Last night a personal hero of mine died. General (Stormin’) Norman Schwartzkopf passed away at the age of 78.
I had the distinct pleasure of serving under his command for just over six months during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Prior to the war, during Operation Desert Shield, I did have the honor of meeting Gen. Schwartzkopf.
I was a newly promoted seargent assigned to the Military Intelligence Company of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The 2nd Cavalry was one of those units that didn’t get alot of TV time during the war, and for good reason. The job of the 2nd ACR was to spearhead the eventual attack; therefore, our actual location in the desert was kept a pretty good secret. It was no mystery to the other side that if they wanted to set up their defenses, they should set them up accross the border from us. (However, we got the last laugh because a few days before the eventual ground war started our unit littlerally disappeared off the map and in full radio silence moved over 100 miles to the west to magicially appear BEHIND the Iraqi lines – living up to the nickname given the unit in WWII of Patton’s Ghosts.)
The militiary intelligence field is fairly interesting. These are truly some of America’s brightest and with my own IQ being in the 170′s, I would say that I was average at best. So, here I am in a unit of ueber-geeks, basically surrounded by my peers… linguists and analyists, interragators and code-breakers.
One thing that the ueber-geek crowd is not exactly known for is our mechanical apptitude. Just because my roommate was a world-ranked chess champion fluent in 4 languages with an IQ over 200 does not mean that he knew how to open the hood of a vehicle.
This became a problem because the vehicles we used were prone to mechancial failure. At that time, we really didn’t have any vehicles designed for the equipment that we used. We would basically convert existing trucks (and in my case a tracked artillery ammunition carrier) to handle our equipment. That made these vehicles overloaded and often over-taxed. For example, the electronic equipment “hut” that we had on our converted M548 Ammo Carrier (we called it an M1015 by the time we were done with it) weighed almost double the maximum recommended payload. On top of that, our equipment was extremely power hungry and needed a 60 Kw generator. There were two ways of getting that power, neither one bode well for longetivity of our vehicle. One was to pull a massively heavy trailer with a 60 Kw generator on it with two large fuel tanks (a heavy trailer is always a good idea when your vehicle is already overloaded). The other option was the on-board 60 Kw generator that was run by the vehicle’s engine. The onboard control unit would bring the vehicle up to about a hair short of redline and then that would send the power back through 3″ diameter power cables. Needless to say, putting the gas pedal to the floor for hours on end while sitting still also not the best for the vehicle’s engine.
It was very clear to me long before being deployed to the desert that my survival in combat would depend on my vehicle’s operation. On training exercises, when there was a break down, you just called the unit’s mechanics and just hung out until they got there and got the problem fixed. It was clear with a front line, fast moving unit like 2nd Cav, just waiting for the mechanics to show up if real bullets were flying was not going to be a good option. Therefore, I took it upon myself to be there every time the mechanic was there.
Although us uebergeeks may not be mechancially inclined, we are able to learn things quickly. (It didn’t hurt that my dad was a diesel mechanic and it turns out that some of that skill is heriditary.) I learned what the biggest problems were, and I learned how to do much of the basic work myself. I could change a fuel filter (our #1 problem) and on more than one occation assisted in pulling out and replacing the full engine.
Back to my encounter with “Stormin’ Norman”… We had gone on some kind of training mission and on the way back… the engine of the vehicle was losing power. I instantly knew the problem was again going to be the fuel filter. It was an easy fix, you take it off, clean it, and put it back on. It was something I didn’t need to call the mechanics on because I had done it so many times. The only hard part of the job was getting to it. It was on the bottom of the engine. Back when this was an ammo carrier, that was no big deal, there was an access panel from the cargo area to get at it. However, we had a large electronics hut, a heat exchanger, and some other fun stuff in our cargo area. It would take a day to get that stuff in the cargo area moved. Or, with a little bit of dexterity, you could climb into the engine bay head first, squeeze between the engine and the side of the vehicle, and access it that way. It did require a little bit of help (someone to hold you feet so you didn’t fall all the way down in).
While I was upside down in my engine compartment litterally ankle deep with one of my troops standing on top of the engine cover, just in case, I dropped a tool. I didn’t take a flashlight down with me because I didn’t need one, you could almost see what you were working on but what I dropped was now in the belly of the beast. Just as this happened, I could hear my guy jump down off the vehicle.
I was impressed, he heard the clank, he heard the language that normally follows a clank and he was off to either get me another tool or a flashlight.
I could hear talking and talking and what seemed like 20 minutes passed (though I am told it was only a minute or two). I was not pleased that my guy was out kabitzing while I was dangling upside down in an engine bay. So… I am yelling at him to come back and bring me what I needed. As I am yelling at him, I am using the approproate profanity that this situation warranted.
I could hear him climbing up the side of the vehicle. Well its about god damn time!!! He hits me in the boot with a wrench or screwdriver (don’t remember which, it was a long time ago) and I yell up don’t you dare throw that down, hand it to me. Again, I am using language appropriate to the situation. I am wiggling and contorting so that I can reach my hand up as far as he can reach his down. He sees my hand waving and is able to pass the tool off to me… as he does that I can see his hat and it is not the forest green camo hat with a private first class stripe that he had on earlier. This was a much larger and older man with a desert camo pattern hat with 4 black stars on it.
So… I spent the last few minutes swearing at a 4-star general calling him every name I could think of. Well, crap. As I said earlier, I was a newly promoted seargent, so I was thinking that it was nice that I hadn’t gotten around to sewing my rank on. I was still using my brand new pin-on rank. I think I still had all of my old Specialist rank insignia somewhere.
Actually, he thought the entire encounter was pretty funny. He helped me out of the engine bay and we had a brief discussion of what I was doing and why, gave me a coin, and went on his way.
He wasn’t a stuck-up, I’m better than you “Pointer”… he was a down to earth guy and the kind of guy you wanted to go into battle following.
As I tweeted last night…. rest in peace, sir. It was a pleasure serving under your command.