In the fall of 1979 I join the US Army Delayed Entry program while still in high school. I attend regular drills with the 76th Training Division’s A Company 3rd of the 417th. I spent almost 3 years in this unit training as a drill sergeant and attending an advanced infantry training course at Fort Jackson, annual trainings with the 10th group SF at Fort Devens which including my first practice jump from a parachute tower which scared the living shit out of me. At Fort Devens when not training with the 10th Group we drilled JR and ROTC students to get them ready for their enlistment.
In late August of 1982 I requested to go active duty and chose Germany. In October of 1982 I was sent to Fort Dix to the Holding and Transfer point for assignment to the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany as it was called. Arriving at Fort Dix at 3am was not unnerving as it was arriving at Fort Jackson at the same time two and a half years earlier to screaming drill sergeants and officers in civilian clothes. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the drill sergeants waiting on several buses from Boston, New York, and Pittsburg that we weren’t them.
After the sergeants made their rounds apologizing for the screw up we were taken to our barracks and given our room numbers. Guys like me who had rank in the reserves were given two man rooms and had our rank returned to us for the time being. We were the squad leaders. One sergeant found out that I was a drill sergeant in my old unit and had me calling PT and marching the guys to the PX or the chow hall. As proud as I was to do it I really wanted to be just one of the guys as I had fears.
“My fear was a blanket party. I had received one in basic training about 5 weeks into it because the guys that I was training with thought that I was way too familiar with weapons, drill and ceremony, military courtesy, and the NCOs. In the middle of the beating Tony Sheffield, Terry Canida, and Eubanks came to my rescue. Somehow Canida got info that I was in a reserve unit and explained the situation which was being a member of a delayed entry program for almost a year I drilled with the unit I was joining until I went to basic.”
Our barracks was adjacent to the flight line at McGuire AFB so we got to see the prison and freedom birds coming and going. Old brick buildings dating back to the Korean War they were beaten and needed a lot of work. 8 short years’ earlier guys coming home from Vietnam were housed here until the area was void of protestors and peace activists. Then they made their quiet exodus out the back gate and home as civilians. One guy stayed. I don’t remember his name but he was a retired black Master Sergeant who helped us in-process. Nice guy. Told us stories of Vietnam and how one in ten C-141 transport jets were going somewhere other than Vietnam.
The day came where we packed our bags and headed to the flight line. Standing on the McGuire flight line I was face to face with a C-141 still bearing the artwork it wore bringing men home from Vietnam. Then in a twist of fate a Boeing 747 rolls up. I board, we take off, eat, drink several beers, fall asleep, and wake up in Germany. My plane was just touching down. I woke up.
Not a dream.