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While I was at Fort Hood the 1/9 Cav decided to audition for the Rapid Deployment Force which requires a level of readiness that, unfortunately, was rare in the post-Vietnam Army. We had some strange training exercises but the big deal was the 'roll-out'. Every vehicle in the squadron, except for the helicopters, was supposed to move out to a special range, fire whatever its prmary weapon was, and then return to the track park under its own power. Fortunately, the range wasn't too far away from the track park.
After one false start, we all got up at about 0200 one morning and started our normal rat-patrol maneuvers to get our gear to the track park. This set of maneuvers was a regular because our weapons, including all of the heavy crew served stuff, were stored in the armory near the barracks, and our gear was in the barracks. Between the barracks and the track park was a large parking lot. The vehicles were on the far side of the track park. Since each platoon was assigned at least five jeeps, we would pick up our jeeps first and take them to the barracks, load them up, and then head back. Sometimes we had to make more than one trip. These trips were exciting because our jeeps were considered 'tactical' (no windshields and with an M-60 machine gun mounted in front of the rear seat on a pedestal) and we were not supposed to drive tactical vehicles on the main roads of the post. Parking lots were a safe area but we had to cross two major roads, each way, per trip, and the military police would give us as many tickets as they could if they caught us. I got stuck in a parking lot for half an hour once waiting for an MP to lose patience and leave.
Anyway, we got out to the range with most of the vehicles under their own power and the mishaps began. We were lucky that no one was killed and I was surprised that our squadron commander wasn't relieved on the spot for some of the things that happened. I don't remember all of the incidents but there were two that stuck in my mind. First, one of the Sheridans blew a seal in the recoil system when the gun fired. The breech of the gun, with the rest of the gun attached, went through the back of the turret basket, through the engine's radiator and finally stopped buried about a foot deep in the engine. That was pretty spectacular because it blew the grill doors open and the 'T' bar support for the top of the hull went flying.
Second event was when the 4.2 inch mortar assigned to my platoon was given a target that was much too close for it to engage normally. We only had to get close to the target but the range was so short that, even with all of the increments pulled off, we couldn't elevate the tube high enough to engage. I don't know how I got personally involved in this because, at the time, everything I knew about mortars could have been written on the head of a pin with a magic marker. Anyway, our mortar crew chief, who I always suspected had been dropped on his head while his skull was still very soft, decided that we would stand the bipod up on top of a large rock, drop the round and see what happened. I was one of the ones holding the bipod steady and suddenly had another one of those curious experiences that seem to happen to me fairly regularly, and that my wife hates to hear about. Suddenly, I was all alone. It doesn't take very long for a 4.2 inch round to drop from the barrel mouth to the firing pin, but I swear that, before it was halfway down, there was no one within 50 feet of me and I had to ask myself that familiar question, "What am I doing here?" I steadied the bipod until very shortly after answering that question and then took off. I think I ended up huddled behind a mesquite bush with a trunk about an inch in diameter. Not a very good fit.
4.2 inch mortars have springs and dampers built into the bipod legs to absorb the small component of downward force created by firing them. I think that the bipod feet are normally sandbagged down to keep them from moving in between shots. Anyway, when the round fired the bipod jumped off the rock and the mortar fell over on it's side, smashing the sights. The round hit somewhere on the range, but I doubt that anyone was watching it by that time, and so the firing was judged a success. The problem for me was that I had been involved in the 14 month maintenance management effort to get those sights repaired after the last time they had been broken, and I didn't want to go through that again. So I was in a foul mood, as usual.
I got my chance for revenge on the way back to the track park. The inspection party had set up a station to inspect the vehicles and their logbooks on the way back. One of them made the mistake of asking me if there was anything I knew of that was wrong with my vehicle. I said "There are a few minor problems."
"Like the headlights haven't worked for a year. I've also been having problems with the brakes, but the engine is in such bad shape that I can't go fast enough to be unsafe. Probably the only real safety issue is that my driver has smoked so much dope in the last year that he sometimes can't remember who he is, let alone who I am. He's told me a few times that he doesn't always obey my audible commands because he thinks its voices in his head."
My CO came over and told me that in situations like that I was supposed to lie to the inspector. I said, "Sir, I did lie to him. The first thing he asked was whether there had been anything wrong with the vehicle that would have red-lined it when I signed it out. I told him what you, personally, told me to say this morning: No."
We were not accepted for the RDF at that time but I doubt that it was because of anything I did or didn't do. The squadron commander was promoted and I got my driver discharged from the Army as unsuitable. He (my driver Fast Fred) wrote a me a letter about a year later and thanked me.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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