Barracks life

Most folks hear the word ‘barracks’ and a big wooden building with poor heat and huge open bays and motherfuckers on fire guard come to mind.
Yeah, I never saw that – not in Basic, not in school and not at my permanent duty station. Wait, we had those at the Reception Station when we in-processed prior to Basic Training, but that was for something like 3 days is all.
In Basic we had either 6 or 8 man rooms, I don’t remember, AIT was 2 man rooms and in Germany I lived in 3 and 4 man rooms but they were rarely filled to capacity.

Our barracks rooms weren’t just bunks, lockers and footlockers all lined up against the walls, either. We could decorate them to taste within reason – my 4 man room had 3 occupants and we had the bunks closest to the door and hallway, then a partition of our lockers with a walkway through them and then beyond that a living area with a couch, desk, chairs, lamps and a beer refrigerator on the other side, more like a small apartment more than anything else.
We furnished our rooms with trash. No, seriously. Twice a year in Heilbronn, the Germans had a discard day where they would take their old furnishings down to the curb for free pick-up. We’d find somebody with a car or truck and cruise the streets the night before the pick-up looking for what we needed. There was nothing wrong with most of the shit, I think most of it was Mama wanted a new couch and so the older but still serviceable one got kicked to the curb. The couch I had in my room had 3 legs – we had planned to cut a chunk of wood to fit it until Bill discovered that a genuine US Army helmet was the perfect height for a substitute. But yeah, we had a couch, recliner, lamps, a couple of mismatched end tables and our beer refrigerator, all salvaged from Herman the German.

The building itself had a single stairwell and entrance in the middle with 3 floors and a basement. When you entered the building you walked up a half dozen stairs and there was a CQ (Charge of Quarters/babysitter) desk with the mailboxes just to the right and behind that.
To the left of the CQ desk was the women’s wing behind a locked door. In order for a man to access that wing he had to sign in with his name, time and who he was going to visit with a 2 guest limit per room. Female soldiers usually had a room to themselves or maybe one roomie. All male guests had to leave the wing by 10 PM. Female soldiers technically weren’t allowed for any reason beyond the first floor but I never saw that enforced after the CO, XO, and Top went home for the evening.
If you hung a right at the CQ desk, the mail room was just to the left. Across the hall was the orderly room, the First Sergeant’s office and then the Executive Officer’s and Commanding Officer’s offices, all connected by interior doorways and also doors from the hallway, but those were usually locked to keep us peons away from barging in any time we wanted to have a word with the HMFIC.
After that there were barracks rooms on either side of the hallway. Those were usually reserved for troublemakers that needed a constant eye kept on them. At the end of each hallway was a latrine.
If you continued up the stairs to the second and third floors, the first thing you saw was a laundry room with a bank of sinks. I think we had 4 washers and dryers. Between the washers and dryers was an open doorway that led to the shower room that was maybe 20’x20′ with a half dozen shower nozzles on all 4 sides. That shower room fucking rocked – it had super hot water, more pressure than a fire hose and if you took off all the shower heads and really cranked up the flow, the streams would nearly meet in the middle of the floor. It was perfect for beating your body or field gear clean when you came in from the field.
Barracks rooms started on both sides with a latrine at both ends. Next to the laundry room on each floor was a beer machine with canned German beer in case you ran short. Some of that beer had been in the machine so long the tops of the cans were corroded. Who the fuck drinks German beer out of a can? My room was the second one to the right, Room 201B, and was directly above the First Sergeant’s office and that wasn’t by accident either.
The fourth floor was a huge common attic with only one room in it, the Pigpen. There was a single barracks room directly across from the stairwell but it was empty for the most part because who wants to walk up and down 4 flights of stairs? The attic was used as a party room/classroom/ or holding area if they need to corral all of us for one reason or another like a Health and Welfare inspection.
The Pigpen was a room a little larger than our 4 man rooms that housed the slobs, people that had hygiene issues – couldn’t maintain their areas, wouldn’t shower regularly or failed numerous inspections for whatever reason. The occupancy varied from zero to maybe six at one time, I think. If you were in the Pigpen, you went through daily inspections, you had somebody assigned to retrain you on shining boots and doing laundry and physically watch you shower every day, and you pulled the messy details like scrubbing the motor pool’s pits until you got your shit together. If you had somebody like that in your room, all the other occupants of the room just beat his ass and threw him and his shit out into the hallway. Top would take care of the rest – he usually knew about it beforehand anyways but he’d wait until the roomies got tired of covering for the slob.
I was assigned to retrain a guy in the Pigpen once. That motherfucker stunk. I mean, he’d gag you if you were standing next to him in formation. I started from Day One, explaining to him the importance of changing his drawers and socks every day, doing the sheet exchange, the whole works. And yeah, I even watched him shower, making sure he soaped up his washrag with Irish Spring soap to overpower his own stench. Nothing fucking worked. He still stunk and nobody could figure out why. The poor guy was hating life, swearing up and down he knew all that shit but it didn’t help. I ended up sending him to the dispensary one day for a minor ailment and when he was there I guess they noticed his odor  and he told them his sob story, so they ran a bunch of tests on him and come to find out, he had a dairy allergy. Once he quit drinking milk and quit eating cheese, his issues disappeared and I mean within a couple days. The next day after Top apologized to him, he went up to the Pigpen and told everybody else up there that they were no longer allowed any dairy products. Didn’t help, those motherfuckers were just pigs.
The basement of the building was all team rooms, the supply room and the arms room. Each platoon had 1 main room with 2-3 team rooms in the same vicinity. They were used to conduct meetings, work on equipment if it was repairable, do paperwork and to fuck off in.

Okay, that was the layout of the barracks for our company and most other barracks on the kaserne that I’d been in. Basically what you had was 150-175 young men from all walks of life from all over the fucking country all crammed in together. Sounds fucked up, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t really all that bad. Sure, we supposedly didn’t have any choice as to who we roomed with but over a period of time occupants were shuffled around for one reason or another and friends within the different platoons ended up rooming with each other. Hey, it’s the natural progression of things.
We really only had 3 different groups of people – we had the chucks (white boys), the spooks, and the PRs (Puerto Ricans) with the occasional Indian and Mexican thrown in. For some reason we had a dozen or more PRs, but only a couple Mexicans and they were real Mexicans that had enlisted to help them get American citizenship. Good guys. They always gave 110%.
We had a shitload of spooks for some reason and when I call them spooks it’s not meant as an insult – the terms spooks and chucks were left over from the Vietnam years. I didn’t take offense when I was called a chuck and they didn’t when they were called spooks.
I remember one time Cable Platoon had something to do and Doc, the platoon sergeant, was dividing them into two details. “All right, I want all the chucks over here and the spooks over there. Jose, stick with me, amigo.”
In spite of the racial problems during the Vietnam war, we didn’t have much of it at all during the late 70s or early 80s when I was in. Sure, there were a few incidents, usually involving some motherfucker trying to show what a badass he was, but most of the time it was settled before the NCOs or officers got involved. We all had a job to do, we all got paid the same and that was that. Nobody was treated any differently than anybody else.
The PRs were clannish as hell. There was some mixing of the blacks and whites as far as socializing was concerned, but not the PRs. They roomed together, they partied together and if one of them had to take a shit, they shat together. If you or your folks weren’t from the Islands, you weren’t welcome. And that was cool with me because all they did was listen to that steel drum ‘music’ and shoot heroin. You can imagine the consternation of the CO and First Sergeant when the company armorer got busted with a quarter pound of pure heroin, right? Yeah man, they had a Health and Welfare inspection (more about that later) and found the dope inside his fucking wall locker of all places.

There were a few rules and regulations if you lived in the barracks.
1) No drugs. That was a fucking joke. After hours the predominant smell was hash. Not only that but drugs were sold from door to door. If I had hash to unload, all I had to do was walk from room to room and ask who wanted what. I could make a trip down my floor, checking in at maybe 20 rooms, and after it was known I had pieces for sale I retired to my room and let them come to me. It was so prevalent that you might have 3-4 guys selling dope in the same barracks.

2) No fighting. Again, a fucking joke. If you put 150 guys together, all of them drinking, in one building, there’s gonna be differences and they’re gonna get settled with fists and boots. As long as nobody whined about getting their ass beat, a blind eye was turned. But those fights were usually alcohol fueled and done and over with the next day.
The only time I ever saw the MPs called over a fight was when Gunn, a guy from another company, got busted for heroin a week before he got out of the army. CID (Criminal Investigation Division) got involved because it was heroin and told Gunn to roll over on his connections or they were going to pull his orders and send him to the stockade for a few years, so Gunn snitched off his buddies. It wasn’t hard to figure out – Gunn got popped, then a couple days later several of his partying partners got busted too. Then the silly sonofabitch went to the EM club where he was promptly jammed up, physically carried out of the club and then nearly kicked to death on the street. The entire 26th Signal Battalion as well as B/44 was locked the fuck down for 3 days while they interviewed anybody and everybody they thought was involved or witnessed it. All for nothing, they never did arrest anybody for it. Nobody saw nothing. Even the bartenders in the club couldn’t come up with anybody they knew inside the club that night.

3) No music or noise that could be heard from the hallway. That wasn’t a real problem. Sure, you’d have somebody get all fucked up and crank his music up but the CQ usually hustled right up there and had them turn it down. Nobody wanted an Article 15 with loss of rank and pay as well as some extra duty over loud music.

4) No cooking in the barracks. HAHAHAHAHA!!! Everybody cooked in the barracks. If it wasn’t crockpots, it was sterno stoves and hot plates. With most of the guys, it was just warmed up C Rations or a delicious can of Dinty Moore beef stew and shit like that, but the women’s rooms? Shit man, my girlfriend had a crockpot a month confiscated from her room. She’d put on a roast before she went to work and when she came back 8 hours later it would be done with me and her sharing a meal and a bottle of wine. She wasn’t the only one, either – you could walk down the hall midday and it smelled like a fucking restaurant on a busy night.
The men didn’t have too much of a problem getting our shit confiscated as long as our little propane stoves or sterno stoves were stored with our field gear. We could always say it was used when we went out on remote sites, but it’s kinda hard to claim that when you’ve got fucking dishes and silverware and 3 hot plates and a crockpot like the women had.

And that was about it as far as rules went. I mean, obviously there were other ‘rules’ but they pretty much fell under you Basic Rules For Living Among Others Without Getting Your Ass Beat, shit like respecting other’s privacy and belongings, don’t call motherfuckers names or talk shit, that sort of thing – no big deal really because you either got to be friends with your roomies or you swapped room assignments around until you ended up with your friends.
Personally, I found that the best solution was not to room with somebody your worked directly with, for or under, that way you’re not around somebody 24 hours a day. Hey man, everybody needs a break, right?
Even in a room with a couple roommates there’s still privacy, even if it’s in your own mind. You just have to learn how to close that curtain. If I was in the common area reading my book, I was cool, but if I was in my bunk don’t even bother talking to me because you’re not even going to get a grunt back. On the same token, if you see one of your roomies reading a book, writing a letter or listening to music with headphones on, leave him the fuck alone. His curtain is drawn.

Partying in the barracks was a given. It was a 7 day a week deal although it really picked up about oh, 5:15 Friday evening which was immediately following our last formation of the day for Retreat. Motherfuckers would fall out, head upstairs and knock back 2-3 half liters of German beer, another one in the shower, and then go find someplace to go for some free beer and hash. I say free beer and hash, but everybody took a turn eventually. Shit, I counted heads and bottles in the Redneck Rooms one night and there were 9 people (8 conscious) and 9 jugs of different kinds of whiskey, not to mention chunks of hash and pipes laying around.

Some of the shit you see, though…
I was kicking back one night and I heard this low rumble getting louder then fading as it passed my room, people cheering, then clattering. What the fuck? I hit the door and looked out and motherfuckers were bowling using beer cans for pins. In the hallway. On the floor we waxed and buffed, and using our walls as bumpers. They didn’t give a fuck.

Several guys owned bicycles to get around town and one night they got fucked up and decided to play chicken. At each end of the hallway was a large window with a fire escape landing and ladder. These guys were hauling ass down the hallway on their bikes and slamming on the brakes at the last possible second, seeing how close they could come to the wall without actually touching it with their front wheel. This is on the third floor, mind you. Luckily they had presence of mind to open the fucking windows because one of them waits waaaay too long, slams into the wall and catapults himself so far out the window that his head and shoulders were hanging in thin air on the other side of the landing, about 4 feet out.

I had been TDY for an 80 hour first aid class up in Rhein Main. The weekend in between, I had spent with some German friends and I was eager to get home, hoping somebody would get their ass whipped really good or maybe have a horrible accident so I could show off my newly acquired skills.
As I walked into my room there was the familiar smells of home – hashish, tobacco, stale beer, and….. sawdust? I walked through the bunk area and damned near tripped over a plastic tube that ran about 8 feet into a square plastic cage that had another 3-4 pipes sticking out of it running to other cages and inside this motherfucker must’ve been a dozen hamsters zipping back and forth. “What the holy fuck is this?”
Bill looked up from the modular cage him and Wally were fucking with. “Hey, Lane. Did anybody die in your class? Check it out, hamsters!” and he holds one up proudly.
He’s nodding his head up and down all excited and shit. “Yeah, Junior found a pet shop downtown that had a deal on cages and hamsters so he bought a couple. Then I bought a couple so we could fight them. The ones we had must’ve been hippie hamsters because they wouldn’t fight so we bought more. These won’t fight either.” He hands me a beer and his pipe.
Seriously, Bill? For real? “Did you see any of them getting their asses kicked at the pet shop? Hamsters don’t fight, bro.”
“Nuh-uh. Can’t race ’em either. They’re too fucking stupid. See?” and he took the one in his hand and vroom vroomed it across the floor and let it go, where it immediately stopped and turned around in a circle while looking at us stupidly. “What we can’t figure out is why they’ll run in the tubes, but not on a track. We can’t even do straight line drag races because the stupid fucks wander off.”
“Have you tried laying two pieces of tube side by side, maybe rig a little starting gate or something?” I can’t believe I’m helping.
“Won’t work. Little bastards try and go back out the way they came before they run the tube. We can’t get ’em to start at the same time.”
“Try burning them in the butt with a cigarette? That oughta get ’em moving in the right direction.”
Bill was shocked. “Not my hamster” he says, and then he lifted it up and started giving it kisses and rubbing his cheek on it.
Fuck this, I need to go to the Redneck Room for some sanity. I changed, grabbed a bottle and walked down the hall muttering to myself. Wait til the rednecks hear about this shit, they’re gonna laugh their asses off.
The first thing I heard, before I even smelled the sawdust when I walked in the room was “RUN, YOU LITTLE FUCKER!!!” and then Gregg yelling “Hoagie, git that fucking cigarette way from Freckles!!!”

Then there was The Screamer.
Every so often, maybe every couple of months, somebody would scream bloody murder for about 5 seconds and stop. You could hear it from anyplace in the barracks and it came at any time during the day or night, but every once in a while somebody would cut loose with a scream right out of a horror movie. Nobody knew who it was or why they did it. It was happening when we moved in there and I heard it about 2 weeks before I left.
That in itself kinda sorta narrowed it down – if a guy rotated out and it was still happening then it obviously wasn’t him, right? The only problem was, we never found out that it wasn’t him until he was already gone and by that time we’d forgotten about him and The Screamer – until it happened again. “Welp, it wasn’t Jackson. That motherfucker done gone home.”
It never happened in the field, only in the barracks which led me to suspect one of the clerks that didn’t go to the field, until about halfway through my tour they had all alibied up tight.
Then the fucking rumor got started that the barracks was haunted. After all, it was an old Wehrmacht barracks, right? Them Nazis were some evil motherfuckers, right? The only problem with that was when they reactivated the 44th Signal Battalion and we went from D/26 to B/44, we swapped barracks the B/26. I had several friends over there and I asked if they ever heard it and they all denied it. Hell, I had never heard it before we moved in. It had to be somebody in the company.
The haunting rumor was cool, though. I don’t believe in ghosts or hauntings or whatever, but some of those guys evidently did. Catch one walking past your door, slip in behind and then goose him and you had a screamer for real.

Latrine parties – not what you think. These were actual parties with a keg of beer in the latrine. I served for a while as the head the EAC, the Enlisted Advisory Council. In spite of its official sounding name, basically what we did was plan parties and events for people in the company to participate in like tours and shit like that. Mostly parties, though – the special services division on post had tons of tours anyways. We used our money to get fucked up.
There was a special fund that everybody was expected to ‘contribute’ ten bucks to every payday and when we got enough, we’d throw a party. “Okay, we need x amount of charcoal, x pounds of steak and brats, and xxx kegs of beer and a couple bottles of wine.” We always bought too much beer. You don’t want to run out of beer, right?
At the end of the party, any partially full kegs got spirited away with the empties being returned a day or two later, no questions asked – at least it didn’t go to waste. The full kegs – usually one, sometimes two – went down to my room where they were supposed to be safeguarded until the next party. You bet.
Now, I wouldn’t tap that keg for myself. Nossir. It wasn’t mine, it belonged to the company, bought and paid for with their supposed contributions. So the weekend following or maybe the next, I’d set it in a tub of ice and let it cool while we shut down the latrine for cleaning and disinfecting. We’d keep it shut down for use, putting garbage bags over the shitters and pissers then scoot that keg in its tub of ice down and park it inside, inviting everybody we saw down for a beer. If we had two kegs, we’d horse one up to the third floor too. Word would spread, guys would stop by for a beer or two, then they’d move on to wherever they were headed. Me, I was the self appointed beer pourer so I’d pour a beer, drink a beer, pour a beer, drink a beer and be rolling drunk by 10 PM.

Then there was the usual shit you’d expect to find. The company loan shark. Some guys lived on their army paychecks, some guys pulled duty for extra cash, some guys black marketed and/or sold hash and this guy made his extra money loansharking. I never had to use him myself so I don’t know what his terms were but he did pretty good – he was an E-4 and driving a Mercedes sedan. Sure, it was a few years old but damned few enlisted men could afford the operating expenses of a VW, much less a Mercedes.

And the gambling rooms – two that I know of. The chucks had a poker room and the spooks rolled dice. These games were floating games – they’d be in one room until they got busted, usually because somebody got fucked up for cheating, then they’d move to another room.
The dice games were usually the violent ones because craps is such a fast moving game and if you take your eyes off the dice for one second, somebody’s taking your ass to the cleaner. It’s almost like it was a rule that you had to at least try to cheat.

All in all, barracks life wasn’t bad – you made it what it was.

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32 Responses to Barracks life

  1. 1980XLS says:

    When I saw the Title “Barracks Life, ” I thought it wuz gunna be about Obama.
    You scared me.

  2. mrgarabaldi says:

    Hey Kenny;

    It was called “Junking Day” here in Stuttgart, Herm would get rid of all his old furniture because the Tax man was coming and he would assess a value on your furniture every couple of years so the Herms would dispose of all their old crap and buy new after the Tax man went through. Excellent article

  3. warhorse says:

    the barracks I was in we had 2 guys per room, with a shared bathroom between 2 rooms..which sucked if the guys on the other side locked the door, forgot to unlock it, and you had to pee. we’d hang a nail on a string so you could pop the lock if you had to.

    there was always some asshole who brought his civvie girlfriend in on a saturday night. well, she wanted to leave at 4 AM or so, and she couldn’t go past the front she’d go out the fire exit. the alarm would go off, and EVERYONE would have to get out of the barracks. in the winter in pennsylvania. after a while we’d just ignore it…go under the bed and hide. well, the base fire department figured that out and started going room to room.

    we never did find the asshole who was doing it.

  4. wewwew says:

    I went to boot in Memphis (NAR-TAR) – April ’71. We were in WWII barracks, open bay, racks on the outside, lockers back to back down the middle. They were such fire traps, we had 2 hour fire watches all night. The worst was midnight to 2, went to bed at 10, up at midnight then back to bed at 2, and up at 4. From there, across the street to A school. Again open bay but blocked off into small cubicles, each with 2 bunks beds and four lockers, walkway along one wall of windows. It was pretty tame, high visibility with the openness, and if we had civvies they were limited due to space. Memphis at the time was off limits south of Beale St., which was all burned out from the riots. I do remember one night, some drunk slamming lockers and singing at the top of his lungs as he walked from the head to the stairway at the end of the building. When he got to the to stairs, someone drop kicked him toward the bottom. For a country boy that never ventured far from home, those were and interesting 10 months, :-)

    • Larry says:

      Those pieces of shit were still around in ’80-81, as were the housing units that were condemned a couple of years before.

      I’m amazed the Army didn’t have open-bay barracks even for Basic Training. in the late `70’s. Crap, even the US-fucking-AF had open-bay barracks in Basic in the late 1980’s. Now after that, it was generally a LOT nicer than the other services (I thought about enlisting in the military, but decided on the Air Force, instead). Clark AB was considered fairly primitive since we had two-man rooms and one common latrine facility on each floor. Stateside, it was one-man rooms at most bases, with a bathroom shared between two rooms. Pure savagery and barbarism, right?

      But no drugs. No drugs at all, if you cared at all about a military career in the late 1980’s. Regular piss tests with sergeants making sure the urine going into the bottle physically exited your urethra. Unless your drug was alcohol. In which case, who cares until you show up drunk on duty, or worse, don’t show up?

      The only race problem I saw related to music. The rule was nothing too loud after 10 p.m. Which was subject to all kinds of interpretation. But the main division wasn’t so much race as taste — rock vs. country vs. rap/funk. Rap was the worst because the goddamned bass lines just resonated with the old (pre- and slightly post-) WII concrete pillars, and the drywall room walls dividing up the ope bays that had existed up through the early 1970s were no help. S***, you could hear Tyrone screwing his bargirl “friend” from two rooms away while you were trying to sleep for the mid-shift. That sucked. That really sucked.

      • Tennessee Budd says:

        The barracks in Millington were still there in ’88 when I was there. I wasn’t in them–I was in South 443–but they were there.

        • crazyeighter says:

          The red brick barracks that were built in the early 70’s disappeared about the same time as BuPers moved in.

  5. philinpueblo says:

    Due to the circumstances of my “career”, I didn’t live in barracks very much. I did basic at Ft Lewis (which I believe you have some familiarity with) in WW2-era wooden barracks on the North Fort. Cold and wet and miserable.(I don’t know but I’ve been told/ North Fort Lewis is mighty cold). Open squad bays with double bunks and un-partitioned latrines and the rest of that conscript army shit. AIT was at Ft Gordon, GA in 4-man rooms – big improvement, but still not much fun considering we were paid like $90.00/month in 1970. Not much available for booze or anything else except cigarettes and maybe go into Augusta once a month for a restaurant dinner to get a break from mess hall slop and an occasional 3.2 beer at the PX snack bar.

    When I went to Germany for my first tour, I was assigned to a joint-service unit (Defense Communications Agency – Germany) which was co-located with the Army’s Strategic Communications Command – Europe. The four single junior enlisted members of DCA had a room in STRATCOM’s barracks, which was a relic, not from the Wehrmacht, but from the Kaiser’s army. After a few months, STRATCOM decided they needed the space, so we were given housing allowance and separate rations. Pure Heaven. I could hang with my friends when I wanted to and be alone when that’s what I wanted. I had a 1964 VW that I bought for $100 that would take me wherever I wanted to go and enough money to keep gas in it. At that age (I was 20) I had never had my own place before. The only problem was the German landlady complained that I used too much hot water. U.S. Soldiers are expected to shower every day, Germans not so much.

    After DCA, I got out of the Army but didn’t really know what else to do so I re-enlisted. I was sent back to Germany to Siegelsbach Army Depot (which is in the Heilbronn “Community”). If you don’t know of it, Siegelsbach is about 10-15 miles or so north-west of Heilbronn, past Bad Wimpfen. It was a tactical nuclear weapons depot (it’s been closed for decades and, besides, everyone knew what was there back then so I’m not giving up any secrets). I lived in the barracks there for a while and hated it. I was an E-5 in my mid-20’s and living with those 20 year olds got on my nerves. (The guys in the room next to me were black and they loved the song “Play That Funky Music White Boy” which they played CONSTANTLY and loudly). Fortunately, space considerations came into play once again, and I got housing and separate rations for the rest of my tour there.

    I did three years in CENTCOM at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL. Again, some time in the barracks, but when I made E-6 I got to move off base. After that, I was assigned to the Recruiting Command (if you knew me, you would know what a stupid move that was on the Army’s part.) I recruited (badly) in Chicago and met and married my wife there, so no more barracks life for me

    I wish I had stories like yours, Kenny, and could tell them like you do, but take my contribution in the spirit it’s submitted. Army life is like no other and must be experienced to be understood.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Let’s see, the missile site you’re referring to must’ve been Redleg Missile Site if I remember correctly.

      • philinpueblo says:

        No, sorry, Redleg was an active Pershing missile launch site. Siegelsbach was an ammo depot where tactical nuclear warheads were rotated in and out for routine testing and maintenance. We had bunkers with warheads for every Army tactical nuclear delivery system from Pershing II’s down to 175mm artillery shells. We used to do drills to prepare to blow the bunkers with C4 in case the balloon went up. Nonsense of course – the Ruskies would have saved us the trouble by nuking us on H-Hour and we all knew it.

        As an aside, the Pershing battalion had a kaserne north of Heilbronn just off of the autobahn – don’t remember it’s name – which had a really good NCO club – much better than Wharton’s. My wife and I used to eat there occasionally when we wanted American food, though we both enjoyed Gasthaus German as well.

        • Wirecutter says:

          I’ll be damned, I didn’t know all that. I knew there was a kaserne there at Siegelsbach but knew nothing about it.
          Is Neckarsulm (sp?) the kaserne with the good club that you’re thinking about?

        • Scruff says:

          I was TDY at Heilbronn for 4 months. In 78 we ( 2nd plt., B co., 249th eng bat.) built a fire control building at Redleg. They were using truck mounted fire control at the time. I don’t remember the name either, but I stayed there while TDY.

  6. Tsquared says:

    I was USAF and enlisted in ’83. In Basic we had 2 bays of 26 bunk-beds. We head off to our specialty schools and it was 2 per room and a communal shower (swinging dick city) and shitters. I got to my first duty station it was 2 man room with a connected bathroom to another two man room. The only good thing about the shared bathroom suites is that after the first 6 months (until you qualified) either you or your room-mate would be TDY somewhere.

    I spent 3 years in the 2 room shared bathroom suites and me and my room mate were there together less than 60 days as we had a high Optempo. When I made E-5 I got a semi-private room with a shared bathroom. Both the 2 each shard bathroom and the semi-private rooms were considered sub-standard for the AF. So I got a sub-standard housing allotment.

    Booze was standard and there were no drugs until you went TDY and that stopped in the time-frame to let it purge from your system. The life in the barracks was low key and we caused the CQ no problems as problems usually occurred off base. I was notorious for jumping on my motorcycle after duty on Friday and running 425 high speed miles up the road to see my girl and riding back Sunday night to arrive at the base at 6 in the morning on Monday – weekend travel distance was limited to a 250 mile radius.

    • Larry says:

      Heh. I took a lot of Friday or Monday leave, ran up to John Hay AB, Baguio and then back to see my girlfriend. Only 90 miles as the crow flies from Clark AB, but the road winding up from sea level to 5,000+ feet elevation made it a 4-hr trip (most of the climb in the last few miles), but no predictable schedule because the goddamned communist New People’s Army assassinated US personnel (and at least once, Aussie civilians in a case of mistaken identity). Show up at 6:00 A.M. for the bus, but it might not leave until after noon, and probably wouldn’t stop. I was always worried that a base recall would happen while I was away, and the USAF generally didn’t tolerate much compared to the other services. The 3 times I remember it happened for real, I was on base or very close. I had to covertly piss in a barf bag once on the bus, and carried it (decently or idiotically?) off and drop it in a garbage can. And the very last thing you wanted was to sit near the front of the bus where you could see out. That was f***ing scary. Not that the back end was any better if you looked out as the bus made three-corner turns around the worse(r?) switchbacks.

  7. Elric says:

    Man, reminds me of the barracks at Schweinfurt.

    Write the book!

  8. Terry says:

    Kenny– Great article. Sure brings back a lot of memories as your descriptions were almost identical to our barracks life. I was stationed just east of Frankfurt in Hanau 75-77. About the only difference was our fourth floor was where the hard core drugs/users usually ended up. CID decided they were gonna clean up and sent an alleged newbie private to go undercover. He ended up taking a “flight” out the window in a wall locker. Fucked him up pretty bad. CID spent weeks trying to find who threw him out the window. Nobody got charged. Buddy of mine had VW van we used to go junking to get the good stuff Herman would set out before the tax man. I could go on and on but you pretty well said it all…. THANK YOU for the memories..

  9. northernvas says:

    Comment about all being paid the same struck a chord. While I have never served, with maturity that comes with age, I would like to see, though very, very unlikely, mandatory military service in the U.S. Part of the problem of the old ‘Selective Service’ was there were far too many deferments, making military service mostly for those with the short end of the stick.

    I’d like to see universal military service here not as a means to build up the military. One big part I see in military service is I see it as a great social leveler. So no matter if you come from some urban hell-hole or where homes go for 700K+, if you mess up, you pay the price.

  10. loaded4bear says:

    Alright. I know all the enlisted guys think that the officers had hotel suites, maid service and personal valets, but let me assure you, that was not the case.

    I did the ROTC track through undergrad school. We had this quaint little exercise known as Summer Camp. There were 3 (?) locations throughout the country. Mine was Ft. Riley, Kansas. In the summer between one’s junior and senior year, you attended six weeks of summer camp. They issued us ID cards, printed orders, put us on the payroll and booked us airline flights. So far, so good. When we arrived, everyone’s school was dispersed throughout the brigade and we were assigned to honest-to-God, pre WWII barracks. Two story, open squad bays, bunk beds, no toilet partitions – – you get the picture. When you’re a 20 year old college kid, with ZERO background in the military, this is quite a culture shock.

    My favorite moment #1 was the day I arrived. Someone handed me a foot locker packing diagram. I wish someone could have snapped a picture of my expression as I was saying ” . . so we’re supposed to fold our underwear to a 6″ length ? ? ? ”

    Favorite moment #2 was coming into the barrack late one weekend night, to hear someone in the latrine, yacking their guts out. ( There was a mini-PX, pool table, beer parlor about two blocks over ). Anyhow, Wild Bill from some parts South breaks away from us and sticks his head in the latrine to investigate. With all the sympathy he could muster, he yells ” if ya taste something round and hairy, swaller quick – it’s yer asshole ! “

  11. mj hawkeye says:

    What a tremendous piece or writing.

  12. Cedardpgg says:

    These stories are what keep me coming here friend

  13. Sparks31 says:

    Must be Artillery Kaserne in Neckarsulm philinpueblo must be referring to. Now the the proud the proud world headquarters for Lidl. My daughter lives down the street not from that location. That takes me back a few years.

  14. mrgarabaldi says:

    Hey Kenny;

    I spent 5 years in Germany in the barracks and they were kinda like dorms. both in Cooke barracks in Geoppingen then at Stuttgart Army airfield. By the time I was 25, I was getting pissy, I was a proud member of the E-4 mafia, couldn’t make E-5 because my promotion points were 998 and I had 761. You had to be an E-5 to get permission to move off post, unless you were married. I groused because the Army treated me like a kid whereas some E-1 fresh out of school who was married and brought the wife over was immediately was treated like a grownup with housing allowance and Separate Rats and missed out on the GI parties and other bullshit of barracks life. I almost considered a “contract Marriage” to get out of the barracks.
    We did have the stereo wars going on in the quad, the brothers would play the rap crap loud and we were trying to sleep because we had real world mission requirements and trying to sleep with all the bass sucked. One of the guys would head to the fuse box on the first floor, quickly ID the room and flip the breaker. The brothers thought their shit tripped the breakers and would after a while go back down and reset the breakers.
    We didn’t have the drug use, the getting piss tested every 6 months was a deterrent. Getting your security clearance yanked and you were not able to do your job and finding yourself at the mercy of the SGM was not a fun experience. while they investigated and the was the high probability of getting a general discharge or getting reclassified into a sucky MOS at the needs of the Army. This was the late 80’s mind you. Keep on bringing on the stories, they bring good memories.

    • Wirecutter says:

      No piss tests when I was in – we had only one company-wide piss test and everybody I knew was dirty, and I do mean everyone, but we never heard a word about it.

  15. richard1j says:

    USNR early 70’s. No basic, don’t ask me how, I didn’t know I was supposed too. Maybe they figured eight weeks at sub school in New London would take care of that. Don’t remember the barracks except that they kept a fire watch. School was for the nuke boats. Never made it. Was on diesel subs out of Key West during the Zumwalt years.
    Drugs and booze big time. All the grass, speed and LSD you could want. The boats “pharmacist” sold them.
    When you weren’t on watch for 24 hours on the boat they provided open barracks that you partitioned with lockers to create four man rooms. Your boat rack was 12″ from your mattress to the steel bottom of the man above or the curved hull of the boat. If you got lucky or had some rank (mostly E6) you got a bunk in Hogans alley.
    On diesel boats there was essentially one lane from forward torpedo water tight door (stem to stern) to aft torpedo water tight door set closest to the starboard hull. Hogans alley was about mid ships in the after battery just aft of the galley and mess area (four five foot tables). It was a corridor set to port off of the main lane of travel. Less traffic therefore quieter. Your racks included your lockers built under your mattress and about 4″ deep. Those in the top bunks against the outer hull got to snuggle up to the piping and wiring.
    I suppose you could say that I got lucky on my two year tour of duty. Travelled to LA up to the state capital, Baton Rouge (first boat ever). Spent time at Gitmo long before it became famous as a terrorist prison. Got to see a little of Haiti and Jamaica (the rum factory up in the hills was great. Tasting all of the different flavored rums made for a fine trip). Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston, Jamaica were excellent ports for visiting seamen. Same can be said for Port Au Prince, Haiti (a few shipmates came back with a reminder of their stay, clap. A good time). This was back when you could walk around by yourself and live through the experience.
    Sold the first boat I was on, the USS Cubera SS347, to Venezuela. Sold the second boat I was on, the USS Threadfin SS410, to Turkey.
    Took the Threadfin to Izmir, Turkey via Lisbon, Portugal; Rota, Spain (where we spent a month cleaning it up); Cartagena, Spain; Naples, Italy (spent a day in Rome); Heraklion, Crete (they used white lights instead of red). Finally made our way to Izmir.
    Was on a couple of other boats that were decommissioned shortly after I left them. One of them, the USS Tirante SS420, was even featured in a TV show about a WWII mission.
    I enjoyed every port of call that I ever made. Almost always walked wherever I went and was never accosted. Most of the time I walked by myself.
    When you’re living with 80 other seaman above and below the waters surface for weeks at a time you can get to know a lot of them pretty well. Even so far as to make some special cookies (I was a cook) for some that were trusted. (Of course the E7 that demanded a couple didn’t know the contents.)
    I almost stayed in, but had other things to do.

  16. Thomas Doan says:

    You all were lucky and did not know it. Till my last day I was in open barracks, one floor, built 18″ off the ground. Heat was a joke and no AC, just open windows. Coastal NC is humid all year with a wind blowing fine sand 24/7. Your bunk would be sandy by noon and no inspection was ever passed. Back pack blowers were not invented yet and that might have worked? Floating out around the world was your duty in a Battalion Landing Team. Embarkation meant NO alcohol, none till liberty call. On an Amphibious Ship of the Navy and those guys were not happy ether, they called them slavers. Worst food imaginable, I ate chili mac for 6 months one time because it was the best thing served. Bunking was 5 racks on wall so tight you could not turn over without sliding your shoulders out, flip over , slide back in, all in a canvas “bed” that sagged like a hammock. 20 people in a “room” of 128 square feet. I was the “Doc” and chronic back pain was the number one complaint at sick call. At some point on a float we would get time on a sub for lock in-lock out practice and that was the best duty, big bunks 3 feet wide with a built in locker under the rack for your gear, great food, great people, even the officers had a since of humor. Most of the time liberty call was Naples Italy for Med. floats because it was hard to find ports that were big enough to handle multiple ships at a time and if an Aircraft Carrier was there first then that is just too many people at one time, girls would be fucked out, beer in short supply, locals with a bad attitude…So back to Naples. Carib floats, North Atlantic, West Pacific floats had better liberty but the accommodations were the same on a “slaver”. Trying to get a shore billet on your first 6 year hitch in the FMF (Fleet Marine Force) was not happening and for reenlistment for another 6 they would offer Memphis Tennessee???? I should have joined the Air Force.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Even as a military brat, I was surprised t my accommodations – they were a lot nicer than I expected. I had a roof over my head, heat, and 3 meals a day not 50 yards from my bed.

  17. Sanders says:

    Good times. I was in a WWII open bay barracks at Ft. Benning for basic training/AIT. The area was called, “Harmony Church”.

    The barracks at Ft. Carson weren’t too bad – almost like dorm rooms. I even had my own bathroom when I first arrived. But, as a Pvt. 1, I didn’t hold onto it for long after a Corporal got his Sgt. stripes and evicted me since it was an NCO room.

    In Germany, I was in barracks similar to what you described. Lee Barracks was an old WW1 German Calvary post. There were tunnels underneath the whole post if you knew how to get into them. I was game, but couldn’t find anyone to show me the entrance. Attic had a room that a devil worshipper used to live in. He painted the entire room black, floor and ceiling. Even after the room was brought back to normal, nobody would live in it, since everyone figured it was haunted.

    When they decided to refurbish the outside walls, the contractors left scaffolding up. Since I was on the 3rd floor, it made escape easy for a few months without having to go past the CQ desk, in case they needed someone for a detail or guard duty.

  18. Steamship Trooper says:

    Well, Harmony Church was still there ten years ago. They used that area (barracks are concrete, chow hall was from 1935) for the onesy-twosey going to the Sandbox. Sillyvillians thought it was hell on Earth, us vets (contractors and other) had fun watching them hate life.

    Proof for the sillyvilians this is not all bullshit “I wuz there”-

    Different time, different Army, same shit since Ceasar marched on Gaul. Good times.

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