SHORT STORIES

Doug Alt

Win Some, Lose Some - Atomic DemolitionsSwim_for_Singing.html
 

Win Some, Lose Some
Atomic Weapons Training

1969

After being stuck as a “Hold-over” in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for six months (due to my security clearance paper work having been fouled up) I finagled my way into being assigned to a special training course in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia which would prepare me to be an Atomic Demolitions Specialist.

The beauty of being assigned this MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) was that, although the U.S. was at the height of its war activities in Vietnam at that time, the reigning political wisdom was that we should NOT place any atomic weapons in that theater of war. It was thought that this strategy would enable us to influence the Chinese and the Russians to also not place atomic weapons there, thus hopefully averting situations which might get us into a nuclear holocaust.

What this meant for me was that, upon completion of the ADM (Atomic Demolitions) course at Ft. Belvoir, I would definitely NOT be sent to Vietnam.

My orders to go from Ft. Leonard Wood to Ft. Belvoir included a 3-day pass to go home to New Jersey prior to starting the ADM training. While in NJ, I dusted off my Suzuki X6 Hustler motorcycle and then used it to drive myself to Virginia. Once at Ft. Belvoir, there was not much time to utilize the motorcycle at all, since the training was totally intense through morning, noon, and night for 3 solid weeks, with barely enough time off for eating and sleeping.

The screening requirements for applicants for this ADM school were very high. This resulted in having a VERY sharp group of guys to train with. The course was quite difficult, but we all enjoyed meeting the challenge.

On the last Friday of the training program, we had our big “Final Exam”. I felt that I had done pretty well, and was hoping that I might have come out with one of the top scores in our class. Later, at the evening meal, some formal announcements were made. We would get our next duty assignments early the next morning. There would be a Graduation Ceremony, then we would have two weeks of leave, after which we would report to a specified military base for shipment overseas.

At the Graduation Ceremony there were to be achievement recognitions, particularly for the highest score in the class. In addition, there was to be a Special Award, because the highest score achieved on the Final Exam earlier this day was something extraordinary – it was also the highest score ever earned in that ADM training course in the history of its existence!

And, more astoundingly, TWO people had TIED for the highest score - Art Dalton and Doug Alt!

After supper, we all were in the mood to “celebrate” so we headed to the PX for some “goodies”. Most of the guys bought 6-packs of “3.2 beer”. I had a bit of a sore throat, so I bought some Coke and a small bottle of rum to mix with it.

My partner in high-scoring-fame, Art Dalton, also bought a quart of very expensive scotch in fancy packaging and then had it gift wrapped – his sister was getting married Saturday evening, and he was planning to carry this gift (for the groom) with him on the plane, hoping that the air connections he had worked out to get him home JUST in time for the wedding would not get fouled up.

But now arose a question as to where to have our little celebration party? There was a VERY strict rule prohibiting having ANY alcoholic beverages in our barracks area. Someone remembered that there was a little grove with picnic tables within walking distance where alcoholic beverages were “allowed”, so that is where we headed.

It was a beautiful spring evening, so we had as good a time as was possible to have while our minds were more on the 2-week leave at home, and possible female connections, than they were on talking with a bunch of guys sitting around on picnic benches in Army uniforms.

When the beer ran out, most of the guys decided to hike over to the EM Club, where they could continue partying. I was ready to hit the sack, due to the cold I was fighting, so I headed back to the barracks. I started to toss my empty Coke cans and the empty rum bottle into a small, open trash can right by the entry door to the barracks, when I suddenly remembered the “No Alcohol In The Barracks Area” rule. Thinking that a sergeant or an officer might easily glance in the open can and see the rum bottle, thus triggering possible tirades and/or retribution, I decided to put the empty rum bottle in my pocket and then, once back in my bunk area, I stuffed it in the bottom of my already-packed duffel bag, where it could ride home with me to New Jersey the next day for disposal.

At about 0300 Saturday, our sleep was suddenly disrupted by piercing police whistles, batons banging on the bunk beds and plenty of shouting by our sergeants, as they ordered us to stand at attention by our bunks for “Inspection”. This was, simply, the “lifer” NCOs’ entertainment for themselves in having one last chance to harass “all these college smart-asses”.

As part of the “Inspection” we were told to dump the contents of all our duffel bags, which we had spent lots of time packing carefully for our departure right after the morning Graduation Ceremony, right in the center aisle of the barracks. It was clear that their primary intent was just to disrupt our sleep and cause us lots of extra cleanup and packing work for the rest of what was left of the night.

However, they became jubilant upon coming up with some “bonus” findings – Art Dalton’s gift-wrapped bottle of scotch and my empty rum bottle. “Article 15 Time!” We had clearly violated the “No Alcohol In the Barracks” rule, and were ordered to report to the Commanding Officer’s office later that morning, right after graduation, to receive our punishment.

During the Graduation Ceremony, Art and I received the special awards for “All-Time Highest Score” and then, a few minutes later, we were both standing at attention in front of the CO, his Executive Officer, and all the Sergeants. He decreed that, for our punishment, we were to be confined to the barracks area for the two weeks that everyone else would be home on Leave. Then, we would report directly to the ship-out point, with no time to visit home before going overseas.

He had the two offending items standing on his desk during these brief proceedings, but then made a big show of unwrapping and opening Art’s bottle of scotch and carrying it into the adjacent bathroom in order to dump the contents down the toilet. (This was apparently done to prevent any thoughts that the officers might hoard the booty for their own personal use later. ) He then, in front of all his assembled witnesses, handed the respective bottles to Art and me, and ordered us to “get rid of these” and then go back to the barracks area to begin our punishment time.

And so we did.

I decided that I would not discard my bottle in the immediate Company Area. There were several dumpster areas scattered elsewhere around the Post, but within walking distance, and I spent some time walking to one of the more distant ones.

Once back in the barracks, I was plenty steamed – it had been an EMPTY bottle, after all! I decided that I was not going to accept the “Article 15” (which is a company-level non-judicial punishment mechanism that a soldier can accept in lieu of being charged with a crime and having all the evidence and legal issues battled out in a Court Martial.) I was going to demand that formal charges be filed and that a full-blown Court Martial be held. My strategy was that the Company Commander would have to PROVE that alcohol had actually been in that bottle.

Less than an hour later, I marched myself to the CO’s office, getting there just a minute or so before he was ready to head off base for the weekend, and stated my demand for a Court Martial. He scoffed a bit, and then asked, “On what basis?” When I stated that it was an EMPTY bottle, with no alcohol, he responded, “well even if it was just a drop or two in the bottom, there must have been SOME alcohol left in the bottle.”

“How do you know Sir, did you test it somehow?”

“Well, we could test it, if we have to.”

“That would be impossible Sir, since you don’t have any evidence here to test… You gave me a direct order to ‘get rid of’ that bottle, and I followed your order.”

“Well then, I’d have to order you to go right back out there and retrieve it and bring it back here.”

“Sir, you can’t order a criminal suspect to go find evidence that you might need in order to prepare a case against him…”

At this point, he was non-plussed, especially as he started to think about how this case was going to look when his superior officers had to prepare to serve as judges in this Court Martial.

He did not back off from the Article 15, however, which was my hope. He decided to dig in to “show this whipper snapper a thing or two.” At this point, the presence of my motorcycle proved to be very fortuitous, since now that I had to defend myself in a Court Martial, I had to be given permission to travel around the military base in order to get legal counsel and to take other steps to prepare my “case”. Ft. Belvoir encompasses a LOT of territory, and if I had been on foot, it might have been a hopeless task.

By now, it was past noon on a Saturday and most functions on the Post were shutting down for the weekend, including the Legal Assistance offices. I did quite a bit of scrambling, but was unable to get much help that day. Sunday morning, I finally got in touch by phone with a JAG officer, who agreed to come in from off-post to look over the situation, particularly since I had told him about the Leave time that I was being denied. After he had a pointed conversation with my Commanding Officer, my CO finally caved and ceded his point. No Court Martial; no Article 15.

My friend Art was unable to come up with any defense strategy at all, and his 2-week restriction stayed firmly in place.

By about 1300 hours Sunday, I was finally on my motorcycle heading north for New Jersey to start my “13-day” leave. After that, the orders in my pocket said I was to report to Fort Dix for a flight to ADM duty in Eschborn, Germany, where who-knows-what adventures might lie awaiting me.

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