Every recruiter had his own government issued vehicle. The General Services Administration would lease cars for a three or four year term, and parcel them out to recruiting stations. While we might switch cars from time to time, most of the time, we had one car, and used it for all our official business.
Unlike the hassle of getting a tactical vehicle dispatched (basically, permission from battalion to take a vehicle out of a motor pool), these cars had a fairly low administrative overhead. We didn’t have to detail every point we travelled to, just our total daily mileage. A fleet credit card handled refueling at damn near any gas station.
They weren’t very luxurious cars, but they weren’t that bad either. Back in the Old Army, the Army actually bought fleets of cars itself. My recruiter had a Chrysler K-Car. And back then, all non-tactical Army cars came in a hideous pastel light green color. It beat the baby blue of the Air Force, but not by much. In my day, GSA cars came with AM and FM radio. Heck, we even had air conditioning! Sadly, no cruise control. Given the number of trips I would make along the Interstate to South Bend and Indianapolis, that was annoying, but hey, I was Army Strong!
Since we typically ignored local speed limits, and drove like bats out of hell, GSA cars were known almost universally as “G-Jets.”
As the New Guy in the recruiting station, my first G-Jet was, of course, the oldest, crappiest car at the station. It was a Ford Tempo that had been ridden hard. Recruiters spend a lot of time in their cars. And apparently, the guy I replaced was a fat ass, because the cushion on the driver side seat was shot. There were plenty of holes in the cheap upholstery as well, since he had also been a smoker. And three winters in northwest Indiana meant the paint job was lookin’ a tad rough as well. Still, it ran. Of course, it was pretty gutless.
Soon, I was tasked to go to Indianapolis and trade it in for a new car, a 1995 Chevy Corsica. Woot! Not exactly a muscle car, nor yet a Beemer, but still, not too embarrassing to be seen in. I dropped off the old Ford, signed my John Hancock on the bottom line taking possession from some fat GSA civilian, and headed back home. I’ve never owned a new car. This thing had less than a dozen miles on the clock. The “break in” period for it would consist of driving 160 miles back to the station as fast as traffic would allow.
I was about a mile from the exit that would deposit me at the recruiting station when a big old chunk of asphalt the size of a Baby Ruth bar was kicked up by the truck in front of me. It spanged off the hood, bounced up and hit the top of the windshield and disappeared behind me, scaring me silly in the process. The windshield didn’t crack, but as soon as I could get a look at the outside, I found a gouge in the hood about an inch long that went clear through the paint and primer down to bare metal. The top of the frame for the windshield had a fair dent as well. I think I was the only recruiter picking up a new car that day that had to fill out an accident report. Never did get either dent repaired though.
Our station was in a strip mall that had a huge parking lot, but very few successful businesses, so it was almost always empty. On mornings with a new snow, I’d head out before the snowplow came, and do donuts in the snow for a while. Not terribly satisfying in a front wheel drive car, but better than nothing.
G-Jets were for official government business only, so one of the big rules was, don’t take your G-Jet home. That’s what your own car was for!.
Well… did you know it occassionally rains like heck in the midwest? They even have flash floods from time to time. And so it came to pass, one recruiter (not me!) heard a real frog-strangler comin’ down upon his abode one night. And lo, the waters did rise. His home was in a place called Frog Holler, of all things. And his whole street flooded. He sure picked the wrong night to bring his G-Jet home. The water reached almost to the roof of the car. It didn’t get swept too far away, but the car was a total loss from flood damage. I’m not sure what song and dance they gave battalion, but the recruiter somehow managed to avoid having to buy the car.
I’m not sayin’ I never took mine home. I’m just sayin’ mine was never ruined in a flood.
I was heading down US 30 on day, and as it turned out, a recruiter from another station just happened to fall in behind me. As I stopped at a light, he decided to have a little fun at my expense, and pulled up right behind me and very gently nudged my car with his. Very, very gently. I didn’t even notice it, or notice him behind me. So at the next red light, he decided to tap me just a little harder.
He forgot that cars in the 90s didn’t have metal bumpers. He gave me a pretty good jolt. And just about tore off the front bumper of his car. I hopped out, saw a few scuff marks on my rear bumper. I jumped back in and hauled ass. Given that every accident report was supposed to have a police report attached, I don’t know what he told battalion had happened, but I never heard any more about it. And no one else ever wanted to play bumper cars with me.
Time passes us all by. Ford had had their turn, and so with Chevy. After about 3 years, it came time to bid adieu to the Corsica. Off to Indy to swap out cars. About 50 of us were picking up new cars that day. The Corsica wasn’t much to look at, and was hardly a thoroughbred, but it was a good solid car. I was just getting the driver side seatcushions to fit my butt. I swapped it for some crappy Plymouth. It was the most gutless thing I’d driven in years. I had to stand on the gas pedal just to get it to move. The seats were awful. The ergonomics of the whole car were bad.
On the trip home from Indy, the car almost stalled a couple times. This was the days before cell phones were quite ubiquitous. I was pretty concerned that if I did break down in the middle of nowhere, I might be there a while. As it turns out, by the time I did manage to limp back to the station, the battalion had been swamped with calls. Almost half of the recruiters who picked up Plymouths that morning had broken down on the way home. Must have been a batch of “Monday” cars. But hey, at least it had cruise control!
G-Jets stateside were from the Big Three automakers. Gotta keep those government dollars at home. But in Germany, things were a tad different. There, the Status of Forces Agreement led to the Army (not GSA) buying fleets of non-tactical vehicles from the Germans. So when I was the XO’s driver at Brigade, I had my tactical vehicle (at first, an M1009 CUCV~ essentially a 1977 K5 Blazer, later I had a Humvee). But the Brigade also had a Volkswagon Van. Painted a bright yellow, it was inevitably known as the Banana Wagon. I actually drove that more than my truck. The CO and the CSM had their own drivers, but if the trip involved taking the Banana Wagon, we’d pretty much get tasked to drive whomever. The CO, Dan Zanini, went on to three stars. The CSM Gene McKinney went on to notoriety as the Sergeant Major of the Army, and a court martial. My boss, the XO, David Ozoleck, retired as a Colonel and went into industry. Neat guy. Smart as a whip, fun and funny. Great leader. The Army missed an opportunity when he didn’t get a maneuver battalion command.
The Banana Wagon placed the driver well ahead of the front wheels. That took me quite a while to get used to. And I never could get the mirrors just right. It had a huge blind side on the driver side. More than once I almost merged into passing cars. But after a while, it got to be pretty fun to drive. Comfortable, spacious, and a decent ride and surprisingly good power. It wasn’t a Porche, but it was German engineered.
I drove a few other G-Jets in my time, including a Dodge Rampage in Army Lime Green. I even drove a big old Mercedes cab-over truck my unit had leased to help move people out during the drawdown in Europe-
“XBrad, you got a civilian license?”
“Yes, First Sergeant!”
“OK, drive this truck anywhere the Lieutenant wants to go!”
**looks at truck much, much larger than any I’d ever driven before**
“Yes, First Sergeant!”
What? You wanna tell the First Sergeant no?