The road to becoming an “information specialist”

Growing up in the 60s & 70s, with America divided over the Vietnam War, the endless partisan one-upmanship between the Left and the Right is all I’ve ever known.  For a few moments after 9/11 it seemed like America had united for a common purpose, but it quickly turned into more of the rancorous partisan flame-throwing, blame games, and jockeying for political advantage atop the World Trade Center rubble and thousands of dead victims.  Despite the divides in America, I had the privilege to be a part of a unified team – the United States Army.

I became a Cold Warrior in 1979, when I enlisted in the United States Army. That experience reinforced my core values, which already aligned with the Army’s Values, but it also greatly shaped my world view.  Reading about foreign policy, foreign intelligence operations, military affairs and being an unrepentant news junkie became life-long habits, but I am not an expert on anything.

My overriding political belief is that every American should diligently protect and defend The Constitution, because the rule of law protects the rights that keep us free.  Everyone has to play by the rules, no exceptions.

This blog and everything I write is MY OPINION.  I make no claims to being an expert on anything.  After my short time in the Army, I devoted my time from 1981 to 1999 to  being a homemaker and volunteer in Army communities wherever we lived.  While everything I write is my opinion, I do try to cite sources and explain how and why I believe the things that I do.  If anything I write is not properly attributed to a source, please tell me and I will edit it immediately.

In 1980, I was assigned to a Pershing missile battalion, as a public affairs specialist.  Of course, being 19 yrs. old and having completed a three-month basic journalism course at the Defense Information School, I really wasn’t much of a journalist and knowing next to nothing about the Army, I assuredly wasn’t a “specialist” on anything.

I’ve written plenty about my family, my life and assuredly more about my political opinions than anyone wants to read.  However, this post is going to be a another personal story, except this time I’m trekking back to 1980 and some important things I learned serving in a Pershing missile battalion.

My trip from the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN to my Pershing missile battalion in southern West Germany went about like most trips in my life – some bad luck with my baggage.  I flew to Philadelphia and was supposed to go from Philadelphia to McGuire Air Force Base and from there to Germany.

When I went to retrieve my bags in Philadelphia, which consisted of a large suitcase and my duffel bag with all my Army uniforms, my suitcase was missing.  At the counter I was informed that my suitcase had likely been sent back to Pittsburgh.  So, I filled out the necessary paperwork for missing baggage, then found the bus I was supposed to take to McGuire.

At McGuire, my parents were waiting, having driven from the Pocono Mountains in PA to see me off to Germany.  My mother was very worried about me flying to Germany by myself, but I kept telling her that I wasn’t alone, I was with soldiers who are all part of my team and besides that a girl, who had become a good friend at DINFOS, was on the same flight as me.  I introduced her to my parents.

The Army back then didn’t do direct assignments for lower enlisted soldiers, so at the 21st Replacement in Frankfurt, it was a routine of standing in formations constantly, as names were called out and soldiers given their assignments, processed and sent on their merry way to an Army unit in Germany.  I ended up being sent to a Pershing missile battalion.

Being very scared of guns, the bus trip to my unit was hours of reading my information packet over and over, then staring at the big Pershing missile on the front of the packet.  All I did was worry about what I had gotten myself into.  I joined the Army after refusing to go back to college after my freshman year.  My parents were hounding me to death that summer of 1979 and I decided I needed to get a job.

I don’t know why I settled on the Army, but along with receiving a lot of college information in high school, I also had military recruiting brochures.  The recruiting information made it sound like travel and interesting jobs, more than signing up to protect America.  I called the Army recruiter, who came to our home and I signed my paperwork without even telling my parents.  My mother was beside herself, to say the least.  During my swearing-in ceremony, in a group of dozens of other enlistees, there was this woman loudly sobbing in the back of the room… that was my mother.

It was very cold when I arrived in southern Germany, in January 1980, with only my duffel bag of military uniforms and no civilian clothes, because my suitcase was still in the States. The battalion had around 1000 men and less than 100 females.  The little PX  on our kaserne had no women’s clothes, so I bought a couple of pairs of men’s jeans, a couple sweatshirts, and a tan, bomber-style corduroy jacket.

Even though I had bad luck with my luggage and I had worried myself sick on the bus ride, I hit the jackpot on leadership there.

Some people can inspire you for life, even though they’re only in your life a very short time. Many teachers are like this.  In the Army there are many outstanding leaders, who can do that too.   The Army has two tracts of leadership – commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), with two distinct military missions.  NCOs are the leaders who carry out the day-to-day training and execution of the mission in the military – they are the leaders soldiers rely on for daily guidance.  My first sergeant in my battery (field artillery units call their companies – batteries) was a hard-as-nails, 82nd Airborne/Vietnam vet, who had a single focus on being prepared for war.  He was also one of the best leaders I have ever met.  Despite the gruffness, he took the time to get to know his soldiers.  He not only talked to his soldiers – he listened to them.  What I liked best was he was willing to listen to questions and patiently answer them.

My first battalion commander also left a lasting impression and was an outstanding leader. He also talked to his soldiers and listened to them.  He explained the Army and our mission in terms that made me feel like I was part of a long-tradition of warriors dedicated to the most important mission – national defense.  He also often mentioned bits of military history that inspired in me a life-long love of reading military history.  In a few months, he inspired me for life – that is a great leader.

I met my husband in that unit too and he was a very good NCO, who taught me one of the most important life lessons: The mind controls the body, the body does not control the mind.  He also convinced me that I could conquer fear and win, even when fear had convinced me that I couldn’t do something.

He also inspired in me a belief in diligently reading and studying boring training manuals, regulations, reports, etc.  Although my job was ostensibly an “information specialist” and he was an 82nd paratrooper, he taught me that every soldier should become an “information specialist”, in the sense of learning as much about soldiering and how the Army works from top to bottom.  He was like a walking encyclopedia of Army knowledge, even as a young sergeant.

He taught me that other people are counting on me to be part of the Army team.

Learning that it’s not about “me”, but about “we” is a lesson all Americans, especially the partisans, should learn.

The word count for this post is well over a 1000 and I didn’t tell the story I intended to, so I’m going to write about that story in another post.  That story fits in with being an “information specialist” too.

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Filed under American Character, General Interest, Military

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