TBT - "The Trouble With Joining The Army".

Like my father-in-law, Larry Zuckerman, I went into the Army at age 18 - right out of high school. Larry was drafted - I was dafted. Let me explain.

In 1960 the Army National Guard was so desperate for recruits (it was made up of diminishing numbers of veterans of WWII and Korea) that they offered high school seniors the opportunity to join with only a 3 year enlistment obligation after 6 months of training and active duty, instead of the full 5 year obligation required in the past. At that time everyone registered for the draft and when you got called up you spent at least 2 years in active duty.

I planned to go on to college after high school and when a friend in the Guard explained to me that I would only miss one semester of college by joining, and would avoid the draft altogether, this sounded like a smart decision. So I joined the Army National Guard in my senior year.

This particular Guard unit was an artillery battalion. They gave me a series of tests upon enlistment and said I qualified for OCS (Officer Candidate School). But I had a big problem with becoming an officer - you had to serve a full two year term, which cut into my college plan and sounded like a long time to me! So the next question to me - what position in the artillery would I like to train for? Being one that does not like drudgery or to be bored, I said: "Do you have a position where I would never have to do guard duty or kitchen duty?" Seems the artillery has only one position that meets that demand - FDC (Fire Direction Control), the nerds with the 'slip sticks' (the slide rule - a mechanical calculating device before computers!) that calculate the data to direct canon fire.

So after basic training in Ft. Ord I was shipped out to Ft. Sill and put into FDC school. Upon completing the necessary training in that specialty I and another 'graduate' from that class was asked if we wanted more advanced training into the exciting position of 'Forward Observer'. We would work with the unit's Intelligence Officer and only have to answer to him, ride around in his jeep on field exercises, get to direct live fire, day and night (to direct white phosphorus shelling at night was spectacular) - which was a more privileged position yet, so who could say no?

In that one month of training as an FO, twice I was out ahead of the howitzer battery on the firing range and came under fire do to miscalculations from the other trainees and their superiors. The two most adrenaline pumping commands I used on my field radio when doing those exercises were "fire for effect" and "cease firing!!!". It was a year after returning home that I stumbled upon an article that listed the 'life expectancy in actual combat" statistics for various positions in the military. Guess who had the shortest? The 'Forward Observer'.

Maybe the lesson here is that sometimes when we think we are being clever or getting in on the greater adventure we miss the bigger picture?!