A light dusting of snow covered the Puget Sound just as Spring had arrived, adding to its beauty on this March day in 1970. I was sitting on a cold metal table in a strip-mall surgical suite somewhere in Tacoma. I was here to get fixed, sniped, you know, a vasectomy. It’s the most effective birth control for men, and I figured a set of twins was enough. I didn’t think the U.S. Army would perform such a procedure and didn’t even ask. Today, they pay for sexual reassignment.
When I returned to my office the next morning, there was a call for me from a captain at Post HQ. “Congratulations, Sergeant Swan, you’ve been reassigned to Germany.”
Congratulations, eh? We didn’t quite see it that way. We were comfortable at Ft. Lewis, and it was a major move, especially with two infants to tow, and travel 2,861 miles just to get to the point of debarkation and then another 3,857 over the North Atlantic to Frankfurt. Luckily, we were afforded concurrent travel which meant the entire family would be together for our trip to Germany.
There was a lot to be done before we left for Deutschland, like getting our immunizations, passports, out-processing, pick-up of our household goods, briefings, and so on. We also needed to liquidate the Mach 1. Ford™ bought it back at Kelley Blue Book® value. Since it wasn’t paid for, they didn’t allow the car to go overseas and out of their control.
We flew from Sea-Tac (SEA) to see my parents in Mississippi. There I picked up a 1966 VW that Dale had refurbished, with parts from the one I had wrecked in 1964. This time I would buy it.
My parents thought the twins looked sickly, too skinny, and wondered why they cried so much. Of course, they were proud to see their first Grandchildren and gave us lots of advice.
From there, we headed to North Carolina in the noisy non-air conditioned Beetle to visit Marty’s folks. American Woman by the Guess Who droned from the small speaker and War by Edwin Starr was played often. It was no Mach 1 but there were no care payments either.
Marty’s parent’s patience was tested, as well, when these first-time Grandparents wondered why they cried so much. Lisa was way too skinny, were we feeding them properly? They worried about our trip abroad with the twins, and then we got lots of advice.
We picked-up 1-95 North for the ten-hour drive and soon were getting tired of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Everything Is Beautiful by Ray Stevens. We rested overnight near Newark.
The next morning, we dropped off the little VW at the Bayonne port for its boat ride to Bremerhaven in Northern Germany. Later that day, we took off from Newark International (EWR) for the roughly nine-hour (non-stop) flight over the Atlantic.
As the 707 (300) ascended into thinner air, our eighteen-month-olds and other small children cried out as their eardrums popped. Then they cried on and off for the entire flight, I guess that’s what young children do on airplanes, eardrums popping or not.
We landed at Rhein-Main in Frankfurt. There, in our temporary lodging, Marty and I contracted food poisoning. In my opinion, that’s about as sick as one can get without dying. Caring for two small children when that ill, very challenging.
Intriguing medieval bridge houses in Bad Kreuznach, built around 1300. The town itself, famous for its spas, dates back to the Stone Age. In the 5th Century BC, it was occupied by the Celts and Romans. Its population in 1970 was around 40,000, not including 8,000 U.S. troops. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
I was stationed with the 8th Infantry (Pathfinders) in the Public Affairs Office at Rose Barracks in Bad Kreuznach (BK) for a three-year tour. We were in Germany to discourage any over-the-border attack from the East, and the Soviet Block controlled East Germany.The Berlin Wall was the 96-mile zigzag border between East and West Germany, which included 27 miles that separated East and West Berlin and were fanatically controlled by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Their definition of democratic is undoubtedly antithetical to most of the Western world.
The last time there were no U.S. troops in Germany, a World War broke out. Interestingly, as part of my job at the Public Affairs Office, I arranged Berlin Tours for U. S. military members, including the Brandenburg Gate, the East-West checkpoint.
Our drad quarters (below) at Bad Kreuznach were in an old five-story building circa 1935. Fortunately, we landed a 2nd-floor unit, as there were no elevators. (Swan archives)
The Armed Forces Network Europe (AFNE) did not broadcast TV to BK, just radio. Local phone calls were 25 cents each.
Marty didn’t bother to get an international driver’s license. So except for trips by taxi to the commissary, PX, or taking the twins and herself to the dispensary, she was stuck in our dour apartment with two two-year-olds — All day. All night.
At my new post, I was part of a small Civil Affairs (G-5) team that was the army liaison with local property owners. These were those whose farmland we damaged and chickens we killed with our tanks on maneuvers.
I was also responsible for scouting locations of public affairs units around Baumholder, where we trained with our Allies. As was the case in Vietnam, I was anxious to get out of the rear echelon Public Affairs Office. I wanted something more exciting here as well.
I requested and was accepted to attend the selective Seventh Army NCO Academy in Bad Tolz, the oldest and most highly regarded in the U.S. Army. Graduating from this intensive eight-week course, run by the 10th Special Forces Group stationed there, was usually a ticket for a below-the-zone promotion. Little did I know it was a school within a school.
I departed for central Bavaria, careful to stay out of the fast lane on the Autobahn, in my five-year-old black Beetle, almost three-hundred miles south from Marty. I could call her, but she could contact me only in an emergency. Marty had access to my military pay, most of which was deposited by allotment in the American Express® Bank in BK.
Upon arrival at the academy, the commandant congratulated us on our acceptance. Then he asked for volunteers who had a Top Secret clearance, some language proficiency in Deutsche, and a sinew for a special assignment. Those selected would attend a rigorous training regime. Yet, the Command Sergeant Major promised that anyone failing to complete it would revert to the regular academy course without prejudice.
What was it? Those showing interest were told something none of us had heard of, Operative Protection Specialist (OPS), a solo assignment to shadow Operatives in the field. It was an undercover operation that came with $65 per month of extra pay, excitement, and special weapons.
It seems there was a shortage, and DOD asked the Academy if they could recruit and train a few for these special missions. So throw down that gauntlet to a group that included some young, fearless, egotistical combat-tested soldiers, and what do you get? Twenty volunteers, one of whom was me.
Seventh Army Academy gained my release from Public Affairs back in Bad Kreuznach for an open-ended Temporary Duty (TDY) assignment.
You may remember from an earlier chapter that I was wimpy shortly after returning from Vietnam. No more. Eight weeks of Special Forces led rigorous physical, specialized, and firearms training later; I graduated near the top in the small class. Half of our group of twenty did not; some withdrew, were injured, or failed. My 6′ 3” frame was buffed to a solid 229 lbs. I became a credentialed and sanctioned OPS and was sent to Frankfurt for orientation and assignment.