Thursday, April 06, 2006

Your tax dollars at work...

Kirk's unit was mobile - they took their gear into the field to do signal intercept. Mobile, however, is a generous term. The equipment was in a massive sort of hut - a hugely heavy thing that had to be pulled (very slowly) around the countryside. Naturally when the army commissioned the vehicle they didn't give the specs of what was being pulled to the manufacturer. So while the vehicle was rated to pull 3 tons, the equipment actually weighed 7. Kirk's unit, full of highly (and expensively) trained linguists with top secret clearances spent much of their time doing vehicle repairs.

I don't think they ever managed to come back from an exercise without at least two major breakdowns. Of course, some of that is down to the guy who discovered that if his track broke within a few miles of base he would be sent home to fix it instead of camping for a week in the German countryside. He usually managed to burn out an engine within five minutes.

It wasn't just Kirk's unit that had trouble. Our friend in Nuremberg told us of the time their track got well and truly stuck in the soft spring mud. The army sent a tank puller to get the thing out, which promptly got stuck itself. Naturally they send a second tank puller... in the end they just put a guard detail on the whole mess for three months until the ground dried out.

Exercises were an expensive thing anyway because of the rural area we lived in, and the enterprising nature of the German farmers. The US army had a compensation obligation - so much per chicken, so much per cow. Kirk said there were several locals who would wait for the units to start rumbling by and then toss their aging chickens in the road.

But the best exercise was the time they managed to blow their entire budget - at least for several months - in a single day. The soldier driving the tank cut a corner a bit fine and hit a sign. They weren't going terribly fast, so when he heard the thump he stopped and they got out to survey the damage. The sign had punctured their fuel tank which was dripping freely. They pulled the twisted metal out and managed to read what it said - No Parking: Water Table. The unit had to basically buy the water supply for Freiburg, West Germany.

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