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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Early Ft Bragg – Florida – Mess Hall Cups – Hurricane Heaters & a 500 lb Bomb – Part 1

After arriving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in late 1974, my initial duty assignment was to the 151st Service Company; one of the two units making up the provisional Materials Management Center prototype unit (the other was the 29th Maintenance Management Detachment). This prototype organization, one of several I had the pleasure(?) of being part of the testing stage throughout my military career, was later to become the regular army Materials Management Center (Corps). Officially it’s designation was to became the 2nd Support Center (MMC-Corps).

Our mission was in support of logistical operations for the 18th Airborne Corps and it’s subordinate units; primarily the 82ND Airborne Division (also stationed at Fort Bragg), the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 24th Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia. Along with our sister units of the 1st Corps Support Command (COSCOM) we assumed support for additional units assigned or attached during any operational deployment.

I was almost immediately assigned the additional duty of D-Pac Commander (that’s deployment package commander for the military lingo and acronym challenged out there). One of the more senior officers had obviously lobbied his way out of the assignment—new blood in the area ya know.

Other than the fact that I had to sign for the package’s equipment (which I had absolutely zero control over); the task meant that I was now the point man for all deployments for 18th Airborne Corps units—anywhere they went, I was sure to follow. The package’s official deployment designator was D+6; meaning that the package was to follow the initial deployment units after their departure plus six hours (that’s right, hours, not days).

I managed to call several practice alerts within the first four months or so; most of which was blown off by the more senior officers assigned to the team. I complained and was given lip service by the boss (I’ll talk to them!). All the captains, lieutenants and NCOs showed up and performed their duties. The majors and above just wouldn’t be bothered. This would eventually change once the new provisional unit commander was assigned—everybody suddenly always had time.

In the middle of an October the next fall, the D-Pac was assigned to participate in an operation into a remote area of the Florida panhandle. Eventually the mission was reduced due to budget constraints and boiled down to just me participating. I was assigned to augment another provisional unit as the Procurement Officer within the Materials Operations Section for the deployment. We were flown in to support an field training exercise pitting a Brigade of the 82ND Airborne Division, the good guys, against an aggressor force from the 194TH Armor Brigade, the bad guys. As it turned out, my procurement duties during the deployment were the least of my troubles.

The 194TH Armor Brigade out of Fort Knox, Kentucky having drawn the aggressor unit assignment in this particular field test, had its full contingent of its own specific heavy armor maintenance support units. But since the COSCOM were going to be there, 194th was able to participate without bringing a large support base for its non-armor requirements—the COSCOM provided the support—huge cost savings to the DOD.

Like I said, my primary function for the operation was to act as the procurement officer. To fund this requirement, I had drawn a little more than several thousand dollars from the post Finance Officer prior to leaving Ft Bragg. The amount of cash that I was carrying required that I also carry a side arm and draw live ammunition for my protection. This made me, the Headquarters Commandant, and the forward elements’ armor the only members of the entire command routinely carrying live ammunition. Now you realize that we didn’t expect many really bad guys in the Florida panhandle; but you just never knew—that amount of cash could be very tempting.

After arriving and joining my section mates and because of my prior assignments and extensive experience in their areas—lucky me!—I was routinely called on by the other staff officers for assistance when they had a situation that confused them or just didn’t fit the norm. Several members of the staff were new captains on their first deployment with the command. Their newness often resulted in a great deal of my day was being spent with them reviewing their requirements, operational results and the data associated with those results—sometimes we spent more night than day at this task as you will eventually realize.

As the primary operations officer I assumed the responsibility for the overall development of the SITREP (situation report)[i]. Depending on operational conditions, the data and info consolidation for this activity sometimes called for consolidation of data that often stretched into the late night.

Having been on station a little over a week already, you might say that we were fairly well dug in when the events detailed in Mess Hall Cups, Hurricane Heaters and 500 Lb Bomb took place

The 260TH Quartermaster Company[ii] of Ft Stewart, Georgia, for some odd reason had more than their share of trouble with numbers—their data almost never added up .The staff petroleum officer’s blind acceptance of their reporting methods hindered him from conducting a detailed review of their nightly data. Instead of just sending the incorrect data on to the command in the rear; I took it upon myself to get the situation straight. Consequently I had spent an inordinate amount of time working with and coaching him on the problem. But bad numbers continued to roll in. Both he and the 260TH seemed to be getting better but neither were not quite there yet. This often made an evening that should have been another one of those no-brainers seemed, at times, to last forever.

I actually had no more than a hand full of opportunities to perform my primary function of procurement; most of them dealing with the purchase of u-joints for ¼ ton utility trucks (jeeps). It seemed that the sand (somebody was spending their time on the beaches) was having a undesirable effect on this particular vehicle or as the maintenance tech thought: “The units aren’t keeping up their routine maintenance and brought their vehicles on the exercise to get somebody else to do the maintenance for them.” Maintenance techs always think this way—you might surmise by listening to them that they were the only people that actually worked in the United States Army.

As a result of another piece of luck, I just happened to also be the only experienced and school-trained food advisor in the forward command. It was because of this fact and it being common knowledge to the Old Man that he stopped me after the morning briefing and ask me to look in on the Headquarters Commandant and the mess facility after we had learned of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Bernard Rogers, impending visit the following day. As I mentioned, as the representative of the MMC, I was responsible for calling forward supplies and coordinating material with the rear elements at Ft Bragg as the operations dictated.

At this impromptu discussion out of hearing of any others, the Old Man had asked that I see that some mess hall cups were put on the next flight, hopefully prior to GEN Rogers’ arrival. His words specifically were: “I’ve had enough of those Mickey Mouse Cups in our field mess.”

Neither of these requests were major tasks and I acknowledged my compliance and trotted off to accomplish my daily tasks. On my way to the mess, I decided that I would add the mess hall cup request to the evening SITREP; the gathering of a dozen mess hall cups not being much of a task at all—little did I know at the time.

[i] Situation Reports (SITREP) are generally communicated on an ‘as required’ basis but usually not less than daily. They provide higher level and adjacent commands with necessary data concerning the ‘periods’ activity and any special details, requirements and assessments.

[ii] The 260TH Quartermaster from Ft Stewart, Georgia had sent a couple of fresh lieutenants to oversee their support mission on this operation and they really didn’t have the experience required to handle the quick paced situations we were experiencing. They were a little ‘laid back’ for what we were accustomed to from Fort Bragg. The staff petroleum officer and I finally had to demand that the Company Commander show his face and get the support on the straight and narrow. Eventually, we had the Battalion Commander there also. As an aside, I ran into one of the lieutenants again at the Quartermaster Advanced course after leaving Fort Bragg in route to my next assignment.

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