This story comes to us as an excerpt out of a book Chris Carter is working on. Great flashback, and thanks for sharing Chris. -Brandon
I was one of the people who joined the military right after high school. This was considered pretty crazy in 1979. The Vietnam war had just ended in 1975. It was the days when a judge would say, “Son, you can go to jail or join the Army,” and the guy would actually think about it for a second. I do believe it was the lowest point in the U.S. Army’s entire history. Right after Vietnam, nobody wanted to talk about it. There was no Bruce Springsteen rally cry, no movies, no parades, nothing.
Military Recruiters 101. Your first lesson here is never go to the Recruiter alone. I went alone, of course. I walk in the place and the first door is the Air Force. I never even went in. I very mistakenly thought I was too dumb to get in the Air Force. Keep in mind this is 1979. If you could walk, talk and breath, you could probably get in doing something. The next door was the Navy.
My Uncle Doug was in the Navy. I was always fascinated by his tattoos and his Navy stories. I was not so fascinated with being stuck on a boat. Or ship. Whatever. Next door, the mighty U.S. Marines. I didn’t go in that door because I heard the Marines were crazy people. The last door was the Army. Aaah, here we go. I walked in and did the worst thing you could ever do. After a hello the recruiter asks, “So what would you like to do?” I said, “I don’t know.” Never say that to an Army recruiter. It’s different now, but back then they were really hungry for fresh bodies. He probably had me chalked down as “in the bag” after I said that.
The recruiter was looking at a very typical 1970‘s American teenager with real long hair. He asked me, “What do you do now?” I said I build houses with my Dad and my Grandfather. He said “Oh, you’r a builder, hmm you want to be an Engineer?” I said, “Engineer,” as if a good idea lightbulb went on over my head. “Ah yes, yes I want to be an Engineer, yeah that would be cool,” I said.
Recruiter 101 Lesson number Two: Location, location, location. I was one of the few who wanted to go overseas. I wanted to go as far away as possible. I couldn’t believe that everybody else wanted to be close to home, close to the same old places they’ve been going to. I thought, “Why would you want to go through all this trouble and the hell of boot camp just to be back home?” I wanted to go as far away as possible. I was so nervous about them getting my location on the contract I was bugging them about it, and in reality they couldn’t get enough people to go overseas. So I was totally worried about the wrong thing. I should have been learning about what an MOS (job) is!
The lesson here is that it’s okay to have a job you’re not happy about if you’re overseas, say in a place like Germany. Oktoberfest in Munich. Two hours from Paris. Wine and cheese in Venice. Skiing in the Swiss Alps. On your first tour location trumps MOS. You may never go overseas again, so take advantage of it. Needless to say, I did okay as a Combat Engineer in Germany in 1980. It was no Vietnam; it was a party! I got lucky. I didn’t know all that when I walked in the recruiters office. All I knew was I needed to change my life.
Things are a little different now, but the basic idea is the still the same. The ABSVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) is supposed to measure your strengths and weaknesses. High score means Brain Surgeon, low score means Rambo. Now, on your first tour you don’t need to be a Brain Surgeon, you can start out as Rambo, and then switch over to Brain Surgeon later. Or you can make a good career with Rambo if you’re so inclined and do it right. Ether way, this is why location is important. When you’re 19-years-old, being Rambo in Hawaii is better than Brain Surgeon at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, if you ask me. You can always get a “secondary” MOS and then use them both strategically. They tend not to tell you all your options if they need you in something that you said you would do. I got a pretty good ABSVAB score and had some options, but I didn’t know that. They needed 12Bs, so it was off to boot camp to be a Combat Engineer.
My Boot Camp was at “Fort Lost In The Woods in the State of Misery,” Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It wasn’t long into my MOS job training portion of boot camp they said, “Put on these headphones and this land line detection equipment and sweep this road for land mines.” I remember thinking “Hey, I’m not an ‘Engine-Neer’ am I? Like the Army recruiter led me to believe!” Actually, I was a “Combat” Engineer. I was thinking more like Frank Lloyd Wright than “a grunt with a shovel.”
After you find a land mine you don’t just say “Here it is” and walk away. Nope. No you have to get down on hands and knees, dig it up and disable it, along with any booby traps on the trigger mechanisms. Nothing like getting your face blown off. We were the EOD when “Explosive Ordinance Disposal” wasn’t around, which was most of the time in those days.
Combat Engineers got wiped out in Vietnam. It was a dangerous job. A unit would be walking and someone would get blown up, the leader would halt everybody and shout on the radio, “Get the engineers up here.” The Engineers would fix the minefield, the bridge, booby traps, the obstacles, whatever it was that needed fixin’, and then they would provide cover for the unit to continue on. The Combat Engineer motto was, “First Ones In. Last Ones Out.” Now who the hell wants a motto like that? Can’t you reverse that motto.
So, I’m on this road looking for Russian training mines with my Engineer tool ready to dig one up. I’m only 19-years-old, insecure, thinking society was not on my side, my precious 1970‘s hairdo is completely gone, everyone is yelling at me, I’m somewhat traumatized, thinking how did this happen how did I get here?