Anecdotes for Skeptics and Sore Losers
I was still an Intelligence Security Command (INSCOM) M.P. assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. It was 1981, at the height of the Cold War, which really wasn’t that “cold” at all. The Americans countered the Soviets at every turn, whether in Central America, South Asia or the Far East. How can you call it a “cold” war and not acknowledge its players when servicemen and intel operatives were dying clandestinely in different parts of the world?
I was again working a four to twelve shift at the United States Army Intelligence School. There was a call over our frequency. It was the desk sergeant. There was the stress of urgency in her voice. One of the MPs on post was not answering his phone. It had been several times now. I and the fellow who had chuckled in the back of Patrick’s car when I met my first telephone pole were the patrolmen for the evening. We ran across the parking lot to the rear pedestrian gate of the building where the missing MP was. This was quite serious. We were not to leave our post until properly relieved by a fellow INSCOM MP. Even if we had to use the latrine (Army word for toilet… don’t ask me why; it’s an Army thing).
As my partner fumbled with the keys, I jacked a round in the chamber. This, too, was a serious thing. Remember that the Colt .45 automatic of the Vietnam era had only two safeties, neither of which are reliable. The first was in the handgrip. If I was to drop the weapon, theoretically it would not go off. I said “theoretically”. I was not about to test this theory. The second safety was a purely defensive one. If someone had a .45 pointed at you, you could simply put your palm against the barrel and press hard, moving the slide back. Once again, purely theoretical; I was not going to test it. Later I was to learn that one of the secret service agents assigned to President Ford had used this method during an assassination attempt and saved his life. I am glad that he had tested the theory himself, for I still wanted no part of it.
We slipped through the gate, I in the lead. My partner secured the gate behind him and jacked his own round in the chamber. Remember that we were twenty years old back then. And we thought the godless Russians were out to take over the world like the Nazis. We were going to war and heartbeats were thudding.
I took the lead inside the building and my friend backed me up. I say my friend because by that time I had quite forgiven Patrick and he for making my first day on the job a nightmare. I scanned left, right, no sign of the missing MP. I hugged the wall and peered around the corner at the guard station where I had spent my first night on the job with a throbbing headache. No sign of Dave, our missing MP (names changed to protect the guilty). I looked at my partner with panic. Something was terribly wrong. You NEVER left your post. Then we looked out the glass doors just beyond us and noticed the parking lights of our MP van. And next to it was Dave. My heartbeat thumped to a halt. I had been quite ready to kill someone that night and to be killed. It was like flying at warp speed and crashing into a brick wall. I wanted to pound some bricks when I noticed that the same squad leader who had given me the 5th degree on my first day was in the van. Not only had the MP violated protocol by leaving his post and ignoring the phone, but our very own squad leader had apparently sanctioned it, not even acknowledging the radio traffic. He tried to save face, however. Putting on a veil of bravado, the sergeant loudly exclaimed: “Good response!” Dave looked on sheepishly.
I and my partner shook our heads. We moved back toward the rear pedestrian gate. When we made it out to grass, I took the clip out of my weapon, pulled back the slide, ejecting the .45 round, and retrieved it from the ground, putting it back into the clip. The magazine was placed back in the Colt and as the other MP mimicked my actions, I finally started to come down from the height where life and death are one, that thrill that we both had volunteered for. “Shit!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, they’re both dumbasses,” my partner agreed, reading my mind. We did not fully stand down that night until after our shift, when we drank a couple of shots of bourbon together with Patrick. But we both knew that we had done our jobs. And that we had been ready for the worst, indeed, ready to give our lives for each other, Dave, and the whole squad.
I was filling in on a second floor post at that same building during the day shift not long after that incident. Just outside of the post was a covered patio which overlooked the next intel building over. There the cryptologic vault of the Intel School sat, undoubtedly the most sensitive area on all of Fort Devens. If someone got into that room and discovered the secrets of our electronics intelligence equipment, all of the U.S. Army’s secrets would theoretically be out in the open. And it was here where my next adventure would take place.
The military policeman that approached from the first floor was one of my close friends. He was one of the patrolmen for today. He came up to me and whispered, “Joe wanted me to tell you that there is going to be a drill across the drive at Building X.”
“What kind of drill?” I asked.
“They have role players that will pose as terrorists. They will get into the crypto room and take hostages. I have taken all magazines and rounds from personnel responding. All others are to stand down.”
“Stand down?” I said incredulously. I took him out to the balcony and pointed down at the fence and the clearly visible back door to the crypto room. “This is the high ground that overlooks the entire drill area! Let me give you my rounds and magazines.”
“The staff sergeant gave me explicit instructions on who to take rounds from, and you are not a responder.”
“Just look at this sweet position,” I countered. “I would have total scope of their only escape route. I have cover and concealment. I am right next to the g—d— entire field. If it were real, I would be there!”
He looked down at the field of fire appreciatively and nodded his head. “But if the staff finds out I…”
“Just tell him that I made you take my rounds,” I replied, stuffing my full .45 magazines into his pocket. “Now get out of here!”
He nodded and went back down the stairs. It was not long before I heard a call over the radio from the Desk Sergeant. The drill had begun.
At that moment, a lone second Lieutenant, a trainee for military intelligence, came up to my post for her badge. “There is an emergency,” I told her forcefully. “Stay at this post and don’t let Anybody in until I say so!” She looked at me like a kid in a candy store, flushed with excitement, not even realizing that an E-4 had just ordered a commissioned officer to stand post. It was legal under UCMJ under emergency circumstances, but highly unorthodox. Yet, like I’ve said before, I was never an orthodox soldier.
Without another word, I made my way out onto the patio, .45 out of the holster and pointing upward, using the brick parapet of the patio as cover and running huddled beneath it to the opposite end, which directly overlooked the outside exit door of the crypto room. Its thick steel exterior fire door was closed and locked, as it was required to be, a metal bar securing it on the inside from intrusion. I looked across the long parking lot to my left and saw no sign of responders. A few moments later they emerged from the basement door leading to the MP station across the lot. They had a long run to get to the rear—–the door opened and a masked gunman with a female intel specialist in front of him as a shield peered out and around. He didn’t see me. He opened the door wider and was about to exit with his hostage when I pulled back the slide of my .45 and let it go forward with a high metal clang that only those who know the deadly sound can truly appreciate. He appreciated it.
“Halt! Military Police! Don’t move!” I thundered from above. I had a perfect view of my target. I had cover and concealment, behind at least two feet of brick and concrete block. He only had an M-16. He knew I had him. And so did I. He ducked back into the crypto room with his hostage and I heard the clang of the metal door shutting and the sound of the metal bar being secured.
I had done my job, securing my part of the perimeter. The responders came around the other side of the crypto building and I told them and the Desk Sergeant what had just transpired over the radio. I waited there another five minutes until I knew that the perimeter was fully secured. Then I went back to my post to find the Second Lieutenant and a long line of officer trainees at the desk. At their head was a Lieutenant Colonel, a senior military intelligence instructor. I saluted him. It is something you do in the Army. Enlisted soldiers salute officers, even the stupid ones that merit no respect at all. Don’t ask me; it’s an Army thing.
This was an officer that merited no such respect. He was one of those who had no sense, could not do, so he taught. He reminded me of Frank Burns on M.A.S.H. He was not happy. “Did you tell the Lieutenant to stand your post?” he asked heatedly.
“Yes, sir!” I answered in a super-very-totally respectful tone. Like I was talking to Captain Kirk himself.
“You can’t do that!” he countered. He and his students had been required to wait a whole, well maybe a whole 10 minutes while we conducted the drill. I looked at the young officers. They were smiling. Especially the second lieutenant, who was very hot. They liked this. It was saving them from listening to his boring lecture. And it was exciting. To top it off, their dumbass instructor was turning red, clearly pissed. It was great.
“Sir, the Uniform Code of Military Justice states—-“ I began.
The officer cut me off. “Don’t quote UCMJ to me, soldier! I will have a talk with your C.O. about this!” He stomped off across the patio toward the classrooms, the exuberant officers trailing behind and getting less and less exuberant as they neared the room he was to give his boring lecture in. The second lieutenant looked back at me, smiled, and waved. You could tell she loved every minute of it. But there would be no fraternization here. She was an officer and I was enlisted. And an M.P. at that. Definitely not a match made in heaven. But, I reasoned, scanning her curves and lines, it was not a match made in hell, either.
Not long after that, my friend the patrolman came back and gave me back both of my full magazines. “I told you the staff sergeant would be pissed,” he said. He was very nervous. “He wants me to relieve you. You are to report to his office immediately.”
Yes, in the Army, sh– rolls downhill. The Lieutenant Colonel yelled at the Captain over the intel M.P.s, he himself a military intelligence officer. Then the Captain yelled at the staff sergeant. Then the staff sergeant yelled at my squad leader, Sergeant Joe. Now it was my turn, the lowly Spec 4. Spec, speck— both were the same thing on the Army roster. I was almost at the very bottom of the food chain. About to get the Big Green Weenie, as we enlisted types called the sh– that rolled downhill and inevitably ended up on our laps. I entered the M.P. office where the staff sergeant and Joe were sitting and stood at attention, awaiting my sentence. It crossed my mind that perhaps I would lose my security clearance over this breach of protocol. If that happened, I would be sent to the post law enforcement M.P. company. I waited, knowing that the worst thing that they could do to me was to send me where I wanted to go.
The staff sergeant chewed me up one side and down the other for ordering an officer to stand my post. I kept my military bearing. He went to the next charge. I had responded to a drill with live rounds. I calmly told him that I had turned my rounds in for the duration of the drill. He told me that what I did was unorthodox. I had no counter to that charge. Then the staff told me to get out while he and my squad leader decided what to do next. He was so red that he looked like a Maine lobster. Joe’s eyes, however, were sparkling. He was very poorly trying to suppress a grin. I knew everything would be alright.
After their conference, Joe came out and took me by the shoulder, walking me out of the building toward my post. He whispered into my ear, “Officially, don’t Ever do that again.” He grinned that big buck toothed grin of his. Joe was, and is, a good man. “Unofficially, everybody likes what you did, even him,” he nodded back toward the staff sergeant’s office. He clapped me on the back, “Great job!” I went back to post. It wasn’t long after that he recommended that I go in front of the sergeant’s board for promotion. I was rated with a score of 915 points out of 1000. It seemed that I would be a shoe-in for promotion at the next opportunity. Most military police sergeants had been promoted with many less points. Then came the announcement that the Army had effectively frozen all military police sergeant promotions. I would only receive my stripes as an acting sergeant and squad leader. I had been thinking about re-enlistment before this, even going to C.I.D. as an investigator. But this ended those plans. I decided to get out after three years and finish my bachelor’s degree in law enforcement. Then I would come back in as an officer in the military police. It was a good plan. But it would never happen, for I came to get tired of both a uniform and commissioned officers. I felt that active duty was over for good. Godless Russians or no Godless Russians, I would be a state trooper.
It wasn’t long after the officer incident that I was working the checkpoint for the building where that crypto room was housed. It was the start of shift and I had just relieved the M.P. on post. Soon thereafter, the illicit Spec 4 mistress of the staff sergeant drove up in the van with all of the soldiers from the last shift who needed a ride back to the barracks. She got out of the van, strode up to the window of my guard shack, and said, “Eric, lean out here. I need to tell you something.”
“What?” I asked, hesitating.
“Just lean your a– out here!”
I leaned out of the window and she grasped my face with both hands, drawing me out further. Then she gave me the second wettest kiss of my young life, and in a flash she and the van full of astonished M.P.s were gone.
But I was the most astonished as I sat back on the stool. Had she broken up with the staff sergeant? What did this mean? I was in a quandry for the rest of my shift.
The next day I learned that the staff sergeant had finally gotten his divorce papers signed by a judge. His ex was in Germany and was more than willing to go along with it. He had in turn asked his mistress to marry him. Likely because he was on levy for Germany himself.
I had just dodged another bullet, because any woman who agreed to marry that guy was a crazy girl, indeed.
But before my honorable discharge, there would be another woman, the most beautiful blonde on the post, who one night would choose my lap to sit on and turn my world upside down.
But that is a whole ‘nother story.
Eric M. Vogt, Copyright 2012