Lessons Learned as an Enlisted US Army Soldier in Neu Ulm, Germany.
The Height of the Cold War
- In 1982 I was seventeen years old when I arrived in Neu Ulm, Germany. Fresh out of basic training from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, this was the first time I was on my own, not that as property of the U.S. Government you are really ever on your own. I learned a lot, much of it the hard way but definitely amusing as I look back in time.
- As was customary for all the newbies’ I remember literally crawling back onto the base in Neu Ulm after having been introduced to German beer. Thankfully antics such as those are not so common anymore. It’s no wonder that some of the German people had their reservations about G.I.s’. I recall most of the German people as very helpful and friendly and enjoyed my time there. There were often crowds outside our post protesting Pershing missiles but no one I met in Germany ever held it personally against me.
- I was amazed when I opened my first checking account. Let me get this straight, I just fill out this piece of paper, write whatever amount of money I want on it, and I get it? This was awesome, for three weeks anyway. This led to my first visit to the commander’s office. If I hadn’t been such a great soldier in the field I never would have made it in the army.
- As I had always thrived on learning I loved the first few months of duty. They had classes for new soldiers, we learned some basic language skills, cultural differences, and I got my German driver’s license which I believe was more of an American piece of paper that gave us the right to drive. The Autobahn, that brings back some memories but as I can see I’ll never fit everything I’d like into this hub.
- Let me just say that as there were no speed limits the German Polizei were accustomed to yelling, “Slow down G.I.” through handheld megaphones.
- Again I am amazed at how well we were treated considering the sometimes rampant lack of maturity. I took several classes via the University of Maryland while in Neu Ulm. The most memorable was American History, taught by a professor who had some very opposing views of U.S. politics. It was interesting to get a different perspective of American government from a foreign professor.
- Learning was great but letter writing didn’t interest me much back then. That led to my next trip to the commander’s office, as my mother had not heard from me for several months she contacted the U.S. Army as to my whereabouts and the commander let me know in no uncertain terms how unacceptable this was. Thus began my regular letter writing.
- As an avid amateur photographer I was broke most of the time. I recall spending as much as I made in a month on film and processing on more than a few occasions. I have to laugh as I can take pictures all day now without spending a dime, certainly has made photography much more affordable.
- A few lessons I learned in Germany could have had serious repercussions’. Our post was regularly locked down due to German citizens protesting our Pershing missiles. As it wasn’t personal I would fulfill my guard shifts with my loaded M-16 blocking the protesters then I would climb over the fence behind the mess hall and go out drinking with those same protesters while off duty. Although I considered this relatively harmless I’m sure that Uncle Sam would not have approved. Luckily I was never held accountable for that or perhaps it was merely overlooked. Then there was the time that I returned quite late from my first leave back to the states. This could have been a very serious offense but fortunately for me it was also overlooked. We spent a lot of the time out in the field and I knew that I had better get back prior to our unit shipping out. I made it back with barely enough time to get my gear together and get to our train. The commander walked by while on the train and told me he was glad I could make it and that was all that ever came of it.
- We spent an extraordinary amount of time out in the field on live fire exercises. Cold war veterans deserve more recognition for the conditions and missions, often dangerous, that they endured. It was indeed a thankless job.
- The Pershing protests provided me a new job for a while. Rather than working as a forward observer I was introduced to counter-terrorism long before the term became common dinner table conversation.
- I am looking forward to returning to Germany one day not as a soldier but as a tourist. Germany has much to offer as a vacation destination.