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Most officers, staff NCOs and many NCOs are assigned additional duties with their units from time to time. These are duties that are not part of the personís occupational specialty but that the unit is required to perform anyway. Sometimes training is available but frequently it isnít. Additional duties are important to a unit commander because the commander can be sure that, at every major inspection, the status of the unitís additional duties will be scrutinized.
While I was assigned to B Company, 1/33 Armored, 3rd Armored Division, I was assigned additional duties as the Field Sanitation NCO and the NOD (Night Observation Device) NCO.
Field sanitation is a little more important than it might sound. Many sieges throughout the history of warfare have been called off because the besiegers were sick. Without knowledge of field sanitation, people had a tendency to do things the easy way and would end up with cholera or some other nasty disease that killed them faster than their enemy could. The besieged often had the same problem because they just didnít know the sources of the diseases. Consequently, siege warfare was usually avoided unless a quick conclusion was felt to be available. Field sanitation is certainly not glamorous since it involves things like telling your people that they should not put anything in a river that they would not be willing to eat a week later, or that they had dug their latrines too shallow or too close together. On the other hand, the field sanitation NCO was also responsible for detecting local pests that could cause health problems, like mosquitoes, leeches and other such noxious creatures. The duties were not that difficult. I had to maintain stocks of sub-tropical bleach and several other types of supplies and make sure that nothing was past its shelf life. I also had some training duties, which, due to the subject matter, often ended up being hilariously funny.
The NOD part was different. Apparently the unit had not had a NOD NCO for some time and I had nothing to start with except a partitioned off section of the basement of the barracks. I didnít know what we were supposed to have, or, if we really did have it, where it was. One day I asked the First Sergeant to announce, at formation, that I needed to do an inventory and that anyone who had anything that might be considered a Night Observation Device should bring it to my room after hours. At the time I was living in a room in the barracks that was known as the Ďbowling alley, because it was about eight feet wide, fifteen feet high and nearly 30 feet long. My bunk, wall locker, footlocker and desk did not take up much of that space. Before the night was over, the room was full. Every tank in the company had at least one NOD. We also had some devices that were assigned to the company rather than crews. We also had some very strange items that our table of Organization and Equipment said we should not have. Not all of these devices were American in origin, let alone Army issue. I was overwhelmed. Each one of the devices that we were supposed to have required a certain amount of paperwork. In some cases it was only a Ďcustodyí card, so I could show who the device was assigned to, but a lot of them required extensive maintenance and modification log books. I didnít have any of those. There was a fairly high percentage of pieces that were obviously damaged or in need of immediate maintenance, and there was one item that the TO&E said we should have that we didnít. That was not good. If we got caught missing equipment our company commander would, at least, be spoken too, harshly, by his boss.
NOD maintenance required interaction with several civilians in an office whose actual purpose I was never aware of. I didnít mind spending time there because, although I knew that many of the female civilians that worked there were married to people in my unit, there were several that looked spectacular in sweaters. I think it took me about two months to get all of the pieces that were overdue for maintenance sent off to the proper facilities. I spent a lot of my free time performing maintenance on pieces that didnít need to be sent off but were rusty or dirty. I created custody cards for all of the devices and logbooks for the ones that required them. I was lucky to have had a Sheridan log book go missing while I was at Fort Hood and, in the process of recreating it from scratch, I learned a lot about what was required.
My main concern was the missing piece. I had informed the commanding officer that it was missing, and who was supposed to have had it, but he just wanted it Ďtaken care ofí and gave me no guidance on how to do that. Having had to scrounge a lot of the parts that were necessary to put my current tank back together, I thought that I might try putting all of the parts that made up the device on order, and, if I got them, or even most of them, requesting a new serial number plate for the device, on which I would engrave the serial number of the missing item. Iím not sure exactly how that turned out because I left the unit, and the Army, before all of the pieces came in. (I wonder what my successor thought.) I was covered by the paperwork, though, so I no longer had any missing items.
During the day I worked on my tank, getting it ready for the inspection, and at night I worked on my additional duties, aside from the occasional foray to the Staff NCO club to have a few beers and play some pinochle. (I was going through a phase then and was very keen on pinochle. I remember the first time that I got double aces around, but no marriage, bid a thousand, and had my partner drop the bid on me.) I felt that things were coming together, though.
About two months before the inspection I was sent away for a week of training on field sanitation, with my assistant. I donít even remember if I commuted or lived on the kaserne where the course was given. We were given very thorough training, including digging several types of latrines. The test was promised to be very close to what an inspector would give us and we both did very well.
A few weeks before the inspection I realized that there was nothing more that I could do with what I had. Everything in both areas was either accounted for or on order. Everything that was supposed to be painted was painted. Everything that was supposed to be cleaned was cleaned. Everything that was supposed to receive periodic maintenance either wasnít due, or was in the shop. Suddenly, I had time on my hands, so I volunteered to help the people that were responsible for the NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) gear. That was interesting.
A few things happened during the last few weeks that gave me some moments. One of the NODs was an AN/TVS-4 starlight scope of the very large variety. The lens was about a foot in diameter, and it was designed to be tripod mounted. It had a long range and ours worked very well. For some reason my platoon commander decided that he wanted to take it out on a training exercise but didnít want to sign for it because I was in his platoon so I would know where it was. The carrying case for this device was about 2 feet by 18 inches, by five feet. It was painted flat black, and was hard to miss. I was told that it would cost about $40,000, at the time, to replace it, but I have no idea if that was true. I did know that I didnít want to have to buy one. So I kept a close eye on the lieutenant during that exercise. He had the case strapped to the front slope of his turret the first day, and the second, but it wasnít there on the third day. So I took off on my own and backtracked to the place where I found it lying in the mud.
Fortunately, no one had run over it.
I hid it inside my tank, which, as usual had plenty of room because my whole crew consisted of my driver, Darriel Johnson. When we got back to Gelnhausen I asked the lieutenant to return the AN/TVS-4 and he said, ďIts on the tank somewhere. Ask the gunner for it.Ē So I lost my small moment of triumph because I was not about to get the driver in trouble for something that was not his fault.
One of the items that every tank in the company was supposed to have was an infrared adapter for the optical coincidence range finder. I had the right number but I had no idea how, or if, any of them worked. Being paranoid, I was sure that the inspector would ask me to show him one operational one, at least. So I took one with me on that field exercise. One night I hooked it up and turned it on and was not able to see anything through it. It hummed, which I assume was a good thing, but I couldnít see a thing. I had Darriel turn on the infra red headlights, which I assumed worked. (We tested them by putting a hand on the lens and turning them on. If the hand got warm we assumed that the headlight worked.) I laid the gun over the front deck and depressed it, and ran the focus control from one end to the other, and I never saw even a glimpse of anything. So I thought that maybe the headlights didnít provide enough light. I hopped out and pulled the cover off of the searchlight and turned it on in infrared mode. It isnít a good idea to stick your hand on the lens of a high powered search light to see if it gets warm, so I didnít do that, but the blower motor came on so I assumed that it was doing something. In retrospect I should have tried switching it to white light, which, I believe, has an infrared component, but I didnít think of it then. I got back in the turret and ran the focus knob from one end to the other, and saw exactly nothing. There was no lens cap on either end so that wasnít the problem. The device was humming which indicated that it was at least trying to do something, and the searchlight was probably on, so I started to have some doubts about the device, which, by the way, had just come back from being rebuilt at depot level. I even checked to make sure that both range finder end housings were unobstructed.
Maybe someone can help me here. Did I forget something? Is there anyone out there who has ever seen one of these things working?
Suddenly, it was inspection day and I only had one disappointment waiting for me. The NOD inspection went very well and I (actually the company commander) received an Outstanding rating. The inspector said that he had never seen a better maintained set of equipment and associated records. (No he didnít try out any of the 17 infrared range finder adapters.) My field sanitation assistant (I didnít rate one for NODs) and I took the written test for field sanitation and both received 100% marks and we had everything we were supposed to have and it was all either up to date or on order. Unfortunately, the previous field sanitation NCO, a Sergeant happened to be there and asked to take the test. He did not get 100%, so we only got a Superior rating instead of an Outstanding. He shall remain forever nameless, with prejudice.
I thought it was all over and was ready to head for the pinochle game (we didnít play for money) when the company commander came down and told me that one of the other companies didnít have a chance to pass the NOD inspection and wanted to Ďborrowí all of my stuff. I just gave him the key to the cage and left. The next time I went down there, everything was there and where it was supposed to be, and undamaged, so I donít know what really happened.
I found out later that the NBC people had also done very well. The company received the highest marks it had for some time for this type of inspection and the company commander was a happy person. (I donít want you to get the idea that the three areas I was involved in were the only additional duties that the company had. I canít think what they were but there were several more, and they all did well.) I think that this inspection was one of the reasons that I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal shortly afterwards. Naturally, I didn't think I deserved it, just like I didnít think I deserved the Navy Achievement Medal some time later, but I took them anyway.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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