corps. This changed the entire trajectory of my career and it all started in Kaposvar, Hungary.

Kaposvar, Hungary

From the low point of my exile from Germany and the XO declaring my career was over, there really was nowhere to go but up. Strangely, this change slowly changed the arc of my life in the Army. That isn’t to say that there were no more hard times, but somehow my entire perspective changed.

The start of the directional change was my arrival at the logistical staging base at Taszar Airbase in Hungary. It was my understanding that I would spend a couple of days in Hungary before hopping on a follow-on flight to Slavonski Brod, Croatia, or Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the bus I ran into a Chief Warrant Officer I knew, Andy Tuthill. He was headed to the G-4 (logistics) shop in Kaposvar, Hungary. Upon arrival at Taszar, Chief Tuthill reached out to his new mates in the G-4 Office for transportation to Kaposvar. Master Sergeant Hurst arrive to pick him up. Since it was unclear where and when I was heading out, I figured I’d tag along with them to the mess hall. There I learned that the G-4 was woefully understaffed. MSG Hurst hurried off to call his boss as Chief and I finished our breakfast. MSG Hurst came back with the idea that I join their office in Kaposvar instead of going further “down range.” His boss apparently agreed. I hung out at Taszar as they worked out the details.

Map of the IFOR Intermediate Staging Base for logistics and personnel. First stop on the way to the combat zone. The picturesque Lake Baleton area is just under two hours to the North, but we never got to spend time there!

As it turns out, my new boss, Major Chuck Burden, was able to make his case and get me added to his staff. I’m sure my 19th CMMC leadership was overjoyed to be “rid” of me. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. MAJ Burden reported through a separate chain of command. He also had no visions of further promotions, so COL Hubbard and LTC Harrell had very little influence on him. For me, that meant a clean slate! MAJ Burden simply wanted someone who could help the logistics flow in and out of the “combat” zone. I was more than willing to do my best.

My room, shared with all of my G-4 teammates.

The whole G-4 section lived in the same room. Yup, my new section not only worked together, we lived together. At times it got annoying, but we got along quite well. As the newcomer, I got an upper bunk. With me and Chief Tuthill, the room quickly went to eight occupants — all in a size room smaller than the one I had for myself in Wiesbaden. There was barely room to move around, much less store gear. The bunks were stacked three high, but the third level was used to store equipment. Each room was heated by individual, ancient kerosene heaters. Contracted local Hungarians filled the heaters with kerosene daily.

There were two shower stalls in the building, but the water only got lukewarm. In addition, the building bathroom smelled awful because the sewer system apparently didn’t work too well. Fortunately, we had showers and toilets in a trailer outside the building. These did have hot water, so that is what we primarily used. The only bad part was that the water pressure wasn’t too good and it got rather cold walking to the showers every morning, especially when it snowed. All in all, though, it wasn’t too bad.

Our office was in a small one-story building that was about a three-block walk from our barracks. The mess hall was roughly on the way, so we pretty much had everything we needed The “office” was one large room that held all eight roommates, plus a contract specialist and a Hungarian interpreter. No cubicles here, so I guess we were ahead of Google for an open office concept! Our desks were lined up against the walls and we had a big conference table in the middle (it was actually a homemade picnic table with benches). We had several computers and printers. In order to print something I needed to take a floppy disk to one of the computers connected to a printer and print from there.

At work in the office with two of my logistics comrades. We are immediately in front of my desk.

My desk faced a window. Due to security, all the windows were painted over or covered with paper. The furniture was stuff that was left here by the Soviet when they abandoned the post, so it was very old. Some of the desks were so close to the ground that we raised them up with wood blocks. We had several phones in the office: three civilian phones, three DSN (military network) phones, a fax machine, and three military field phones. The phones seemed to ring all day long and well into the evening. About the only other thing in the office was a kerosene heater that sat in the middle of the office.

Besides the mess hall, we had some other niceties on the small post, including a chapel, laundry service, a very small gym, an even smaller PX store, and a small USO center. It goes without saying there was no alcohol and we couldn’t leave the post, so most of us simply worked 16 hours per days. There was just not that much else to do. Some people call the place “Kaptives-are-us,” a play on the name Kaposvar. It was a fairly appropriate name given the fact that we were literally locked on post and had bars on all the windows. Another interesting fact about this post was that it was completely surrounded by a cement wall on all sides (about 7-8 feet high). That, coupled with the occasional guard tower and barbed wire, lended to the prison atmosphere. Unlike most, though, I had the opportunity to get off post! The only people allowed off post were those whose jobs required them to leave. Mine did!

My primary duty in Hungary was to manage various part of our logistics system. That meant tracking supplies for both of our bases in Hungary (Taszar and Kaposvar), as well as ensuring flow of supplies into Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most supply “activity” took place at the Taszar airbase, but we coordinated all from our small base at Kaposvar. One key task that I really liked was my role as purchasing officer to support the Hungarian bases. It was up to me to find large quantities of things such as bottled water, charcoal, kerosene, and various other “specialty” products on the local economy. As a result, I had a van and interpreter. Together with a cash agent, we spent many hours and miles (actually kilometers) throughout Hungary.

Because this mission provided one of the few opportunities to venture off the installation, I constantly had “volunteers” wanting to tag along and/or assist. If I was heading North, I got multiple orders for McDonalds meals. Outside of Budapest, the only McDonalds in Hungary at that time was near Lake Balaton. This was about a 45-60 minute drive from Kaposvar. In between stops and other missions, it was often several hours before the previously warm meals ended up with the requester. Even so, Soldiers happily gobbled up their cold Big Macs, hamburgers, and fries without question. They were a taste from home that we all enjoyed.

One of the most poignant trips I recall was our search for charcoal. The mess hall was keen on providing “home cooked” meals as much as possible. That meant from time to time they would grill hamburgers, chicken, and rarely, even steak. Strangely, we couldn’t find charcoal off the shelf anywhere locally and it was not on any Army supply inventory. As a result, we had to find charcoal from the source. Chief Tuthill (the cash agent) and I, together with our interpreter, Mr Lazlo, set out to what Mr. Lazlo had found to be a charcoal “factory.” It truly wasn’t much of a factory that we found, but more of a coal mine.

Once Mr. Lazlo described what we were looking for, the owner summoned some workers to get what we needed. Those “workers” turned out to be kids who appeared to be not more than 10-12 years old. They were covered from head to toe in dark soot from working in the nearby caves. One of them carried coal nuggets in flour sack. We mulled and looked at the nuggets, while Mr. Lazlo tried to explain our use of the coal. After a time we determined that this might be the best we could find so we placed our order. I spent days agonizing over the sight we saw. I remember learning the history of child labor in the US, which included the coal industry. It felt like we’d lived through a live scene of early 1900s America or England. I just couldn’t get the sight of those kids off my mind and wondered of the lasting effects of that coal dust.

Touring Hungary for my job, even considering the above situation, was a great improvement from the easy life I had back in Wiesbaden. Though conditions and work hours were much tougher, I felt quite productive. Yes, we had a few snafus, such as when our bottled water suddenly turned green, but I was learning a lot, had a great job, and a really great team to work with. I also gained some wonderful new friends that I will never forget. More on that in my next post.


I indicated in my last post that our Fasching exploits was the beginning of the end of the Captains’ Club. That it probably a good thing since, as every Catholic knows, Fasching (or Fat Tuesday) reflects the last opportunity for fun before the 40-day fast of Lent. For me, Lent was a reminder to try to keep my mouth shut. This is a lesson that I’ve fought with my entire life, especially when I want to think I am helping someone else.

Things really started to get ugly related to the many unit members who believed they were improperly mobilized. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had people lined up at my door to complain. Doing what I thought was the right thing, I passed these complaints off to the unit Commander. Though I did not have “client confidentiality” related to these individuals, I always tried to be discreet about who was doing the complaining. As a result, unless those individuals made a direct complaint through their chain of command, the unit leadership had no idea who was doing the complaining.

It came to a head when the unit started getting IG (Inspector General) complaints and Congressional Inquires about the mobilizations. I had referred all to the installation Judge Advocate General’s office (JAG), but also suggested IG complaints in addition to seeing JAG. I don’t know exactly how I got put onto the hot seat (except from telling them about the unrest), but pretty soon I started receiving almost daily “warnings” from the unit Executive Officer (XO) to stay out of the issue. He communicated this both directly to me and through the Major that I worked for. By this time, though, I was no longer seeing anyone about this matter since they had rightly taken their complaints elsewhere. Frankly, I was happy to be out of the middle of it all.

Our Lieutenant Colonel XO somehow got it in his mind that I was the ringleader of the chorus of complaints raining down on the unit. If anyone has been involved in responding to IG and Congressional complaints, it is a bear and can quickly bog down the leadership of the unit. I don’t blame them for being mad, but they should have looked in the mirror at their lack of transparency and outright lies rather than directing their anger at me. It became obvious that I was “persona non grata” in the unit, as senior leaders started to overtly avoid me. After a couple of weeks of this – and the continual warnings from the XO, I made an appointment to talk to the XO and Commander.

This meeting was not pretty. I told them that I felt like I was being targeted. They refused to believe that I was not whipping up insurrection within the command. I suggested that they sit down with the unit officers and ask directly who had complaints. Instead, they accused me of writing all the Congressional letters and IG Complaints. Apparently, in their view, only a lawyer could write well enough to get so much attention. The truth is that I was not involved in any of that, at least not until what happened next.

Surprisingly, the Commander agreed to gather the officer corps to explain the mobilization and auto allow anyone to air any grievances. This occurred after work in a ballroom at the community club. Almost everyone was encouraged and eager to hear details from the horse’s mouth. Several officers told me that they had prepared statements to outline their grievances. We all hoped that this would end the dark cloud hanging over the unit. Boy, were we disappointed.

The Commander started by stating his case about the mobilization. He actually blamed things on his boss, a Brigadier General, saying that he was told that there were NO exceptions to the mobilization, even if the Army had stated otherwise. After some other obfuscations and dodging a few softball questions, we waited for others to lay out their complaints. Crickets. None of the most ardent of the aggrieved raised their hand – and here is where I failed to keep my mouth shut. Yes, I was still peeved about being blamed for the whole mess, but THIS was not my battle to fight. Still, I plunged forward.

I laid out the case that had been presented to me many times. People consistently used the word, “stop-loss” as the reason they were given by the Commander for their resignation, retirement, or other reason to not deploy. I asked if he had said that to anyone. He denied saying so. Then I asked if there was a stop-loss. He claimed that he was not aware at the time, but later realized that there was not. I then asked a couple of other pointed questions before the meeting abruptly came to an end. Following the meeting I got the worst chewing out I’ve ever received. Furthermore, the XO directed me to pack my bags, as I was on the next bus to Bosnia. He finished by telling me that Colonel Hubbard had more friends in the Army Reserve than I could ever hope to have, so I could consider my career over.

This was the lowest point of my on again/off again Army career. Here I was being punished for fighting a battle that wasn’t even mine. I wasn’t eager to be mobilized, but I clearly understood my duty and obligation. I never asked, nor would I have asked, to be removed from the mobilization. In fact, there was a part of me that missed the Army. Now that I was a senior Captain, the Army was looking better to me than it ever had before. Not anymore. It now looked that my career was over. Not only that, but I was headed to the war zone.

I was vaguely aware that there was a regular bus to Hungary – the transfer point for follow-on travel to Bosnia every couple of days. I did NOT realize that the “next” bus out was the very next morning at 6AM. Even though I was pretty overwhelmed at the chewing out session, I was pretty clear that I received no specific instruction to be on a bus at 6AM the following morning. Oh, was I wrong. The Commander and XO were livid that I wasn’t on that bus. They didn’t even give me the opportunity to get on the next bus in a few days. Nope, they were so eager to get me out of town that the XO personally escorted me to Rhein Main Airbase to get me on another bus to Hungary.

I suspect that those who know me can attest that I can be surly, but I don’t think I’m seen by many as a threat or as dangerous. Strange as it may be, COL Hubbard and LTC Harrell seemed to think otherwise. Either that or they had something to hide! None of that mattered since I was now on a +/- 16 hour bus ride from Frankfurt, Germany to Taszar Airbase, just outside of Kaposvar, Hungary. Exiled, but at least I was away from my tormentors and able to focus on a new adventure – and quite the adventure it turned out to be! More on this in the next blog post.

Shining Rock Software

Captains’ Club Hijinx

The Captains’ Club was at its apex for several weeks after the thrilling Sylvester exploits of four of its members. Conversation turned dark in early February when several Captains noted an article in the Stars and Stripes newspaper that stated in no uncertain terms that there had been no “stop loss” for Operation Joint Endeavor. That meant that the active-duty Soldiers came and left their assignments as normal. We saw many left behind from the team in Hungary and Bosnia because they were pending transfer. The stir among the Reserve Component Captains was whether that “stop loss” applied to our mobilization as well. More than one of the unit members had tendered a resignation to the unit commander prior to the mobilization. Except for a Major previously written about, none of the resignations were acted upon. One of our Captains’ Club members, Glen Thomas, was among them.

Remember, this all occurred well before the mass mobilizations of the Reserves after the terrorist attacks in 9/11/2001. I can personally attest to the fact that in 1995-1996, the Army hadn’t worked out many mobilization details, as I never received the proper DD Form 214 that is required for any mobilized Soldier. Anyway, there was a lot of consternation stirring about what people felt as an improper mobilization at best or at least separate treatment. More importantly, members of the unit started becoming convinced that out leadership had blatantly lied to us about the requirement that we be mobilized. I didn’t know immediately that these complaints were coming not just from the Captains, but from Enlisted ranks as well.

Soon I started hearing complaints on an almost daily basis. Since I was a lawyer in the civilian world, I started getting Enlisted Soldiers and Officers asking questions about their rights and options for relief. At one point, there was a line outside of my barrack’s door! Since I admittedly knew nothing, I referred them to the post Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office. I also suggested that if they felt they had an issue with the command that they always had the right to seek assistance from the Inspector General. At the same time, I felt an obligation to let unit leadership know of the rumors running rampant through the unit. Our Company Commander suggested I contact the Deputy and Commander. I made the necessary appointments and did so. At first they seemed concerned, but when I asked several follow-up questions, I got stammering and clear direction to stay out of it and to continue referring anyone who comes to me to the JAG office.

There is another Army adage that might be applicable here. Much like they saying of making sure Soldiers have work to do (no matter how menial) is the quote, “If Soldiers aren’t bitching, they aren’t happy.” One thing I’ve noted is that there is a fine line between evil or destructive bitching and sarcastic or even dark-humored bitching. The latter are actually healthy outlets to daily frustrations, but the evil bitching is problematic1. Besides the seriousness of the complaints surrounding the truthfulness of our unit leaders, we had some great laughs about many other scenarios and situations we had to deal with. One such story, though, may have meandered perhaps a bit too close to the line of seriousness. It involved a fellow Captain who seemed to take too much of a liking to the beer. We joked about him being continually drunk. His conversation often turned dark. One night after he had way too many, this Captain suggested that no one would notice if he painted the large historical cannon pink and hung himself on it.

I know that many of us took him seriously – and started keeping a more watchful eye upon him. That did not stop us, though, from nicknaming him “The Reaper,” or even “Reap” (short for the grim reaper) due to his dark thoughts. Similarly, an ongoing joke revolved around who was buying the pink paint and what night were we going to paint the Howitzer! Fortunately, it was Winter in Wiesbaden, so any painting escapade would have to wait. Instead, we found another interesting way to blow off some steam.

One of the unit’s Lieutenants was going stir crazy on our small post. He found and bought himself a beater of a car. In the parlance of the military overseas, these are called hoopties. The only requirement for a hooptie is that it run and can pass a fairly onerous German inspection. I think he got this one for under $500. Since his was the only car owned by anyone in the unit, LT Tom Audette became an honorary member of the Captains’ Club. Some of the senior members of the club received preference, so I was a regular rider (and oftentimes driver) of Tom’s beaten-down Volvo hooptie. We enjoyed evening visits to a local restaurants and various day trips to Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Mainz, and even as far off as Heidelberg. The weekend of February 17-18, 1996, though, was different. Due to President’s Day holiday, we had Monday off, so we wanted to venture a little further away.

I remember the precise weekend because it was also Fasching weekend. The real “holiday” is Shrove Tuesday (Tuesday, February 20th), but the Germans celebrate what we call Mardi Gras in a big way. We didn’t know it, though, at the time. It seems that Fasching is much more popular in the North than it was in Bavaria, where I had previously lived. It was serious business in Wiesbaden, Mainz, Koln and Dusseldorf, among other Germany cities. Anyway, little did we know we were setting out for trouble!

For whatever reason, we decided to head toward Dusseldorf. I think someone had heard it was a fun town. I drove (about a 2 1/2 hour trip) as Tom decided to get started drinking one of the beer racks we bought along.  Once we arrived at Düsseldorf, we searched for a hotel.  We wanted a flophouse near the train station (Bahnhof) like our smaller group had during the New Year’s Eve trip to Nurnberg: cheap and dirty! It really didn’t matter as we didn’t expect to spend much time there.  We found that Düsseldorf didn’t have any cheap hotels — or at least we couldn’t find any with rooms available.  We finally found an old place that wasn’t too from the bahnhof.  It wasn’t cheap, but it had sufficient rooms for us.  

Almost immediately we set out on foot to find the hot spots of Düsseldorf.  Before too long we came upon an area with tents and stands lined up for blocks.  Unfortunately, almost every one was closed.  We headed to one of the few open stands and got an Alt beer.  We found out then that Alt beer was about all you could get in Düsseldorf.  Afterwards, we wandered along the vacant street for a little while.  Tom got pretty bummed.  He was a young guy, single, and was looking for more action.  The rest of us were just happy to be away from the post and enjoyed seeing the sights of the city.

We found another small stand serving Alt beer and stopped for another. Before long, we noticed a lot more people around. None stopped for a drink as they seemed to be heading somewhere. Most of them were dressed in fasching costumes — funny hats, painted faces, etc.  We figured that the big parade and party in Düsseldorf would be on Sunday and that there were only private parties on Saturday.  Pretty soon, the place we were at started to close down.  We figured that we would try to follow along behind some locals to see if there was anything else open.

Soon we strolled down what appeared to be a shopping district.  For about 7-8 p.m., there seemed to be quite a few people about.  We saw a few interesting characters along the way.  Some were dressed in costumes and some appeared to be just out for a walk.  One old guy was drunk as a skunk.  He followed each girl that went by and slapped her in the ass with a book he was carrying.  Not good in #MeToo era, but we found it was pretty hilarious at the time!  Before long, we began to hear music.  We followed the music and came to a square that was jammed with people.  We had found the party!  We were ecstatic.

The mob of people lasted several blocks.  There were at least two bands.  Food, beer, and gluhwein stands were open all over the place.  There were stands selling all kinds of other things, most notably, fasching hats.  They look like jester hats and come in various shapes and sizes.  Of course, we all just had to get one.  They looked great and we began to really fit in with the crowd.  From there we continued down the block until we came to what appeared to be the end and headed back the other way.  As we got closer to the band, we could hardly even move.  People were packed so tight that traffic was at a standstill.  Groups would grab on to each other’s shoulders and sort of bunny-hop through the crowd.  They kind of just bullied their way through.  We quickly figured this out and hopped on behind one such group.  It was really a lot of fun!  As long as you held on to the person in front of you, everyone else sort of bounced right off.

Tom Audette, Me, and Tim Reed in Dusseldorf for Fasching

Once we got through the crowd we found a little stand-up table near a beer and wurst stand.  We grabbed the table and used that as a home base for the next few hours.  Everyone drank lots of Alt as we munched on bratwurst and other German delicacies.  We started up many conversations with people around us and had a really good time.  The funny thing was that nearly everyone there was getting drunk.  Funnier still was that all the beer stands were serving Alt in nice (albeit small) beer glasses.  Before long the sidewalks were littered with broken glass and broken bottles of champagne and schnapps.  Of course, as beer consumption continued, so did the need to urinate.  It was going on behind cars and trucks, in alleys, and along storefronts, by both men and women!  By all accounts we were in the midst of an all-out drunken brawl.  

Unlike typical American drunks, the Germans aren’t violent drunks.  In fact, I did not see a single fight or even harsh words.  I had my share of Alt, but I was sober by local standards.  Another of our group, Kay Bee, was also fairly sober.  Around midnight we decided we were ready to go back to the hotel.  The rest were still roaring to go.  Kay and I left them after we ensured they had keys to the hotel. Fortunately, the keys had a sort of a business card attached to them with the address to the hotel.

Kay and I walked back to the hotel. It wasn’t until we got back that I realized I had left the only key to my room with my roommates Tim and Tom. My bag and the car keys were also in the room. Kay had the only key to her room. After pondering the situation for a while, Kay and I decided that the best course of action was for me to flop in her room, at least until her roommates arrived back at the hotel and/or until we heard Tim and Tom show up in the room next door. Ultimately, neither of those scenarios occurred, so I slept in a chair in wet and smelly clothes. I don’t remember hearing anything in the hallways all night, so I must have slept well.

For the rest of this sordid tale, the reader will have to wait for the next exciting episode where I likely saved someone’s life!

1. For a great discussion of the difference between good and bad complaining, I highly recommend Chapter 5 (Sweat the Small Stuff) in Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s book, “Fortitude.”

Fasching, Days 2 and 3!

After a long night — there were drunks making noise outside of the hotel all night long — I woke up for good just before 8:00 a.m. I decided to check next door to see if our comrades had made it back. I found the door locked. My greatest fear had been realized — they didn’t make it back. They would have had to lock the door from the inside with the key and I knew they likely couldn’t have done that! I stood in the hallway trying to figure out what to do next. There I was with dirty, smelly clothes, bad breath, and no key for the other room nor the car. I tried to put together, in German, what to tell our German guesthouse owner. I knew they probably had a second key, but, it would be hard to explain what I wanted and guessed he would probably be mad and make us pay for a new key.

On my way to find the owner, I made one last attempt at the door and knocked in desperation. Again hearing nothing, I proceeded to knock louder, almost banging on the door. Lo and behold I heard a noise of some movement in the room. Before long I heard someone clawing at the door handle to open the door. It wouldn’t open because it was locked. Next thing I heard was someone muttering about where the damn key was. After a few minutes, the door was opened and our problems were solved. The occupants, though, were having problems of their own. The room smelled awful. Apparently someone had tried to get a glass of water when they got home (about 4 a.m.) and had dropped a glass in the sink. Later, someone else barfed in the sink. It wouldn’t drain because of all the broken glass mixed with vomit. It was gross! They could barely stand up — and the hangovers hadn’t even begun to hit.

We got out of the hotel by 10:00 a.m. I had clean clothes and brushed teeth! We hurried downstairs and made it out to the parade route. There was a lot of activity going on. All the stands that had been closed the night before were now beginning to stir. Now the people were really dressed up. There were very few people without some sort of costume. We still had our fasching hats so we fit in pretty well. It was quite a festive atmosphere. Lots to eat and great people watching. The costumes were outrageous! A lot of people had wagons and carts set up and decorated to fit the theme of their costumes. Almost everyone had either a case of beer or a keg in their cart. Some people were just pushing shopping carts with beer and champagne. Others had baby carriages (with the babies in them) which had beer kegs attached to the back.

We strolled up and down the street watching everyone. Since it was still morning, we decided to try gluhwein instead of beer. After a few sips, one of our crew, Tom, gradually appeared to get much better. In fact, he felt so good that he broke down and got a bratwurst. We kept strolling down the street for a while. Suddenly we saw Tom go completely pale. He started looking for a place to lose his cookies! Unfortunately, there was no place to be found, so he decided to fight the urge to puke. We continued down the street for a while when he suddenly let loose — right in the middle of the street! No one seemed to notice. We just kept walking and ignored him, but that didn’t stop us from laughing hysterically. It truly served him right!

Breakfast in Dusseldorf.

As the day wore on, the heavier drinkers from the night before became more and more miserable. The rest of us did as well. It was a cold and rainy day. Before long we were soaked to the skin and freezing. After some crepes and waffle-things, we decided to head back to Wiesbaden. We figured that we might just catch part of the Wiesbaden celebration if we hurried back.

The trip home was pretty bad.  Tom slept in the back while I drove again.  About 45 minutes out from Düsseldorf, the rain turned into snow.  The road got really slippery.  Before long there was about 2 inches of snow on the ground and a driving, blizzard-like snow.  That slowed traffic down considerably.  Pretty soon, though, we were out of the mountainous area and the snow was back to a rain.  As we got closer to Wiesbaden we actually ran into some sunshine.

Wiesbaden looked pretty dead. We walked around a bit and found out that the parade was still going on. It had started at about 1 p.m. We watched the rest of the parade and caught some of the goodies that were tossed from the floats. In all, it was pretty uneventful and we walked back toward the car. As we passed one particular bar, there was a woman on the sidewalk hailing people asking them to stop for gluhwein. Of course we obliged. It was free! Apparently they had lots of extra gluhwein and decided to give it away instead of letting it go to waste.

After a couple of glasses of gluhwein, we headed back to the Army post.  Though it was kind of depressing returning there,  I was pretty happy. I was dog tired and slept until about 7 a.m. on Monday.  I was beat from the Düsseldorf ordeal!  

In Wiesbaden on Sunday, we had learned about the even bigger celebration in Mainz on Monday. We had predetermined that we had to get to Mainz by about 9 a.m. The parade started at exactly 11:11 a.m. We heard that it got pretty crowded by about 10:00. Everyone was up and ready to go on time. In addition to the hats, we painted our faces with markers and lipstick. We added Mike Flaherty and several others to our group and met in Mainz. In Tom’s car, we were lucky enough to get a parking spot in a lot along the river. From there we headed into town. We weren’t sure where the parade route was, but we were sure we could find it.

We decided to start at the bahnhof.  There was already a pretty big crowd growing there.  Everyone was in a festive mood — a lot like we had seen in Düsseldorf.  We each had a brat and either beer or gluhwein (yes, at 9:30 in the morning!).  It was pretty funny to see all the people arriving by train.  Many of them were already loaded with liquor.  We got a fasching hat for Mike.  It wasn’t a Düsseldorf hat (actually it looked like a farmer’s hat), but, at least he sort of fit in with us.  Before long we decided that we had better find a place to watch the parade.  We hadn’t gone far when someone wanted to stop for another beer, then another.  

We found a pretty good spot along the street just about the time the parade started. It was great! There were oodles of marching bands and lots of floats. The floats were pretty creative. There were none of the cheap and hokey floats that you see at home. These were paper mache’ sculptures, fully painted. There were political figures, animals, and some that were pretty funny — one with a dog peeing on some guy’s head! I think the guy was probably the mayor or something. Other floats were like big sleighs full of people dressed as royalty. All of the floats had people on them tossing out trinkets. There was some of the typical hard candy, but a lot of the stuff was much better. There were ice cream bars, Frisbees, all kinds of little plastic and rubber balls, piggy banks, candy, chocolate bars (big ones), comic books, etc. There was a family next to us who literally filled two shopping bags with stuff. I filled my pockets and even stashed some stuff in my hat. One of the most unique things I caught was a plastic bag of mashed potatoes!

The parade lasted over four hours!  We stayed at our spot for nearly the entire time.  We only left to pick up another beer or to relieve the effects of the last beer in a nearby alley.  Pretty soon the parade finally ended.  There was a car at the end indicating that the parade was over.  We decided to follow behind the parade in order to beat the crowd back to the middle of the city.  As parades do, the parade traffic stopped a few times.  We kept walking down the street.  The next thing we knew, we were part of the parade!  We were walking along with the “big-headed people.”  They were the people dressed up with the huge paper mache’ heads.  That was a hoot!

We continued along in the parade with the big-headed people.  I think they were starting to get sick of us.  One of the Captains had too much beer and kept running into one of the big-heads, almost knocking him over.  The people with these big masks could only see out a little hole in the costume.  Anyway, we kept on going.  We lost Mike along the way, never to be seen again that day.  He stopped to find a bathroom.  We expected that he would follow the parade route to find us, but he never did.

The parade continued zigzagging through town for at least a mile.  We had apparently been right near the beginning of the route.  It was pretty fun to be in the parade as we passed the mobs of people in the center of town and as we passed the mayor and dignitaries in the reviewing stand.  We joined in by waving and yelling “Hellau” to the crowd.  Finally, near the end of the parade route, we were grabbed from behind by someone else from the unit.  There was a group of people that had been watching the parade and saw us going by.  We stopped to chat with them for a bit.   By this time the sun had gone down and it was starting to get a little cold and I was ready to go. I spied our friend, The Reaper on a nearby street.    

We all couldn’t stop laughing when we saw The Reaper.  He was leaning on a car with a goofy hat on.  It had about a dozen spikes pointing out.  Each spike had a bell on the end.  The reap was already three sheets to the wind.  He was talking to some people, but hey weren’t talking to him!  As soon as he recognized us, he staggered off to buy us all a beer.  

We stood there for nearly an hour with the reap.  I remember standing on a wall around a fountain that was drained for the winter.  In the fountain were bottles and lots of broken glass.  It was just a matter of time . . . pretty soon The Reaper fell backward and ended up on his head in the fountain.  He got up and was alright, but I decided that it was time to go. It was dark by this time.  Kay Bee and I decided that we had better take the reap home before he killed himself. Now we had to find the others who had driven with us.  We tried for some time to find any of them, but could only find Tim Reed. Tim was relatively sober and offered to stay and get the others home.  Kay and I left with The Reaper.

It was a good ways to the car. That was quite a trip with the Reap. If we stopped, he would fall down. As long as we were moving, he could stagger along. By the time we got to the river, the Reap needed to go to the bathroom. He decided to stop on the bank of the river behind a candy stand. It was actually a wall along the river rather than a bank. We waited for a little while out front. Kay decided that I had better check on the Reap since that was a “guy thing.” I peeked around the corner of the stand and saw the Reap laying on his back with his feet in the river. He had fallen down while taking care of business. He fell half into the river while peeing all over himself. I dragged him out of the river and we proceeded to the car.

Boy, was I glad to get home.  It was only about 8:30, but I was worn out from another long day of Fasching.  I remember around 11:30 I heard loud voices coming down the street outside.  I figured that it was the rest of our crew.  They made it back!  About 15 minutes later there was a loud knock on the door.  It was Tom and Tim.  They staggered into my room with fresh beers in their hands.  They sat down and told me tales about all the fun I missed!

Epilogue: Friday, February 23, 1996. Tom was sicker than a dog on Tuesday. He didn’t touch another sip of alcohol all week! Tim was at work by 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Like Tom, he stayed away from beer for the rest week. The Reap survived, thanks in part to my heroic efforts pulling him out of the river. Kay Bee, Mike S., Mike H., Glen, Tammy, Slack, Ricks, The Reaper, and the many others who lived through that Fasching weekend likely have similar stories to tell. This was, though, the beginning of the end for the Captains’ Club as I will describe in my next blog.

The Captains’ Club

Things were still moving fast for us in Wiesbaden after our hasty departure from Fort Dix on Christmas Eve, but we soon settled in. Within days of our arrival in Germany, just over 20 of our 119 unit members continued the journey to Hungary. The met up with the 1st Armored Division task force preparing to cross the Sava River into Bosnia and Herzogovina. The rest of us remained in Wiesbaden to figure out our tasks in supporting the units “down range.”

We had it easy! Very quickly we found a place where we could buy German beer by the rack. After our duty hours, life became a bit of an evening-long happy hour in our barracks rooms. The unit’s Captains were congregated at one end of a long hallway on the building’s third floor. Due to the stresses of the mobilization, more than a few of us took the opportunity to let loose a bit. We were careful, though, to stick to our barracks so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble. Besides, no one had a car, so it would have been awfully hard to get anywhere. Even though we were relatively close to the city of Wiesbaden, it was an expensive cab fare.

A german beer rack consists of 20 half-liter bottles of beer. They are easily stackable. We always had multiple cases stacked along the walls of our barracks rooms. (image “borrowed” from the web site indicated above!)

The real trouble started on New Years Eve. Someone got the bright idea to rent a car and get out of town. Four or us Captains left in our company commander’s rental car. In addition to the commander, Tim Reed, there were two other guys I didn’t know so well, Mike Hoover and Mike Flaherty. No one had any idea of where to go, so I suggested Nurnberg since it was a place I knew well. I had not been back to Germany since we left in early 1988. I was intrigued, but also a little disappointed in how much the Germany I remember had changed. The U.S. Army had recently closed all its facilities in the Nurnberg area, so I wanted to see how things had changed. When we were stationed there ten years prior, the Army had over 100,000 Soldiers and families in and around Nurnberg. Now it was none.

After a quick tour of the town and the area, we settled down a bit early for the New Year’s festivities. We were quite disappointed at the local Irish pub. Not much activity for a New Years Eve, so we made our way from bar to bar until we reached the famous Tugendbrunnen (Virtuous Fountain). Rubbing the gold ring embedded in the fountain seemed to bring us good luck as a local bar nearby had just finished setting up its outdoor area for their Sylvester (New Year’s Eve) celebration. Young Germans started showing up there, so we staked out a good standing table with a view of the Lorenzer Platz. This is the area where the famous Nurnberg Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Market) takes place.

It wasn’t long before the place was nearly overrun with “rads,” our word for young Germans wearing hip clothes. We were relatively warm due to the crowd and the propane heaters interspersed in the outdoor patio. The beer further warmed our bellies. We started conversations with our fellow revelers. One young woman roped Mike into buying her a drink. She had baited him by explaining in broken English how she much preferred American whiskey to German beer. He ended up buying her a whiskey, not realizing that American whiskey in Germany is VERY expensive. I heard some of her male colleagues refer to her as “Sonia mit der langen Zunge.” Hoover and I knew enough German to translate this to our group as “Sonia with the long tongue.” This created a sensation and we sent Sonia several more whiskeys until some German pushed Reed over a snowbank adjacent to our table.

It was a good thing that Reed was an amiable man after a few beers. He laughed it off, just as the fireworks started. If you have not experienced Sylvester in Germany, you have no idea what this means. This is not a traditional fireworks show like we have on the Fourth of July. No, these are close-range fireworks, including those shot off with something akin to a flare gun. It feels like a war zone with all the flashes and bangs going off in very close proximity. Streamers, ammo casing, and other fireworks residue rain through the air – and the noise rings in your ears! It is definitely NOT for kids. The firework explosion lasts for a good half hour. During this time I noted more than a few (including one or two of our own) seeking out Sonia for a New Year’s kiss, mostly to see if her reputation was based on fact!

We stayed the night in Nurnberg, but were shortly back to our new isolated reality in Wiesbaden. Here we had irregular bus service to the local PX (Post Exchange) and Commissary (grocery store), but, again, the town of Wiesbaden was an expensive cab ride away. Everything we really needed was on post. We had a library, mess hall, chapel, barber shop, mail room, and Community Club (bar) all on our our small base, so there was never a NEED to leave. There was also a small shoppette that sold beer by the rack, so we truly had everything we needed.

This trip to Nurnberg, though, really kicked off our new “Captains’ Club.” We started forming strong bonds, albeit primarily centered on beer. The main gathering place was Mike Hoover’s room (I think shared for a time with Tim Reed). It was just across the hall from mine, so it was easy access. My roommate, Glen Thomas, was not much of a beer drinker, but he participated as did most other Captains in the unit. As our chats got deeper, we learned of growing frustration and anger within the unit. Strangely, it was not from the small contingent send down range. Nope, it was mostly among our team in Germany, likely since we had more time to ponder our repesctive situations than did our brothers and sisters closer to the “combat” zone. This was a time when I heard many quotes about keeping soldiers busy so the wouldn’t cause trouble. I can attest to the truth of those adages!

I was the only lawyer in our unit, though I was NOT a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, at least not yet. As can be the case with anyone who has just a little understanding of something, I probably had just about enough knowledge to be dangerous. Our unit commander, Colonel Art Hubbard, almost certainly felt that way. That lead to exploits that I can write about in the next blog related to this mobilization.

Whaaat? Mobilized?

I joined the Army Reserve in 1993, five years after leaving the active Army. One of the main reasons I left the Army in the first place was to make sure I was home with my family. Now, only two years into my Army Reserve career I was going back on active duty!

The Dayton Peace Accord was negotiated by the United Nations in November of 1995 and formally signed on December 14, 1995. The purpose of the accord was to ensure peace in the former Yugoslavia Republics and to establish a single sovereign state known as Bosnia and Herzegovina. U.S. Troops were sent to this new state as part of a NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) to ensure peace in the region. The code name for the mission was Operation Joint Endeavor. The IFOR mission included or involved troops from 32 countries and numbered some 54,000 soldiers in-country (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and around 80,000 involved soldiers in total (with support and reserve troops stationed in Croatia, Hungary, Germany, and Italy, and also on ships in the Adriatic Sea). My unit, the 19th Corps Material Management Center (CMMC), was activated to backfill for our active duty counterpart unit in Germany, who was moving forward with the U.S. contingent of forces.

There were some rumblings in October about a potential mobilization and we were first put on notice sometime in November that we could be tapped for this mission. From a planning perspective, it was unclear whether we would merely “backfill” the active duty unit (i.e., take their place in Wiesbaden, Germany) or to also fill their vacancies and deploy to Bosnia. We had no idea what we were in for and there was great speculation, even in the diplomatic community, whether the peace agreement would stick. There was a good likelihood that we could see actual combat. Except for a few U.S. incursions into Panama and Grenada, the United States Army had not seen war since Vietnam. It was our understanding that ours was the first mobilization of any U.S. Army Reserve forces since the Korean War!

Our pre-Christmas celebration in December 1995.

This was an exciting, yet scary time. During our November drill, we spent most of our time going through various Soldier tasks and getting our personal and financial affairs in order. We didn’t know if all would deploy or if it would be just a slice of the unit. Either way, we all needed to prepare. By the time we left that drill we were told to be ready for additional time at the unit location in Arden Hills, Minnesota, to conduct additional readiness activities throughout the month of December.

December drill was much of the same, but with a bit more urgency. I think everyone kept a sharp eye on the Dayton Peace talks. Finally, we were provided mobilization orders. On Thursday, December 14, 1995 at about 9 A.M. I received a call from my military supervisor. He explained that we report for active duty on Saturday the 16th – less than 48 hours – and potentially leave the Twin Cities immediately thereafter. We later learned that we would deploy from Minnesota on December 18, 1995. Our final destination was unknown, but our first stop would be Fort Dix, New Jersey. The orders read that the period of mobilization was 270 days. The first reaction of most was one of incredulity. Why couldn’t we deploy after Christmas rather than just before? Instead, we would likely spend Christmas in the middle of nowhere at Fort Dix with 119 fellow unit members, our new best friends. Little did we know then that this would turn out to be one of the strangest and memorable Christmases ever!

The four days at Arden Hills were much of a blur. There was a “secret” hubbub regarding my immediate supervisor, a Major. We didn’t know the details, but he ended up being one of only two people from the unit that did not deploy with us. We later learned that the Major’s wife had just been diagnosed with cancer. The unit commander claimed that was not a sufficient reason for him not to deploy and even refused to process the documents after the Major tried to resign his commission. It was a full “stop-loss” we were told. My supervisor had gotten lawyers involved and ultimately got himself excluded. Good for him! The rest of us wouldn’t even think of questioning the command after we saw how this Major was treated.

After tearful goodbyes at Arden Hills early in the morning on December 18th, we hopped a bus for the airport enroute to Fort Dix. We were on our way! We were initially told to expect to be complete full processing at Fort Dix over the next two weeks and could expect to deploy to Germany in early January. There was apparently a lot to do at Fort Dix, including full medical and dental exams, weapon qualification, equipment draw, hands-on battle/Soldier training, and seemingly hours of classroom training. Throughout all this, even though it was the Yule season, Christmas and family seemed so very far away. Our only contact was infrequent long distance telephone calls from an outdoor payphone. There was usually a line and it was cold.

Just before Christmas Eve, there seemed to be a lull in our training. It seemed that all the trainers were off, home with their families. We had the promise of a big feast at the mess hall, but we really couldn’t go anywhere. Whoopie! Again, there were rumblings of complaints. Had the Army really gained much in that one week prior to Christmas? We were sceptical.

One of the members of our unit was a Chaplain’s Assistant. He was an odd character, but nonetheless, was able to arrange a Christmas Eve ecumenical service for us at an old Fort Dix chapel that did not have regular services. Because we did not have any transportation and the post bus was not running over Christmas, that was our only option. It was a strange service, as it consisted of only a handful of our unit. There was a minister, but no choir or any other musical accompaniment. At one point in the service the Chaplain’s Assistant got up and started singing O Holy Night – a cappella. I admit this can be a difficult song, but he was awful! The rest of us started singing along simply because he was so bad! To this day, that remains one of my favorite Christmas Carols. The experience also created an unexpected bond among those of us who attended the service that evening.

At the end of the service, we softly sang Silent Night. As we were walking back to the barracks, we noted a distinct change in the pace, as everyone seemed to be hustling around. Soon we found out that the Army, in its infinite wisdom, had moved up our deployment and we were leaving – shortly – to board aircraft for Europe. We had to bust our buts and get things packed. Nope, it wasn’t Christmas Eve in Jersey; it was Christmas Eve somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean!

Our arrival in Frankfurt, Germany, could be the enough for a separate blog, but I’ll keep it brief. There was NO ONE there to greet us on arrival. No one. Why would they? It was around noon on Christmas Day. We weren’t expected for another week or so and no one had communicated the change to those on the ground in Germany to meet us. They were home with their families and suddenly had to scramble their plans. We ended up waiting in a airport hangar for several hours – with no food. Finally, several busses appeared to bring us back to the Wiesbaden Air Base, where we would in-process before our final destinations were determined.

The senior officers were provided nearly hotel-like accommodations. The rest of us were dropped off at a barracks. The previous occupants had left the place worse than you could possibly imagine. It was an active duty unit that had mobilized at least as quickly as we had. It looked as if they had taken only their necessaries and left within an hour. They had also obviously partied very heartily the night/morning before. It stunk! We found vomit and condoms throughout. Within short order our noncommissioned officers arranged cleaning parties for various tasks. We worked like dogs and were still hungry and tired. Most of us had gone well over 24 hours without sleeping, but we finally finished.

The end of the day turned a bit brighter than the rest. Our “host” unit had arranged for the mess hall to be opened for a late snack. Similarly, they obtained minimal staffing at the Community Club (formerly Officer’s Club) for limited bar service and music. We were given a 2-beer maximum, but those were a couple of the best German beers I’ve ever had! We collectively trudged back to the barracks and hopped into bed to await our fate in the morning.

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.

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!