An Army Career In The 70's
M. Layport, United States, Choosing a Carreer Or Did It Choose Me
I never did know what I wanted to do for a living the entire time I was going to school. I was "warned" that I needed to start thinking about it, and start planning!
I never was a great student anyway, so made it hard to plan on anything, and the “warnings” just increased my anxiety!
I had gone to Jr. College after high school primarily because that was what you were "suppose to do" ...didn't do great there either.
Took me 3 years to get a 2 year degree!
I only got a degree in mechanical drafting because it was easy for me, but never had any plans to work in the profession.
So late 1972 (just before finishing J.C.) I started thinking of what I can do next with my life.
Dad had been with the 25th Div in the 35 Infantry REGT in the Philippines during WWII, and I always loved his "war stories". So I came to the bright conclusion of enlisting in the military!
Funny I remember telling Dad of my plans and that was the first time I remember him talking about the bad points of being a grunt in the military.
But “I knew what I was doing” and helicopters had caught my eye! ...Although I've never been in a plane in my life at that point! I went into the Army recruiters and discussed the idea, I was informed that that MOS (military occupation specialty) was not in high demand at this point in time,
Viet Nam was winding down and the need for helo pilots was not as high as it once was. I was determined to be a gun ship pilot, so they sent me in for the written test.
It was pretty hard, but was happy I scored the minimum acceptable grade! ...Then I was informed there's qualified and best qualified! ...i.e. I didn't make the cut! I was heart broken!
Went home that night and thought …the Army doesn't even want you! The next day I went over to visit a buddy at his house, he had another one of his friend over, and this guy had just gotten out of the Army’s armor AIT (advanced individual training) class at Ft. Knox ...he talked about armor training and how the M60 tank was an ass kicking machine! …I was interested!
Next day the Army recruiter’s office called, wanting to see if I was interested in anything else ...I told them I'd be interested in armor!
You could almost hear them licking their chops! …"OH SURE …we could probably get you in that!" So I enlisted for armor training in the L.A. recruiting station California, and that evening I was shipped off to Ft Ord in a bus.
It was late Feb. 1973. As we pulled out of the recruiting station I looked around the bus, all kinds of people were there and I remember thinking, "Boy I hope I don't get stuck with this group!" *G* …We became 1st Platoon C-2-3 in the old WWII wooden barracks over looking the reception area. Actually “basic” was not that hard for me.
Yes I was out of shape, and was never the athletic type, but during my school years, because I wasn’t a good student, I developed the ability to disappear in the crowd! …To become so inconspicuous that the teacher didn’t noticed you!
This was probably the only time this ability ever served me, in a beneficial manor. The Drill Sgt. never was able to put my name to a face, until about the last 2 weeks of basic.
Basic in general was a positive event for me, gave me confidents in myself to a degree and got to learn about dealing with other people, both good and bad.
Eight weeks later I graduate for basic training, and the third week in May, 1973 we shipped out to Ft. Knox Kentucky for AIT armor training. Armor AIT was the icing on the cake for me! We were finally earning something we were going to work at.
The barracks were semi new and the food was real good! Each track (tank) had a crew of 4 trainees, with a T.C. (tank commander) that was assigned to the track.
Normal crew was 5 people; this allowed each trainee to rotate positions as we learned how to operate each position …except the T.C.’s spot. I was older then most in training, I was 22 at this time, I’d guess the average age of most of the recruits was 19 to 20 at this point.
Whether this was a contributing factor or not I’m not sure, but I became the leader in all training efforts. If the lesson was driving or any other skill, I was the first to try! AIT was semi easy for me. I didn’t have to “hide” in the crowd anymore; I looked forward in proving my capabilities! Actually this worked out well for me, because I was made PFC/E3 at the end of this AIT training.
I had thought I’d be able to get leave after AIT and visit home again, but the Army had other ideas. I was sent to Ft. Bliss Texas for “Redeye” training.
Redeye is a shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile …the grandfather of the modern day Stinger missile. The other guys in my AIT class went on the train on the M551 Sheridan “tank”, or were sent off to regular armor units. Redeye was a 3 week training course, there were only 12 regular Army people in this class and the other 24 people were N.G.s (national guard), who were there for their annual 2 weeks of training.
Actually this was 2 weeks of party time for most of them! They almost daily went down to Juarez, Mexico, after training too PARTY!
The next day they were a sorry looking lot! Afew had long hair …stuck under short hair wigs, and the D.I. (drill instructor) would yell at them to get their hair fixed right, or he’ll escort them to the barber to get a “proper” hair cut! The N.G.s only lasted the 2 weeks then they were gone, and it was just the 12 R.A.s (Regular Army) guys that were left.
During this training I discovered I had a knack for “aircraft recognition” I was scoring 100% on all my aircraft recognition tests and scoring high on the system test as well. I ended up number one in the class, and this allowed me to fire the one of the 2 missiles that were expended at the end of the class.
Unfortunately this was the only disappointment I came a crossed …my missile was a dud …a $3000 dud! *G* After leave at my parent’s house in California,
I flew to South Carolina and the AFB (Air Force Base) there to catch a flight to FRG (Federal Republic of Germany). We waited most the day there, meeting people and friends I knew there from training.
We finally went to board a plane, but much to my disappointment, it was not a military aircraft at all! It was an old 707 with the company name on the side “Flying Tigers Airline”. This was a very old and very used aircraft.
We were jammed into the aircraft and headed off for a very long flight. We didn’t fly straight to Europe; we stopped in New Foundland to re-fuel, and then on to Frankfurt, Germany and the Rheine Mien airport.
There we unloaded and were bused to the 503th replacement center …an old building that was a British prisoner camp during WWII! We spent the next 3 days there, before being shipping to another distribution center. This is where I learned I was to be shipped to “Alpha” troop 3rd Sqd. 12th CAV in Budingen, FRG. I remember thinking “Boy this sounds like a kick-ass unit!” …But before we got there we had to get an orientation to the Germany culture.
This was a 5 day class in Glenhausen, FRG. We got there late Sunday night and after all day coming and going to get assigned and picking up TA-50 (field gear) I fell into bed about midnight.
Next day we found out there was about 15 of us, and after we got straighten away, we headed to our first class. The class was taught by an officer’s wife who spoke very fluent Germany and spent a lot of time in country.
Over the next few days we were taught basic Germany language, currency exchange, & cultural differences. During this time afew notable things happened to me. First I was assigned to a section headed by a Sgt. that was from Louisiana, he was a Cajun and he had an accent you could cut with a knife!
He would tell me to do something, and it was like someone speaking a foreign language to you! I had to ask 2 to 3 times what he just said! …And sometimes I never did understand him! Luckily this didn’t seem to be a new problem for him, and he wasn’t too upset about my asking what he just said! The other notable event happened about day 4, I was in class and it was about 10:30am when a sergeant came into our class road and wanted to know who PFC Layport was!?? Without thinking I stood up (from basic training), he looks me over and said you are to report to major so-in-so in the Battalion S4 building!
First thing I thought was “what did I do now!??” I headed over there escorted by the sergeant, and sit down in front of this major, he was the S4 OIC (officer in charge). He was looking for a clerk, and was trying to skim some of the replacements for this position.
After I learned what he was after, I told him I wasn’t interested! He was flabbier-gassed! He went on to tell me I’d be E.D. (eliminated from duty) from guard duty, K.P. & won’t have to do field duty! I still wasn’t interested. He didn’t care!
Then when he explains my duties as a “clerk”, I told him I couldn’t type! He didn’t believe me! He had seen in my records where I had graduated from Jr. College and wanted to know how I had gotten thru without typing a paper?
I told him I had my girl friend type it …actually it was my Mom, but I didn’t want to share that info! So after a brief test in typing skills he finally relented and I was allowed to head back to class.
Two days later the class was over and a VW vans pulled up to take the 4 people to the Armstrong Kaserne in Budingen, FRG.
It was Friday evening, early Sept. I arrived in Budingen, FRG about 18:00hrs we were dropped off in from of the troop location. These were barracks were built in 1932 to house a German unit; a rectangle shaped building 5 floors tall. The C.O. and 1st Sgt had already gone, only the C.Q. (Charge of Quarters) was there.
He temporarily put us (me and one other guy – don’t remember his name) up in a room where they had empty beds, and to my surprise we were issued M16s, and were told that we’d have to go to the range the next morning to zero the weapon! I thought “MAN, this is an ass kicking unit!” …
Next day we drew the M16s (brand new! …Unlike basic which were Viet Nam bring backs). I was impressed with my weapon; I shot a group you could cover with a dime! Monday we were marched into the C.O. (commanding officer) office and one of the biggest events of my tour happened! Original I trained as “11E” (M60 armor crewmen), after AIT training, I had the “Redeye” training. After you had, and passed this additional training, an attachment was added to your MOS title. People taking the M551 Sheridan training received an R8 attachment …Redeye was an R6. …SO as I looked at my paperwork when I first got to Germany, with all the other people being assigned to units most had the 11E10R8 MOS …mine was the only 11E10R6 on the sheet. …you could almost guess what was going to happen! …
SO I was “mis-assigned” to a Sheridan tank unit…by an error reading my MOS. As I stood before the company commander he was putting me down in his roster with my MOS title and the conversation goes something like this: CPT: ”Lets see your 11E10R6!?? ..Oooh that’s a mistake …I’ll change that!” ME: “No Sir, that’s not a mistake!” CPT: “What!?? …You’re not R8? …So what’s a R6?” ME: “That’s a Redeye attachment Sir.” CPT: “REDEYE!?? …They are only in Headquarter Company (HHT). Let me put in a call to Capt. Johnson in HHT and see if he has any openings.” …He picks up the phone and leans back in his chair and the charade starts …”Hello Capt. Johnson this is Capt. Watts in Alpha troop, hey I got a trooper here that’s been mis-assigned, he’s Redeye trained!” …a bit of silence then …”Oh full up Huh!?? …
Most of Redeye is just pulling extra duties!?? …Well OK, we’ll see what he wants to do, thanks again.” CPT: “Redeye section is full up, sounds like most the people there are just doing extra duties. …
So would you like to try O.J.T. on the Sheridans and remain here?” ME: “Well Sir since Redeye is full, I’ll try the O.J.T. …I like a challenge!” How naive I was! …
This whole conversation was done for me, and I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker! …So I was assigned to “A” troop, O.J.T. (On the Job Training) on a Sheridan …not for long, as it ended up! …But for now I was put on the Platoon. Sgt. track A15. …
I had NO training on the Sheridan, and as you may or may not know ...NOBODY had a full crew during this time! Normally just the T.C, & the driver, so when I got on board the track there was nobody to help me (platoon. Sgt. seemed to be “busy” else where)!
I had trained on M60s but this M551 was no where like a 60, but after looking over this machine I did notice the air cleaner indicator signal was like the ones on a M60 and this one was in the red.
This meant that the filter was dirty so I pulled the filter, but had no idea what to do to clean it. I guess I looked pretty puzzled because the driver of the next track asked what was wrong.
I told him and he took the time to show me how to hook up an air line to the breach air system and blow the filter out.
We became fast friends, SP/4 Dave "Barney" Bartnez. He showed me alot! I spent the next 6 months learning about the Sheridan and running around with “A” troop on field training, exercises, and border duty.
About this time I was in the mess hall waiting in the chow line and talking with another California buddy, he was talking about being at Ft. Bliss with the 13th CAV. I piped up and said “I was at Ft. Bliss …for Redeye missile training”! The guy next to me in line turned around and asked “YOU… had Redeye training?” I told him “YUP, sure did!
I got number one in class and got to shoot the missile and everything!” …He didn’t say another word. Next morning at formation the Platoon Sgt. called me out and said that I was to go over to HHT (Headquarters Troop) and “temporary” help the Redeye section.
Seems they were going thru a Division Redeye test, and they were short of people! … (NOT like the “A” troop C.O. had indicated!) …So I trained with the Redeye section for about 3 weeks and on Dec. 7th, 1973 we took the Div. test, and as it ended up my team got No.1 in 3rd. Armor Division (Sgt. Robert "MO" Molin & myself), HHT troop & Redeye section never let me go back!
So I was transferred to HHT troop (with a little resistance from "A" troop.) It turned out to be one of the best times of my life! …
But it was one of the saddest too! June 74, I was going home on leave. Barney was still in "A" troop he was E.T.S.ing (End Time of Service) out of the Army and heading back home to Minnesota. I joked "I'd beat him home"! …And he'd joke "Yeah, but you got to come back"!
…A month later I was walking thru the front gate, back from leave. I knew the U.P. (Unit Police) at the gate was a guy I semi knew from A troop and he asking if I just got off leave? I don't know what gave it away? My new suit or a 3 week old beard!?? He turns serious, and asked if I knew about Barney? I said Yeah I knew he E.T.S. out.
He then says …"But Barney drown 3 weeks later"! I didn't want to believe it! Two days later my old Platoon Sgt. from "A" troop. stopped me for a donation for flowers for Barney's family!
The rest of my time in the service was a series of stories, probably only interesting to myself (or so says my wife! *G*).
But to outline them, I got to visit Berlin on an admit leave (very interesting during “cold war” period), numerous field exercises, border duty, N.C.O. academy, E5 board, teaching Aircraft Recognition classes, becoming a Sgt. two years to the day I joined the Army, and becoming the Redeye Section Sgt. for a period.
There are a number of people I had that helped me go from a kid, afraid to grow up, to a man, ready to take on the world! …
And I’d like to list them here: LTC. Michael D. Mahler Cpt. James E. Johnson 1Lt. Glenn Duffy 1Sgt. Bille Evans SSG Ottis Matthews If any of you ever run across this story, I want to offer you my sincere thanks for your help and friendship!
The other aspect I need to mention are my buddies I lived and worked with! I think if you talk to any body that’s been in any armed service we’ll hear about how great their buddies were! IF they were in a real war (Viet Nam my era) that bond is deeper yet! It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t experienced that in their life how important it becomes!
I think of them often to this day …thirty-plus years later. For me I couldn’t have picked a better path in life!
I went on to work in the design/drafting profession, working with process piping. I’ve worked from Alaska to California and on projects world wide, for me it was a perfect choice in a profession!
I’ve been married two times(still working on the second one), I have three kids (a son and two daughters …last one I delivered on the bathroom floor!) and, I presently live in California.