Fort Irwin, California 1967

Wen I drove into Fort Irwin in 1967, it was a combination of WWII wooden barracks and a few newer buildings.  Thee was one shopping area a lot like what you would find in a small town.  Off to the west was a housing area and you drove past the Officer's club with a couple of Bachelor Officer's Quarters (BOQ) nearby.  One set of the buildings was really old and one set looked like a modern day Motel.  You could tell the post was pressed into service and there were more units there than facilities. 

Most of us arrived in early August and the first unit scheduled to deploy left in September.  That cleared out enough space in the BOQ to move us those of us stuffed into a house out and into a real room.   They played fruit basket upset and moved a bunch of guys from the old BOQ and into the new one.  In December,  Our officers would move over to the new area when the 175mm Gun unit deployed next.  We would get to stay there until we deployed in Late February.

Our Battalion was located clear down on the north end of the post and our vehicles and guns were parked down on the motor pool lane.   The barracks were really worn out and while they had been given a couple of hundred coats of paint, they were pretty sad.  I know we kept a crew of civilian workers busy keeping the toilets and electric systems working.  Did I mention that we were in the desert?  No not dessert where you had ice cream on your cake.  That meat that no matter how hard you worked, sand tracked in everywhere and if you polished the floor or painted it, the wear and tear from hundreds of pairs of boots and the sand wore it smooth but far from shiny.  It also wore out brooms and god forbid anyone tried to buff anything.

The thing that amazed the guys from the Heartland was the use of swamp coolers vs. the refrigeration based coolers.  Because of the very low humidity, if you ran water over a fiber material, and sucked water through that, it would really cool the place.  The bad part of that process was that the water had so many minerals in it that  the filters would plug up in short order.  A new unit would look like it was years old in short order. 

I have deliberately skipped over the training we did because unless you were in the Field Artillery, it is probably more difficult to really describe the entire process than you would understand. (If you really cared)  In a simple way, the artillery delivers a 100 pound bullet that explodes as close to the enemy as possible.  Because in the real battlefield, there are also friendly soldiers, getting the rounds delivered as accurate as possible is the real problem.  There is the Forward Observer teams that are the eyes of the system and the guns that shoot the rounds and a whole bunch of support people that deliver the support to that system. 

The warriors of the Army think they are the most important part and so did I until I came to understand Logistics.    Their motto is if you don't eat, you don't shit.  If you don't shit, you die.  Crude but very true.

It took a month to organize the truck loads of material it takes to outfit an Artillery Battalion.  It took the gun sections a large storage container just to store all this equipment for each gun.  The 155mm Howitzers were towed by a Five ton truck and there was also three 5 ton trucks to haul ammo in each battery.  Throw in a Maintenance truck, a Mess truck and some smaller vehicles for the Ash and Trash, you could stretch out a gun battery a good half mile on the road.  Put a battalion on the road and it would go on for miles. 

In training, we started on the guns and the fire direction as separate pieces. Lots of practice in the motor pool and then we deployed our unit to the field.  Each battery trained first and when we got good enough, we took an Army Training Test where the battery was evaluated for accuracy and time.  When the battery teams were good enough, the Battalion took the Battalion test.  This training took most of the fall and most of the unit went home for Christmas.  I had met my future Bride, Barbara and decided to stay at Fort Irwin while most of the guys went home for Christmas.  I got to take my leave during the end of January and into February.  It was used by most of us as a chance to take our civilian crap home as we would deploy to Vietnam at the end of February.  It served for the chance to have my family meet my fianc√© and if she would allow, for us to get married in Las Vegas.

She did agree and on the 11th of February 1968 we went to The Chapel of the Bells and tie the know.  Now 46 years later we are still together. 

In the next blog, I will talk about the deployment phase.

Have map, will travel

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