MY ARMY EXPERIENCES, PART 2   Leave a comment

  new_tinyThis means I added something from the basement of my mind.  This so you won’t have to read everything all over again.  Look for the new_tiny symbol….


I was assigned to the US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory-Pacific (USACIL-P).   The Army had three crime labs:  Camp Zama, Japan, Frankfurt, Germany and Fort Gordon, GA.  The labs performed forensic services for all the armed forces within their assigned areas.   I had never even visited a laboratory let alone be assigned to one.  I knew I had a lot to learn about lab operation and what the various divisions did. Japan 03 Since I was, again, the ranking NCO I was in charge of all administrative aspects of the laboratory.  The divisions consisted of Chemistry, Firearms and Tool Marks,  Questioned Documents, Fingerprints, Supply and Administration.  I held down several positions:  First Sergeant, Lab NCOIC and Chief Clerk.  By far,  the most difficult job was Chief Clerk.  I was in charge of processing all evidence in, through and out of the lab.  My clerks brought the evidence from the Post Office to the mail/evidence room where they opened and inventoried the contents.  If everything was OK, they signed the Chain of Custody document, re-packed the evidence and placed it in the secure area to be issued to the technician doing the work.  Besides my seven clerks I was responsible for the four Japanese typists who typed the lab findings which were returned with the evidence to the submitting field office.                                                                  
One nice aspect of my job was promoting one of my clerks to the next higher grade, which meant more money.  The young man picJapan 09tured here and I Japan 04used to sometimes play tennis after work.  He was an outstanding tennis player and I stunk.  One evening I actually beat him.  I could not believe it and neither could he.  He got so mad that he wrapped his racket around a net post and stormed off the court.  It looked like a pretzel.  I kept that beat-up racket.  He had a few months left in the Army.  I went to the carpentry shop, had a piece of plywood painted white and that twisted racket mounted on it with the inscription “The Joe Doaks (not his real name) Good Sportsmanship Award”.  When we were all standing in the main hallway saying our good byes, I brought the award out and gave it to him.  He laughed so hard he almost fell down.  You’re a good man when you can laugh at yourself.
There was a three month period when we had so many cases that we couldn’t hold them all.  USACIL-CONUS (Ft. Gordon, GA) was so over loaded that CID Command ordered their cases from the Western USA sent to us for processing.  The evidence started coming in and pretty soon  my evidence room was over flowing.  After talking to the Commander, I had two large closets converted to evidence storage standards as well as a cage in the Supply Room.  My clerks, as well as the laboratory technicians worked about 275 hours a month to keep the evidence coming in and going back out in a timely manner.  We accomplished the mission but, we were a bunch of whipped puppies when it was finally over.    Since each person accused of a crime has the right to face his/her accusers, my clerks were sometimes called to  court.  We called this “The Chain of Custody”.  Since my clerks inventoried the evidence, technically they were accusers even though they had ho hand in processing the evidence.  When the defense attorney called “The Chain of Custody” everyone that signed the chain of custody had to go to court.  Defense attorneys liked to do this especially around the end of the fiscal year when travel funds were short.  The prosecuting command had to provide the funds to get our technicians to court.   When the laboratory people assembled at the court, the defense attorney would stipulate and everyone turned right around and came back home.  One of the disappointing aspects of being in the crime lab was to see a defendant go free for lack of travel funds.  Again, you can’t make this stuff up. Japan 01
Later on came the US Army CID Command anniversary, September 15.  It gave us a chance to get a day off during the week and devour the wives home cooking.  The food was great because the wives were American, German, Japanese and Korean.  We called the gathering the CID Crime Lab Pig-nic.  They had a lab tradition of giving the newest person a rock.  That person held the rock and presented it to the newest person at the next Pig-nic.  Guess who got the rock? Every technician in the Crime Lab was the very best at their specialty.  They underwent years of training to be a Crime Lab technician, but that doesn’t mean they were above having a bit of fun.  One morning we decided to have fun with the Commander.  We took 100 pair of rubber gloves, filled them with helium and floated them on the Commander’s ceiling.  We were all standing around admiring our handy-work when through the main entrance came a bird colonel from CID Command in Washington, completely unannounced.  White lab coats scattered to their various offices.  The Commander and I were the last two standing there.  The bird colonel walked in to the commander’s office, looked up, saw 100 pair of gloves stuck to the ceiling and said, “I’m not even going to ask.”  He conducted his business , went back to Washington and we never heard anymore about it.  Sometimes you just get lucky. Except for an occasional panic my overall job was easy after I got everything running my way.  I started taking college courses at night to get my degree and, during the day, I trained in the Photography Section. Japan 08Japan 11Japan 02AI liked photography and developing film.  I learned that you can freeze film and it will stay fresh forever.  The work was very interesting and kept me busy. In the meantime I applied to become a Warrant Officer.  I appeared in front of a  promotion board consisting of three cw4’s and a Major.  They kept me in there for three hours asking questions on all facets of personnel.  When I finally got out of there, I felt as if I had been put through a wringer.  In the end I was recommended for Warrant Officer.   Little did I realize it would be two more years before I was appointed.  I say appointed because Warrant Officers are appointed by the Secretary of the Army where Commissioned Officers are approved by Congress.  Warrant Officers were the best the Army had to offer and were chosen because of their expertise and experience.  The Warrant Officer was the go-to person in their field. We had one case, in particular, that still stands out in my memory. 
Not far from Camp Zama was Atsugi Naval Air Station.  Atsugi’s main mission in life was to house the aircraft from various aircraft carriers.  Before the carriers entered the Port of Yokohama, all aircraft were flown off the carrier, landed and stored at Atsugi.  Other aircraft used Atsugi for stop-overs.  One such aircraft was a P-3 Submarine Hunter that flew a daily route from the Philippines to Oson Air Base in Korea, with a stopover at Asugi.   One day Atsugi Customs was checking over a P-3 that had landed for fuel prior to going on to Oson.  They found a wooden crate and, upon opening, found Philippine oranges packed in a white powder.  Customs got ahold of NCIS (not the ones on TV) who brought the crate with its white powder and oranges to our Crime Lab for analysis.  Now in forensic chemistry you run tests according to what you think the white powder is.  The Chemistry Division ran every test they could think of and could not identify the white powder.  The Chief Chemist finally called the Commander in and I went with him.  He explained that they had run every test they could think of for heroin with negative results.  The commander put a finger in the white powder and tasted it.  He turned to me a told me to have one of my clerks go to the mess hall and get a number 10 can of instant mashed potatoes.  When the clerk got back, we opened the can.  The Commander tasted the can contents and declared the white powder in the wooden crate to be instant mashed potatoes.  NCIS left with their tail between their legs.  About a week later we got the whole story.  It seems that a young Navy person stationed in the Philippines had a brother in the Air Force, stationed at Oson Air Base, in Korea.  He wanted to send his brother some beautiful Philippine oranges.  Since he was a cook, he packed them in instant mashed potatoes to keep the oranges from getting bruised.  From then on that case was known as “The Great Mashed Potato Caper”.
The Crime Lab was the most secure building at US Army, Japan (USARJ), headquarters.  Since we were a tenant we only took up space and didn’t fall under USARJ’s command.  Somebody in the headquarters came up with a plan to discredit the Crime Lab so CID Command would move the lab and USARJ could have our building instead of having to build their own secure building.  Dumb plan, but that’s how some folks reason things out.  One day the G1 paid us a visit and asked if we would help the Camp Zama Hospital Lab on a temporary basic and analyze urine samples.  He told the Commander and me that their lab was overloaded would we assist.  The Commander and I asked CID Command by message and received approval on a temporary basis.  Here came the urine, dozens of samples and now the Chemistry Division smelled like piss.  What we didn’t know was the G1 had put some raw heroin in one of the samples.  Of course, the Chemistry Division did not detect heroin in any sample.   USARJ immediately notified CID Command that we had failed to detect the sample with the raw heroin in it.  CID Command hastily send a Colonel to our lab to get things straightened out.  When he arrived we had a big meeting with everyone involved.  The G1 was still ranting about our incompetent lab when the Chief Chemist explained the we do not look for raw heroin in urine sampleJapan 14s rather we look for what the heroin has become after being processed by the human body.  The G1 got all red-faced and stormed out of the meeting, never to be heard from again.  We were sure glad to get all that smelly piss out of the Chemistry Division. My 3 1/2 years in Japan went by fast.  I received orders from CID Command to be the NCOIC at USACIL-CONUS at Ft. Gordon, GA.


On the way to Ft. Gordon, I was promoted to Sergeant First Class (SFC)(E-7).  Shortly after my arrival we held the ceremony officiallyPromotion to E7 promoting me along with the award of the Army Commendation Medal.  ARCOM Award I was extremely proud for promotion to SFC, especially in a field where promotion to Senior NCO were extremely limited.   Being a Senior NCO is about as good as it gets in the Services.  The Navy has top three clubs that are for E-7 (Sergeant First Class), E-8 (Master Sergeant) and E-9 (Sergeant Major) only (Army ranks).   I have been in several top three clubs on Navy bases and let me tell you, they are swanky inside.  Senior NCOs are also eligible for Senior NCO Housing on base.  The Chief Typist of the lab was a elderly women named Ma Barker (not her real name). She cornered me one morning to tell me she was the boss of the administrative side of the lab and that I had no authority.  I proceeded to take her title of Chief Typist away from her, making her a typist like all the other women and that I was a senior NCO and NCOIC of the lab and what I said was the law.  Two weeks later she retired.  All of the women typists were elated that she retired because she made their lives a living hell.  I told them that I was in charge and that as long as they performed their duties correctly, they would not have anything to worry about.  I never had any trouble from then  on.  My job was essentially the same as it was in Japan.  The layout of the buildings were different but, some of the technicians I knew because of having served with them in Japan.  I had been at the lab about 9 months when orders came down appointing me to Warrant Officer 1 (WO1).  It was another proud moment for me.                                          Promotion to Warrant Officer 1Promotion to Warrant Officer 2Promotion to Warrant Officer 3Promotion to SFC    Along with the good news came the bad.  CID didn’t have any Warrant Officer positionsPromotion to E7aPromotion to E7a on the administrative side of the Crime Labs, so I had to leave CID Command and go back to the real Army.   I was assigned as the Personnel Management Officer of the Regional Personnel Center (RPC) of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, headquartered in Fulda, Germany.


Fulda is a beautiful old German city nestled in the hills  close to the border with East Germany.  The 11th Armored Calvary was the first line of defense in the event of an invasion by the East through the Fulda Gap.  Every day Calvary Troopers sat and looked at the enemy and they looked right back at us.  At times it looked like a game but, it was deadly serious. The philosophy of the different American forces became obvious after you had been there for a short time.  The Air Force went in and built every thing new and modern, saying make it good, we’re going to be here forever.  The Army, on the other hand, said make do, we’re leaving tomorrow.  The facilities for the 11th Armored Calvary looked like they were straight out of World War II: that’s because they were.  The same buildings that the German Army used in World War II, and we were still using them. 
GIs are forever naming things for their own convenience.  German names can be difficult to pronounce, so  somewhere along the line the local eateries were given American names.   Restaurants in Germany are called Gast Hauses.  Most have rooms for overnight stays and in the smaller towns they are where the night life is.   Three such establishments come to mind.  One we called the “Half Way House”.  They served the finest Schnitsels in the Fulda area.  I never did know it by anything else then the “Half Way House” because it was located half way between our barracks and the missile  batteries on the mountain.  Another one was a pizzeria we called the “Greek’s”.  Lastly was a place in downtown Fulda that was called the “Soup Kitchen”.  They served the best  home made soups and pork cutlets in the area.  The local GIs kept these establishments in business. Upon my arrival, I was met in Frankfurt by a fellow Warrant Officer who spoke fluent German.  CW3 Dick Jones (not his real name) explained a lot about our mission in Fulda.  During our drive on the autobahn I asked about the man holes at the beginning of each bridge.  Dick explained that there were for explosive charges to blow up the bridges in case of an attack by the East.  When we arrived at our kaserne (Army Barracks), Dick took me to my quarters and pointed me to the Rod and Gun Club, told me to get settled in and, if I wanted good company, go on over to the club.  I settled in and Dick came by in the morning and took me to the Regional Personnel Center, introduced me to the Center Commander, Captain Ken Kool (not his real name).  He was young and a West Point Graduate.  He explained that I was to the Personnel Management Officer and what he expected from a guy about ten years older the himself.  All in all I had a very good relationship with him.  Then Dick took me back to my section and introduced me to the 15 people who worked there.  I then met my NCOIC Staff Sergeant (SSG) Matthew Zabko, who turned out to be just about the finest NCO I had ever met.  I noticed a wooden structure about 5 inches high and 4 feet wide running down the middle of the floor.  That’s when I found out the this building had been a motor pool a long time ago  and the wood was covering the grease pit.  Make do, we’re leaving tomorrow……
One of the first things I noticed was another big acetate chart on the wall of the Redeployment Section.  That had to go.  Since I was the boss, I couldn’t get fired or transferred, like at Ft. Knox,  KY.  The chart kept track of soldiers departing and those who could take their families with them.  One clerk was constantly going up and down a ladder with a rag and grease pencil changing arrival and departure dates and adding new people to the chart.  I found a 026 Keypunch machine and installed it in the Redep0loyment Section, made arrangements with the NCOIC of the Data Processing Section to sort the cards whenever we needed it done.  After being sorted, we then took the cards to the Message Center in the Headquarters and had rosters printed.  What a time saver.  The clerks made their entries on the printouts and later in the day another clerk used the 026 to punch up new people,  made changes on the punch cards and remove cards that became obsolete or had changes made.  The production cycle started again and each morning we had a fresh printout for the day.
My NCOIC, SSG Zabko, took the majority of the work off me and allowed me to come up with bigger and better things.  For example, the only way for soldiers with a personnel question to get to my Management Section was to come in the end of our long rectangular building, pass through three other offices down a long narrow hall way and finally into the Management Section.  I looked up the Officer in charge of construction and told him I wanted a door in the side of the building and a counter built in my Management Section along with a concrete walk way leading to the door.  Five days later the project was complete.  My section people were happy and the soldiers were especially happy as how easy it was to get service.  Another thing I did was to call a halt to “drop Filing” in a soldier’s official records jacket.  When you got a paper for a soldier, you found his records jacket in the giant tub of records, opened it and dropped the paper in the record, closed it and went on about your business.  The next soldier to use that file for normal business would take the loose papers, put them in order and clamp them in the file.   Nice idea, but it never worked.  First of all, papers could fall out of the file and it seems nobody had enough time to fix the file.  I had everyone come back in that night and we went through every file and fixed it correctly.  When we came back the next day everything was ready to go and no more “drop filing”. 
I learned something else:  most young people cannot balance a check book.  I had one Specialist 5 (Sp5) who was a great clerk.  I started getting notices of bounced checks, so I called her in to my office for a talk.  I found out that she had been in the Army for 9 years.  This was her first overseas assignment and she had never had a checking account before.  I asked her if she balanced her checking account each month when she got her statement.  She did not know what it meant to balance her checking account.  She also told me that her statement showed that she had $345.00, and she spent it!  To make matters worse, there was only one Commissary and one PX.  I called SSG Zabko in and informed him he was going to conduct check balancing classes for our soldiers.  He didn’t like that worth a damn but, he did it.  Of course I was there, so that made him feel better.  I was surprised how many of my soldiers did not know how to balance a check book.  It was worth it as we never had another bounced check.  The 11 ACR Headquarters picked up what we did and they started having classes for their troopers.
During this time I became a regular at the Fulda Rod and Gun Club.  If you didn’t like guns and shooting you were better off at the NCO Club.  You can learn a lot by sitting there and listening to the guys and gals talk guns, shooting, reloading and other gun tales, some of which were true and some were BS.  You soon learned to tell the difference.  Eventually I purchased a Browning Over-Under Shotgun and a Browning 22-250 Carbine with a 16-power scope.  Most other shooters bought Winchester and Remington shot guns because they were less expensive.  The Browning was superior to the other shotguns.  After hard use for 18 months, the Browning was still tight.  The Winchesters and Remingtons rattled when shook.  That by itself told me about the quality of Browning products.  I bought a MEC Reloader for my shotgun shells.  The best used shells for reloading were Winchester Double A.  You could reload then 6 to 8 times before the casing would split.  I learned quickly to not reload German shells.  They are about a 1/16 of an inch shorter than American shells.  When the reloader crimped them it left a small hole in the end,  If you turned a German shell upside down all the shot would run out the hole.  Not good. 
Shooting on a German range was different then shooting on a American range.  The clay pigeons (birds) speed was about 1/3 faster than American.  Also, you did not stand there with your weapon at your shoulder, rather you held the weapon at “port Arms” and dipped your barrel when you want the “bird” released instead lf saying “PULL”.  Trap shooting was the most difficult for me since my shotgun barrels were “skeet and skeet”:  no choke built into the barrels.  I tried to overcome some of my disadvantage by loading my upper barrel with number 9 shot and the bottom with number 6 shot.  Under German (international) rules you get to shoot two rounds at a “bird”, if needed.  Believe me, in Trap, I needed two.  The Germans would clean my clock in Trap.  Skeet, however, was a different story.  I used to clean their clock on a skeet range.  I reloaded at night during the week to shoot them all up on the weekend.  All in all, great fun. After a few months, the annual election was held for club officers and guess who was elected President.  Yours truly.  Shortly thereafter I started getting invitations to visit German shooting clubs.  Of course I visited the German clubs, when invited.  One club, in particular, held my attention.  I cannot remember its name suffice to say it was a hunting club verses a target shooting club.    This particular club had a lane (alley) called the laffen the kiler (please forgive my spelling).  At the end of the lane was a small railroad track.  A mechanical pig put together with hinges would run across the bottom.  You shot at it and wherever you hit it, that’s the part that would fall over.  Another lane was called the Kip Haas (again, please forgive my spelling).  Instead of a pig, this lane had a rabbit that ran across.  Same thing, hit it and over it went.  More than the other clubs I visited, this club was a family affair.  The big shooting day was Sunday Morning.  The wives came with their husbands and prepared food while us men were on the trap and skeet ranges burning up ammo.   The wives prepared food made mainly of game their husbands shot hunting, deer and rabbit.  The things Germans do with wild game is nothing short of fantastic.  I really looked forward to Sundays and great food along with friendship and German beer.  Germans do not drink their beer ice cold as in America, rather at room temperature, mainly because it’s brewed differently, thick and rich.  Great stuff.  I had been invited to German homes for dinner on various occasions.  Believe me, it is a distinct honor to be invited into a German home for a social event.  Again, the friendship and food was the best.  I, also, joined and participated in  combat pistol clubs and  air pistol clubs.  The weapon I used for combat pistol activities was a Ruger, bull barrel with custom carved grips and a light trigger (reworked by a German gunsmith).  I still have the Ruger and the air pistol I used beck then.  Of all the weapons I owned, I enjoyed shooting my Browning  shotgun most of all.  As a side note, when I came back to the USA, I was going to continue to reload my shotgun shells but, I couldn’t afford the supplies.  Buying through the Fulda Rod and Gun Club was inexpensive.  The rod and gun club  on post was worthless and the prices downtown were much more than I could afford.  In disgust, I sold my reloader and stopped shooting .
 While stationed In Germany, I met and socialized with some wonderful people.  When you first meet Germans, they are stand-offish and formal.  Later on when you get to know each other, the façade comes off and they are a hoot to be around.


If you want to read more, please go to PART 3.

Posted March 3, 2014 by Max Nathanson in Uncategorized

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