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Toward the end of my tour at Fort Hood, Texas, with the 1/9 Cav I spent a lot of time away from my unit either at school or assigned as an experimentation soldier. My favorite platoon commander was promoted out of the unit shortly after I started out on these adventures and the new PC was a nice guy, and tactically proficient, but was not the same kind of leader at all.
When I finally got back from several months in California I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant and one of the first things I was told was that we were about 6 weeks away from our annual Inspector General’s inspection. I was assigned three main tasks.
1. Get all of the vehicles from all four sections ready for the inspection.
2. Help the maintenance management clerk get all of the equipment log books ready for the inspection.
3. Get my personal stuff ready for the inspection.
Due to my rapid changes in rank no two of my dress uniforms had the same rank on them, and none of them had name tags sewed into them in regulation fashion. An absolute must for these inspections.
The first thing I noticed when I got to the track park was that one of my Sheridans was missing. B-28 (mine) and B-29 were right where they were supposed to be but B-27 was nowhere to be found. B-27 was assigned to the platoon sergeant, but he wasn’t very mechanically inclined. I assumed, at first, that it was in the depot level repair shop for one reason or another. No one seemed to have much to say about it, and the few Sheridan crewmen left in the platoon were all busy trying to get other parts of the unit ready for inspection.
One day I decided to walk back to the barracks from the track park the back way. Very unusual for me. I found B-27. My heart sunk. She had been cannibalized. The tracks were gone. All of the outer road wheels were gone. The engine and transmission were gone. The fire control system was gone. The fire suppression system was gone. The headlights were gone. The ‘infantry coordination’ phone was gone. You get the picture. One of the worst losses was the log book which was supposed to contain a number of irreplaceable official documents as well as maintenance and gun tube wear data stretching back for years.
I had never been particularly fond of B-27. It was the oldest of the three in the platoon and had not had several of the modifications that the post Vietnam Sheridans had received. (No belly plate for mine protection, no fume extractor, etc.) For some reason it was the only one of the three that gave me problems when I tried to change the air cleaner which was inside a compartment underneath a sponson box. Anyway, I had a long talk with the Troop commander and explained to him that there was no way the inspection team could fail to notice that we only had two Sheridans while every other platoon in the squadron had three. He was very concerned about his budget for the year but finally agreed to send the poor thing to the rebuild facility. That was a major relief, but there was still the problem of the log book.
Finally, I created a new log book, from scratch. Everything in that log book looked just like it was supposed to. There were many legitimate legal documents in it. The maintenance and gun tube history were completely fictitious but were based on the log books of the other two vehicles so there was probably very little difference between what I put in there and what had been in the old log book. It was a work of art. I didn’t feel bad about doing it because it was receiving a new gun tube at rehab, and a new engine. All I had to do was make the suitable log book entries when we got it back and it would be just fine.
Inspection day finally arrived about a week after we got B-27 back. It was complete, and appeared to be in great shape. We did some minor cleanup inside and made sure that it would move under its own power and that the radio worked.
We spent the last few days before the inspection cleaning weapons and getting our personal gear ready. (I loaded all of my uniforms up, took them to the tailor’s shop and said, “Fix them. Whatever it takes.” And went back to the track park to work on other people’s log books. I seemed to have earned a reputation. (My uniforms were never inspected by the way. The inspector looked at my ribbons and asked if I was an ex-Marine. When I said I was he said, “No point in wasting my time then.”
On inspection day the normal drill is to knock off any fresh dust, get the fluid levels right, and pray. The engine oil level on Sheridans is a little funny. For M60s you check the engine oil level with the engine warmed up and running. For a Sheridan, you run the engine until it is warmed up, shut it off, and then check the oil level. For either, if the level is between the full and low lines, you are in good shape.
I had my one remaining driver run up all three engines about two hours before the inspectors were due, run them for half an hour and them shut them down and check the oil level. B-28, my Sheridan, came up noticeably overfull. Hmmmm. The mechanics had a device that we called a ‘scum-sucker’ that was designed for situations like this. It was actually a modified grease-gun (metal tube about two inches by 14 with internal piston and external handle) with a long plastic tube attached to the end that could be inserted into a vehicles dip stick tube and suck out about half a liter of fluid per suck. Unfortunately, they would not let me use it because it would get dirty and not be ready for inspection.
So, we drained the entire engine. I knew approximately how many five gallon cans of oil it should take, so we put in quite a bit less than that and I left someone with it to finish up, one quart at a time. I didn’t know until that night that he had overfilled it again and had to ‘short-stick’ it for the inspectors. He was one of my favorite crewmen, but, because of this incident, I won’t mention his name this time.
Everything was going just fine. All of my levels(!) were fine and general cleanliness was good. No gigs for the suspensions. Anything missing or ‘maintenance deferred’ was on record. The log books were perfect. (!) Then lightning came out of the blue and struck very close.
The last inspector through was inspecting the communications equipment, the least of my worries. For some reason the squadron communications NCO was accompanying him. (I wouldn’t let that person change a light bulb let alone work on any of my radios, especially since, while in the Marine Corps, I had been school trained to repair them, although not the intercom system.) We climbed up on B-27 and the squadron Comm NCO said, “The antenna is black. Isn’t that odd?” My heart dropped right out of me again because I knew exactly what had happened and how serious it was. Some bonehead had painted some of the antennas that had been showing a little wear. With lead based paint. This basically makes the antenna useless as anything except a fishing pole.
Once again, out of the blue, salvation arrived. The comm inspector said, “Oh, actually, they come in five different colors. It looks just fine.” In sixteen years in the military, a lot of it in the communications field, I have only seen one color of vehicular radio antenna, certainly never a black one. I was stunned but that was the end of that conversation.
We had a few minor discrepancies with our jeeps, and the two other tracked vehicles had a few, but my Sheridans came through the inspection without a single recorded discrepancy. Since I was leaving the unit within a few days I expected some kind of recognition for achieving a goal that was almost unheard of in a unit of this type. I got a cheap plaque.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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