"Why Am I Smiling??"
(no name) ((no email))
Sat, 24 Aug 1996 13:39:14 -0500
"Why Am I Smiling??"
It wasn't too long after the plane touched the runway which is shared by
both Frankfort International Airport and Rhine-Main Air Force Base when it
started. It continued long after our walk down the gangplank and into
a hanger whereby we were once again tallied by name, rank, social security
number and unit of assignment. We once again filled out the equal of two
tree's worth of paper -- forms which again asked us (as if we could
change our minds) our status, why we are here, and who we are. If the
Army runs on paper, this was a great example of it!
While everyone else was grumbling about having to fill out more paper,
listen to yet one more "Welcome speech" and sit and wait for something
else to happen, I was still looking.
Back in November of 1995, the Army Reserve unit I am assigned to announced
that there was a POSSIBLE CHANCE of being deployed. The assignment COULD
BE the responsibility for logistical support to Europe and the Balkans.
I was the first soldier to contact the senior fulltimer at the unit and
place my name, rank and availability date ("as soon as possible", or ASAP)
on his nearly blank piece of paper.
It is NOT that I don't love my wife, or will not miss my children. I love
Jessiann very much as well as "the three A's". I enjoyed my work but I did
not hate it. The money would be nice, and needed, but that was not my
motivation at all.
It was the idea -- the simple idea -- of once again returning to Deutschland,
the NEW Germany, West and East reunited, with capitol in Berlin, not
Bonn -- that was my primary motivator.
This will be my fifth tour to Germany. The first one was when I was barely
eight years old and was the starting point in my personal life as well as
my life as a Scouter. One has to start somewhere, and Life chose Germany.
Later, I returned to Europe for a brief time -- not even three months -- as
a kid. Then later, it was as Lieutenant Walton, part of the "Big Red One
Forward" and the Seventh US Corps. Later than that, it was part of a
stopover during Operation Desert Storm and it was brief "annual training"
weeks, a chance to meet people that *someday* you will work with side-by-side
IF you are deployed here with the rest of your unit.
Now, it's a deployment as part of the 21st Theater Army Area Command, which
realistically can take me into Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary or Serbia. Places
whereby people have been shooting at each other for centuries. Places where
landmines are a part of life. Places where the living conditions are not
what I enjoy now: a building, with private carpeted rooms and wooden
furniture, and a hot shower and indoor plumbing down the hall and right
past the kitchen.
I'm still smiling.
I was married to Millie during my third tour to Germany, the first as a new Army
officer. On that last full day before we were to go to the airport, we took
walk around our block in Pattonville, holding hands with our daughter as we
walked around the housing area. We smelled the fragrant air -- a mixture of
manure and flowers, moved by a slight cool breeze. We talked about what all we
were able to do during the three years we were allowed to live and work in
As we walked back to our apartment, I told Mildred what was probably obvious to
her: that "we would probably never see any of this again". It was a fact that
back-to-back Germany tours for officers were an impossibility unless I held
those "special skills" that the Army really needed to retain in Europe.
Since I do not
possess any of those "critical skills", we said "good bye" to our community and
to Germany soon afterwards, returning to the States in the following day. We
were saddened. We left behind, now in reflection, perhaps the best part of our
married life, for soon afterwards, things did not continue on the upward and
forward-moving path like that of the plane which took us back to the United
A marriage ended and my new one was not even out of the gates when I signed
up for this tour. It did me no good to be the first to sign-up, because I
am now one of the last from the Command to return overseas. It was a matter
of priorities: logisticians and their support packages were needed way before
the staff "straphangers" were needed, and I had to wait. Oh, I've been there
for annual training, but *this* is different. Much different. No two to
three weeks of "AT" and "Out of your hair for another year". No, I am here
for at least 6 to 9 months, to do my trained job in a real-life situation.
No training, no "time outs", no "let's look at this again". Families and
soldiers will be depending upon me and my associate to provide them timely
information about what's going on here. My boss, the Chief of Staff, will
be depending on me to provide him and the rest of the Command, spread out
over four countries and literally thousands of kilometers, with news and
information in order to assist him to make the right recommendations and
My first Public Affairs mission on active duty. Desert Storm doesn't count;
I spent much of the time there working Reserve Component-Active Component
hardware and software issues, and the rest of the time learning how the tiny
communications element worked with the huge Personnel Command stateside
and in "SWA". I still received credit for Public Affairs work, only because
"slot" I occupied during the active duty period.
No "world tour" here, as our teeshirts we had made during the Iraq War
Just routine, almost boring at times, work. Long hours. Longer days. PT every
other morning. Yelling. Songs about "a yellow bird on my window sill" to sing
again, hopefully a little *cleaner*. Reading the _Stars_&_Stripes_ again while
sipping on coffee at lunchtime. Rindwurst and Brochen, a German hotdog with
spicy mustard wrapped between a soft, freshly-baked German roll served with or
without German potato salad for a weekend "snack".
I have missed Germany: the castles. The land. The people. The signs.
The way buses and trains are *on time* even when *I'm* not. Volksmarches.
The cobblestoned streets and walkways full of people that sometimed smelled
as if they have not bathed in days. Listening to ONE American radio station
and watching "commercials" on "taking care of your automobile" and "don't
say too much about what you do...the "enemy" is listening". Having two
sets of coins in your pockets, and being able to say without joking around
the two most famous German phrases: "Wo ist der Bahnhof bitte" and
"Eine mal Kaffee mit milch bitte" ("Where is the Train station, please" and
"One more cup of coffee with milk please"...okay, so the second phrase isn't
as well-known as the first one!! It works for me!)
As we moved by elevated, glass-enclosed German tourbus to our final
destination from the airport, our Command's Chaplain touched me on the
shoulder. This is Chaplain Odell's first tour overseas and he has been
in awe of the images he has previously only seen illustrated in travel
magazines or television shows.
"Mike. You've been smiling ever since we touched ground. Either you are
glad to be off the plane or excited about being here".
"Both. I have dreamed of returning here again, to be able to see where
I've worked and lived and played at. I'm very happy, sir."
I was smiling all of the way to the Kaserne where I now make home.
I'm broke, having used the last of my "allowance" from my wife until I
receive my travel advance, and even then, my wife's advice was "if you
want the bills caught up, the kids' Christmas, and the car repaired,
make it last!" I made mental notes to myself as we traveled, to get Jessi
her new camera and to take photos of this place, for she and I had talked
about her coming to visit and she decided against it. Photos and email
will be our way to share our lives together, at least *this time around*.
Somehow, its not the same as pointing things out to her, as I did to the
Chaplain and our Detachment Executive Officer, both whom have never
participated in a counterpart tour here before. Looking at her face as we
watch cars zip past our large bus as if we were parked on the side of the
highway. I looked at the speedometer, and we were going the equal of 70
miles-per-hour. One-hundred-twenty kilometers per hour.
It's not the same thing to watch the expression on our Exec's face as it
would to see Jessica's.
"There's really no speed limit here, is there, Mike?", the XO asked. I
shook my head in the negative, smiling as we watched the American-made
car fade away as he -- or she, it was too fast for us to see -- sped past.
I saw a sign on the way into the Kaserne from the Autobahn. "Car Wash for
Boy Scouts" and an arrow pointing the way toward the major military housing
area in Kaiserslautern called "Vogelweh".
I am *still smiling*, and will be for some time. For I am back once again in
"Eine mal, bitte!!"
(MAJ) Mike L. Walton (Settummanque, the blackeagle)
Deputy Public Affairs Officer, 21st Theater Army Area Command
"everything I say is "on the record"; speaking ONLY for myself unless indicated"
personal inquiries via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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