GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Chemical masks, heavy gunsights, tripods — all laid out on the floor in rows before being checked, counted and packaged for shipping.
It’s a snapshot of change in U.S. Army Europe, where the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade recently started its inactivation in earnest on this rural German post. Company commanders and noncommissioned officers are clearing their property books of gear and watching more of their soldiers leave. Some have been there for a while.
“I’m going to miss the unit,” said 1st Sgt. Richard Carr, who has been with the 172nd since 2003. “I’m going to miss Germany, too. It’s just time to go home for a while.”
I had the “pleasure” of drawing down two units, A Co. 7th Bn, 6th IN, 1AD, and A Co., 1st Bn, 12th IN, 4ID.
The first unit, A-7/6IN, wasn’t that bad. We were actually deployed to Desert Storm when the directive came down to shut down. In fact, the unit had planned to draw down even before the deployment put that effort on hold. Because building up forces in Saudi Arabia had taken so long, the decision was made to preposition war stocks of vehicles and equipment in Saudi Arabia for the inevitable next deployment. In a rare flash of common sense, the Army decided that 7/6IN would just leave their vehicles in theater, rather than redeploying them to Germany, then shipping them back to Saudi Arabia. And so it came to pass, we drove our vehicles to an open spot in the desert, unloaded the remaining bits of live ammo, and walked away. Easiest vehicle turn-in in the history of the Army. In fact, every last bit of our organizational equipment, with the exceptions of personal weapons and gas masks* were left behind in Saudi Arabia. Tentage, radios, mobile kitchen trailers, NBC equipment, night vision devices, trucks, water heaters, everything.
That actually still left quite a bit of work to do when we finally got back to Germany. Just like any office, each company in the Army has all kinds of office furniture and equipment. And it all has to be accounted for an either turned in or properly disposed of, all of which requires a paper trail (and ironically, you need the very office equipment you’re disposing of to make that paper trail!). And of course, there’s also the buildings and furniture of the barracks housing the units soldiers. Every bed, sheet, wardrobe, pillowcase and chair had to be accounted for. And we couldn’t just leave it in place in the barracks. We had to turn it into the local furniture warehouse, for either reissue, or disposal. Since we still had people living in the barracks, we had to move furniture piecemeal. As a soldier’s orders to a new unit came through, we’d strip his furnishings out and turn them in. It was a slow process. And as just about the last soldier in the entire battalion to transfer out, I moved a heck of a lot more furniture than I really cared to. And of course, the company was on the third floor, with no elevators!
Shutting down A-1/12IN was even worse. The main body of the unit was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to assist running camps for Cuban and Haitian boat people refugees.I had been away attending a school, and upon return, found myself in charge of the company’s rear detachment and responsible for starting the draw-down process. Our small rear detachment of about 10 people had to go through the main hassle of turning in all the vehicles, electronics, weapons, tools, parts and kits, and the thousands of other items each infantry company has. Theoretically, when you turn in an Army vehicle, all operator and unit level maintenance should be fully performed. This is called “10/20″ standard. But while the unit was deployed, the brigade had allowed a rather… liberal cannibalization policy, raiding our vehicles for spare parts to keep vehicles in other battalions running. By the time I got back from school, not a single vehicle was capable of even running under its own power. Just to get the vehicles to the turn in point meant I had to beg battalion to borrow a recovery vehicle to tow them.
And of course, SGT XBradTC wasn’t the guy who had signed for all this stuff. The man who “owned” all the equipment, and was responsible for anything missing, was the company commander. But he was 2000 miles away living in a tent next to 5000 Hatian refugees. He had to trust that I wasn’t going to tank his career, or get him a one-way ticket to Leavenworth for 5-10 years. It’s pretty hard to misplace a Bradley, but there are hundreds of other very expensive items that might have gone missing that would have been highly embarrassing to me and the CO. Night Vision Goggles, for example, were a “high pilferage” item- very expensive, small and light, and if not tracked assiduously, easy to go missing. Fortunately, neither the CO nor I wound up facing federal charges. I don’t recall what all we did end up writing off, but while the total was a couple thousand dollars, it was mostly things like socket sets and such.
The main body of the unit was due to eventually return to lovely Ft. Carson. The problem was, while they were gone, and the barracks were empty, other units were taking advantage of that open space to ease their own overcrowding issues. But I had firm orders from both my CO and the battalion Sergeant Major that I was to prep to remove our soldier’s personal belongings from storage, and have each soldier’s room ready for occupation on the night of the unit’s return. I begged and pleaded with the other units to get their soldier’s out of my spaces. They dragged their feet. After all, in the Army, a Sergeant Major pays little attention to a buck sergeant, especially one not in his unit. Finally, at my wits end, I simply broke into each room, and had my rear detachment empty those other soldier’s belongings into the quad, and called those units and suggested they might want to post a guard on their troops belongings. I had multiple Sergeant Majors threatening me with criminal investigations and IG complaints, but one phone call to my First Sergeant and Sergeant Major put that to rest. They had my back, and our troops had their rooms.
Fortunately, as the unit drew down this time, I was actually one of the first to depart, leaving for recruiting school, and thence almost immediately for my new duties in the Indiana. I didn’t regret one bit missing the final stages of drawing down a unit, and I’m glad I never had to do it again.