The mailbox sat atop a post half-buried by a couple of feet of snow. The military map indicated the road going up the mountain began next to that mailbox.
However, because new fallen snow had covered everything with a shimmering sliver-flecked sheet of white, and because I had to drive a two and a half ton truck carrying fully equipped with a radio shack pulling a trailer stuffed with generators, gasoline, sections of antennas, guy wires and k-rations up that mountain to its military crest (a point just below its physical crest), I would have preferred visual confirmation of the path … especially since it was about 2,500 feet up and appeared to be no more than a goat path!
The situation spelled out in no uncertain terms, “Welcome to sergeant hood E-5 Illing” while my inner self yelled, “Well here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into!”
The heater in the truck’s cab didn’t work that day, one of the coldest I’d ever experienced in Germany, or anywhere else on planet earth! By the time we arrived at the mailbox, close to the Czech border, it was past noon.
We’d set-out early and I could no longer feel my fingers or toes … and I’d only come to the starting line!”
Why our senior sergeant, one Ivars Kronitis (a Latvian nationalist whose angry Koblenz regime succeeded Pete Peterson’s ‘rule of cool’), believed this mission would be a great maiden outing for me, his new Sergeant E-5, I hadn’t a clue. It was more than likely because the other two sergeants refused to do it … not to mention the overtly sadistic side of his personality.
When he assigned the gig to me I detected an evil gleam in his eyes and a sh*t-eating grin curling up a corner of his mouth.
He told me, handing me a map, “Illing, as part of the pre-planning process for an upcoming full-scale NATO exercise, Seventh Army needs to know if this mountain will work for line-of-sight radio communications. So take two guys, any two you want, assemble your equipment, get packed and get going. Any questions?”
“Yeah! Wait a minute sarge, wait a minute!” I practically screamed. I was starting to panic and I wasn’t shy about it! “You mean you want me to take a truck and trailer in a blizzard to the ‘Iron Curtain’ and then drive it up a narrow path to the top of a mountain where I’m supposed to set up and operate a radio relay station?”
“Yep! That’s a great summary of your mission, sergeant!” he placed particular emphasis on the word “sergeant.”
“Sarge” I pleaded, “Think about it! I’m from California! I know nothing about snow and blizzards and such! Nothing! Nothing at all!! Nada! Zip! Zilch! Sarge, here, take these stripes back! I don’t need ’em! I didn’t ask for ’em! I don’t want ’em!”
He found my reaction amusing, somehow finding joy in my abject misery … like a fisherman catching a really big one! He patted me on my back, mouthed some platitudes about how I’d do great, learn useful lessons and the like, and sent me on my way.
I collared a couple of buddies and told them to pack up, that we were off on what was sure to be an exciting adventure! I’m not sure my description convinced them of that, or if they’d ever want to call me “buddy” again, but I guess then life’s like that.
One minute you’re enjoying a life filled with fancy women and champagne, and the next minute you’re driving a truck through snow up to your a** on a goat path buried in snow through fierce winds.
It’s almost as if a random domino falls, hits another domino that hits another until one of them crashes into your domino and, zip, that’s your life!
At least that’s the way I saw it as we chained up the truck next to that lonely mailbox sticking out of the snow with our unfeeling fingers preparing for our trek to the crest … and I couldn’t help it, I gave out a singular laugh saying to no one in particular, “Welcome to sergeant-hood Illing!
OMG! Welcome to sergeant-hood indeed!”
Coming next! How I Won The Cold War, Part 24 … THE TWO AND A HALF TON GRASSHOPPER
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