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Guarding the ammunition dump outside Ramstein Air Force Base, FRG, 1978.
Units assigned to USAREUR (US Army, Europe) were assigned to guard duty at the ammunition storage area at Ramstein Air Force Base on rotation. B company, 1/33rd Armored, 3rd Armored Division got the call during, probably, the spring of 1978. It was an interesting assignment because we didnít really spend much time on the ground, or away from our tanks. I have no idea how large the whole storage area was but I could use a tank of gas (M151 jeep) in a shift. To complicate matters, there were two other organizations involved. The Polish Labor Service, and the Air Forceís own guards.
Orientation didnít make things sound too bad. We were given a tour of the dump and our responsibilities were explained in great detail (They did this every 30 days). We were also told that there was an on-going problem with people poaching deer out of the ammunition dump. I found that a little hard to believe, but I was wrong.
We lived in a warehouse style building. We each had a small slab of concrete that belonged to us. No cots, no heat, and as far as I know, no cooling. We were armed, mainly, with weapons that we were supposed to be familiar with but some of the roving patrols had M16 rifles, just in case. We were issued ammunition at the beginning of every shift and had to turn it in at the end of the shift. The shifts lasted 12 hours, which was a little unusual for Americans used to a three shift system, but we were Americans used to the Ďday on stay oní system. We went to work and didnít leave until the operation or exercise was over. We always hoped that things didnít go on past the point where we were too tired to deal with them effectively.
I was selected as the Ďroverí (roving, theoretically random, jeep patrol) for the night shift, which sounds fairly good, but it only meant that I didnít get as much sleep as the day force guy. All of the day force administrative duties could be taken care of during the shift. Comparable night shift duties had to be taken care of during the day, taking away from sleep time.
As you might expect, I made as many mistakes during the first night as possible. The ammunition dump was very large and I had a fairly good idea of how to get around in it, but an inexperienced driver. Remember that I had been a jeep driver/commander for in the 1st Cavalry for a while, and we all shared our duties then and only partially because we all liked driving. My driver didnít have much experience with manual transmissions, not all tank crewmen do, but he also didnít like driving around an unfamiliar place without headlights. Well, headlights were not allowed in that area at that time, so I had to take over, and he was a lot better the second night.
There were four incidents that stand out from this period.
On the first night I got nose to nose with the Ďblackí German Shepherd. I was told that Ramstein had more guard dogs assigned than any other military base in the world. That was interesting. A large part of the in-brief was from the dog handlers, because they were not friendly dogs under most of the circumstances where we would meet them and the handlers wanted to avoid Ďblue on blueí incidents. We were also told that there was an all black German Shepherd with the guard force that was very difficult to see at night and was an especially Ďsneakyí dog.
At about 0200 I got a radio call that poachers were working the northern boundary and that there were two suspects going over the fence. The way that this works is that the poachers climb over the fence into the ammunition dump and shoot whatever they were looking for, either deer, or boar, or whatever. (You would have to understand the hunting system in Germany at that time to understand why they didnít wait for the season.) The poachers were trying to get the animals back over the fence and outside the military reservation.
It took a while to reach the northwestern boundary fence to meet the Air Force people and I ended up making a left turn at the end of a road into the general area. I could see a vehicle in front of us with its lights on. My jeep was on Ďcats-eyesí which are about ľ inch high and 2 Ĺ inch wide with a low wattage bulb behind it. I got out of the jeep and headed towards the vehicle with the headlights on. I had only walked a few feet when I felt a presence. The Ďblackí German Shepherd started towards me, from the Air Force truck, it was on asphalt pavement, black on black and it didnít make a sound. No toenails clicking, nothing. Then it was right in front of me, and I knew it, but Iím not sure how. She didnít even sniff me that I know of.
One of the dog handlers told me not to move, and I didnít. After they leashed the dog they told me that I should let her smell me so she would know that I would be in the area for a while, and I did. This didnít really bother me very much at the time, but I thought about it a lot later on because of the next incident.
One night two of the dog handlers had a few too many at the club and got into an argument. (Since I was on the night shift the club might as well not have been there as far as I was concerned. Night shift people never got a chance to use it.) They went to the dog pound, retrieved their dogs, and loosed them on each other. I had to laugh when I first heard about it. That was one of the stupidest acts I have ever heard of. Unfortunately, the compound we were on didnít have extensive enough facilities to handle the resulting injuries, which should tell you something, and we were responsible for hauling those two off to the hospital on the air base. So I got to see the results of this type of dog attack, and it wasnít pretty. There was a lot of damage to the arms and the lower part of the face on both of them. The two dogs had not emerged unscathed either, but I think they were put to sleep after this anyway. After that I was very careful around the dogs.
There were two Puerto Ricans in the unit at the time, and I knew them both pretty well. One of them was on the battalion boxing team and was one of the best loaders I had ever seen. The other was our armorer. Unfortunately, American was a second language for both of them. Their post on my shift was stationary, on the road that led into the small arms ammunition storage area. They had a small wooden box to get out of the weather in, and a radio. The small arms ammunition storage area was actually a fairly large and fairly nice building, surrounded by hurricane fencing and was occupied by troops from the Polish Labor Service at night. (I wonít try to explain the Polish Labor Service other than to say that some of their people were very military, and some were not.) Apparently, these PLS guards were allowed to drink beer while on post, and we had absolutely no control over them. One particular night when it was raining, I got a call on the radio while I was creeping around in my jeep somewhere, trying to scare myself. The entire transmission was in Spanish and from someone who sounded very agitated. The Spanish part tipped me off to who was calling so I headed for the small arms ammo storage building. I even turned on the headlights.
When I got there, sure enough my people were both backed up inside the box and quite upset. When they calmed down enough so that I could understand them they told me that one of the PLS guards had thrown a whole case of beer bottles at them from just inside the hurricane fence that surrounded the small arms ammo storage area but that he had gone back inside just before I got there. There really wasnít much that I could do until the next day, but I did sit there with my headlights shining on the building for a while and made sure that I stopped by there at least once an hour for the rest of the shift. In the morning I wrote up and incident report and submitted it, but I donít really know if anything was done about it. Anyway, it never happened again.
One of the posts on my shift was in an area that had a lot of Quonset hut type bunkers along a narrow road. The only light in the entire area that we guarded was above the door of one of these bunkers. It was a three-man post and between them the three guards had 2 M16 rifles, 1 M1911A1 pistol, a radio and appropriate live ammunition. We were told that we were not to use the ammunition except in the case of a life-threatening situation, which included someone trying to make off with a 500-pound bomb. (Youíll see, in a minute, how serious they were about the ammunition.) Anyway, the Corporal in charge of this group was the gunner who I had such mixed emotions about after my second gunnery.
Shortly after midnight I received a call on the radio from this group. They had apparently seen a sow crossing the road with three little piglets in tow. They were concerned about being killed and eaten. I didnít take it seriously at the time, but I did drive over to check on them. They were huddled under that light bulb facing outward with their weapons loaded. I eventually got them calmed down and their weapons safed, but they would not move away from that light. Iíve run into large animals at night, and I mean I literally ran head on into the side of a horse one night while sneaking around in the woods, so I found this attitude a little disappointing. Then again, these three had not had the training that I had received.
When it was time to leave we were subjected to the final ammunition inventory and we were short one .45 caliber pistol round. Our armory was actually a Ďconexí box outside the warehouse we slept in. It was maybe five feet wide and eight feet long with corrugated sides and a wooden floor. There were no lights inside and the walls were painted dark green, so it was pretty dark in there. After about two hours of searching we finally pulled everything out of there and the armorer crawled around the inside of the walls looking down into the corrugations that extended down past the level of the floor. He finally found the round, or one very similar to it. Someone had suggested earlier that he had some .45 rounds with him and would be quite happy to sacrifice one to get us out of there. We were told, though, that they were checking the lot numbers of the rounds. Having an extra round was even worse than not having enough, so we didnít try that. I never asked the armorer where that round had actually come from but I believe that he really did find the missing round.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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