THE WAR WASN'T OVER
The State Adjutant General doing
his best imitation of Gen Patton
Two weeks was "two long"; we were there|
solely to keep these fools from killing themselves
and lobbing a few rounds into the town.
Very Important Note! The National Guard was totally revitalized after the first "Desert Storm" and became a truly honorable and effective fighting force. This "war story" reflects the reality of one "southern state" NG unit (which shall remain unnamed) in the late sixties. It just proves how far some NG units have come and that they are deserving of all respect today.
When my DEROS rolled around in October of 1967 and I caught my "Freedom Bird" back to the land of the Big PX, it also ended the active duty portion of my six-year contract. Going off of active duty meant leaving the war behind, I thought. Hah! The US Army Reserve did not forget that I owed them four more years: two in the Inactive Reserve Duty status and two in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) status. For all intents and purposes, I thought my days in uniform were over. Wrong!
In the Spring of 1968, a letter arrives at home. It is a set of orders putting me on Active Duty for two weeks! What?!? What is this all about?? Finally, the clouds clear and it dawns on me what is about to occur. I have been assigned as a "Safety Officer" to a National Guard Artillery unit going on its two-week summer camp and taking their annual ATT (Army Training Test).
Gotta stop the story here and lay the background. Ever since I was a teenager, the National Guard units in my region were held in low esteem. I heard many, many friends repeat the phrase "NG means No Good". There was a long-standing billboard campaign that touted the slogan "Sleep Well Tonight - Your National Guard Is Awake". The local wiseacres revised this to read: "Sleep Well Tonight - Your National Guard Does". The timeframe of my "growing up years" here is the late fifties; I was too young to understand why the National Guard was branded with such stinging criticism and widespread ridicule as a military force. Now, it was the late 60s and I was about to find out.
After arriving at the camp site, I found myself with several other Reserve Field Artillery Lieutenants who had been "called up" to active duty. Our assignment was Artillery Safety Officers for the duration of the NG summer camp.
The first week of the camp was scheduled as their final preparations for taking the US Army-required ATT under tactical conditions, complete with referees, umpires, and Safety Officers. Since State Guard units reported only to the State Governor unless "federalized" by the President of the United States, they were under no obligation to follow federal training manuals. But they did have to pass an ATT. (Keep in mind that there was no real penalty for failing the ATT.)
The NG staff of this unit learned that I had just returned from Vietnam as a Battery XO less than six months ago, I was assigned to help one of the NG Battery XOs to lay the battery. Wait a sec. Just a gol-darned minute here, buckaroo! Teach an artillery executive officer how to lay the battery? Are you kidding me? What's this all about? Oh-oh....I learn that the majority of the entire NG artillery unit had never been to Ft Sill or even heard of "Blockhouse Signal Mountain". Alarm bells going off. How do they come to call themselves an artillery outfit? Oh...they were using the "OJT" method (On The Job Training). It was the educational "bread & butter" of the NGs. NOW I know why they grabbed us Reservists to be Safety Officers! They wanted to make sure these guys didn't kill themselves or blow the good citizens of Ft Smith, Arkansas, just outside the gates and their Town Hall all to hell! Guess what? The poor dude couldn't get it. Train, repeat, train, repeat, train, repeat...no dice. That M2 Aiming Circle was just a piece of mystery to him. I thought to myself...how in the holy hell will this unit ever pass its ATT if the XO can't even lay the battery? That's the first and most critical step in firing a cannon! All I could do at this point was to lay the battery for him so that they could continue with the preparations. It wasn't long afterward that I learned these NG Field Artillery units routinely fail their annual ATTs and get a series of extensions and warnings to "do better" from their headquarters. What I didn't understand at age 13 is now clearer at age 23. Hoo, boy...whatta deal. "Big boys with super-dangerous toys"....and here I am in the middle of it all. (Wonder if they still need me back in Vietnam?)
And there's more. On the Sunday evening before the start of the ATT, a Battery Commander (he was a postal deliveryman; yep...he walked his rural route with a sack of mail) was sitting around a campfire with his men...both officer and enlisted. They played poker...for cash. They passed around a bottle of whiskey (Jack Daniels), taking swigs as it passed. This is a total abomination of command behavior...an officer in command of a unit gambling and drinking with the men of his unit. I was stunned to see it happening. This is not the US Army that I had just left six months ago. Ah, yes..."NG, No Good". Beginning to see the reasons.
And...it got worse! The next morning, we were summoned to a pre-dawn meeting with the NG command to begin the exercise. They told us Safety Officers...in no uncertain terms...that we were to observe every protocol in a tactical situation. That, just because we were Reservists with no stake in the outcome, we were expected to perform our duties in a manner consistent with tactical conditions. We were "put on notice", lectured and warned. It felt like they were preparing us to be scapegoats if they failed their ATT...again.
After this little dressing-down session, I got in the jeep headed for Bn Hqtrs with the NG Team for the start of the exercise. "We are now TACTICAL", someone announces. "We will observe 'challenge & response' as we approach the Guard at the forward outpost of the Battalion Headquarters". The jeep driver, who obviously knew the layout and the guard's location, slowed the jeep down expectantly, awaiting the "challenge" from the guard. No Guard in sight. The driver slows down some more, straining to see the Guard in the semi-darkness. No Guard. The driver now has the jeep at a crawl...still awaiting a challenge from the Guard. No Guard. Finally, the driver stops the jeep and says in frustration, "This is where he is supposed to be, Sir"! A couple of embarrassed NG staffers get out of the jeep and begin to search. Before long, they found the Guard, sound asleep, resting comfortably at the base of a nearby tree with his M-16 leaning against it. They removed his M-16, took it to the jeep, and let him sleep.
I damned near SUFFOCATED as I clasped my hand over my mouth and nose to keep from busting out laughing! I damned near perforated my tongue from biting it. This was the funniest scene I had ever experienced in my military career!! That poor buzzard wasn't sleeping! He was in a drunken coma from the night before! So...this is the National Guard, eh?
Perhaps another nail in the NG coffin is that the state governor appoints one of his political cronies to be the State Adjutant General. An immediate promotion to the general officer ranks. Well, this particular State AG pays a visit to the units at the camp. Again, I needed my hand clamped over my mouth & nose and I have to bite the devil out of my tongue to keep from laughing. "Bubba General" shows up in a khaki uniform, all 300lbs of him, with a richly earned gut, a pair of mirror-sunglasses like the Highway Patrolmen wear, a pair of cowboy boots, AND...get this...a pearl-handle .38 caliber pistol in his holster. Looked just like Jackie Gleason in "Smokey and the Bandit". A man living out his "Gen Patton" fantasy. If this overloaded galoot was a one-star general, then I was Genghis Khan. Oh, brother...a cartoon character come to life.
Thank God this "war" was only for
two weeks. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I don't want to even talk
about having to go back for another camp. One was enough.
Lt Dennis Dauphin
Footnotes. (1) Would you believe? The graded firing exercise occurred at night, in a rainstorm, and with a huge tornado in the distance. Our illustrious XO actually got the battery properly laid! My training must have finally kicked in and the population of Ft. Smith, Ark remained unchanged after the ATT was over.
(2) All of the "involuntary drafted" federal officers sent as "Safety Officers" to keep these fools from killing themselves wanted NO PART of these locally-grown state-owned boy scouts. We insisted on a ride back to Base Camp barracks to avoid interacting with these yahoos. We spent the evenings in the 2nd floor of the barracks hallway, kicking beer cans (that were once full) over the fire escape stair landing. Each can that cleared the handrail scored three points. It was the highlight of this camp.