In a Facebook group for women veterans, I recently saw a recommendation for a book on American women veterans of the Vietnam war: Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Storiescollected by Donna A. Lowery (Sergeant Major [Ret.] ).

Right now, I’m working on short stories for a book whose main character is a woman who is a Cold War era soldier. Instead of being assigned to Vietnam, she is stationed in West Germany, which is where I lived for eighteen years. I served in the Army during the Vietnam era, but my time was short and my experience limited.

Although my main character didn’t serve in Vietnam, she will know women who did. My stories are genre fiction, suspense/mysteries, and are meant to be entertaining. I’m not trying to write definitive histories.

Despite having the aim of writing entertainingly, I do want the stories to be as accurate in their details as I can make them. Because my active duty experience was limited, I wanted to read the viewpoints of other women so I could develop characters with individual voices and outlooks. Fidelity to time and to the broader experience of women in the Army is also important to me. Accuracy was the main reason I bought the Women Vietnam Veterans.

What I didn’t expect was to know anyone mentioned.

Boy was I wrong.

After I opened the shipping box and while I was flipping through the 700+ pages, I stopped and exclaimed to my husband.

There on the page was a photo I recognized. The picture was of an NCO assigned to the WAC Detachment at Aberdeen Proving Ground at the same time as my husband and I had both served there. The sergeant is listed as having worked at Kirk Army Hospital at Aberdeen, but neither I (in Personnel) nor my husband (a calibration student) were acquainted with her. In our after-duty-hours lives, though, picking up mail and so forth, I had passed her many times walking along the WAC Detachment’s company street. Maybe it was the unit patch worn on her right shoulder, designating an assignment to a combat area, that made her so memorable.

My memory jogged, I wondered if the book listed another woman whom I knew had volunteered for duty in Vietnam. I checked the index, and there she was.

Thinking I’d maxed out the coincidences, but curious in a hopeful way, I scanned the index. Altogether, I found nine names I knew. Nine. One of them was the name of my Basic Training company commander. Another name was of an office supervisor, my NCOIC in the permanent party personnel section at Aberdeen. A third worked in the student section of the Personnel complex.

Even more surprising, three of the names I recognized were my barracks-mates at Aberdeen. One woman I shared a cubicle wall with. A second shared a cubicle wall with the woman across from me (and asked me to turn down my record player when I was playing The Doors). The woman across from me was the third.

I was certain, though, that my First Sergeant had also worn a combat patch on the right shoulder of her uniform, so I dug out a group photo of the WAC Detachment and checked the names on the photo against the book’s index. I added three to the count, and one, indeed, was our First Sergeant.

02 WAC Det

I’m looking forward to reading the accounts of all the women who served from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.

I’m still surprised that, out of the approximately 1200 military women assigned to units in Vietnam, I knew twelve. Even more amazing (to me) is that about 1/10th of the women in the Aberdeen Proving Ground WAC Detachment from 1969 served in Vietnam.

For the most part, I spare this blog any political outbursts.  The uproar in Texas over the Jade Helm military exercise for 2015 changed that.

As any reader of this blog may have gathered, I’m “military,” although I haven’t served on active duty since the late-1960s. Despite the span of time since then, my “people” are “the military.” I was born in an Air Force hospital to a former WAC and my dad didn’t retire from the Air Force until two years before I joined the Army myself, which was about four years before my brother joined the Navy, and about six years before my sister joined the Air Force. For us, “the military” was the family business.

I served on active duty and married another soldier whose career with the Army didn’t end until 1999. I knew about civilian activities, of course, but the important stuff (pay, housing, kids’ schools, where I bought food, most of my friends) was all “military.” When I was 50, I was living at my 50th change of address, a coincidence which is oddly satisfying.

Because of this background, when someone starts making charges about the danger of “the military,” I perk up. It’s like when someone from a rival school badmouths a teacher you don’t even like.  You can crab and complain about Coach Hatchetface, but you don’t like it when a rival does.

Usually my bristling about uninformed complaints about “the military” fades, but when the charges are about how “the military” is going to start rounding up civilians and locking them in WalMarts (seriously?!?) — and a governor says he’ll send state troops to keep an eye on the federal ones — then the smack-talking is out of control.

Yes, crap happens concerning “the military.” Statistically, it can’t help but happen, especially in such a large organization. Sometimes, the reports about crap happening are accurate and the crap gets fixed (so we hope). Sometimes the reports have kernels of truth surrounded by embellishment and the incident goes back and forth for a while. This time, concerning the Jade Helm exercise, the reports are off-the-rails nuts from people who seem to be actually believing their own propaganda and not just posturing politically.

Yes, I’ve read rational explanations about why some of the people who will be near the exercises are concerned:

  • worry about property damage or poor fire safety precautions
  • worry about noise
  • worry about gates being left open (presumably near livestock)

Those are normal, reasonable concerns. They’re the same ones that West German farmers and landowners had (click on PDF URL; see top of document-page 2) concerning Reforger (REturn of FORces to GERmany — and watch out for Fogarty blasting from that site), an annual joint military exercise in Europe during the Cold War that was sometimes referred to as Autumn Forge.

But the wild-eyed fears about Jade Helm aren’t about reasonable concerns. The fears around Jade Helm are about some kind of invasion of Texas by the same servicemembers that we’ve spent the last decade or so applauding and telling how much we appreciate their service. Everyone goes dewey-eyed over servicemembers walking through airports, but, apparently, God forbid those same servicemembers stop and hang around for a while.

Another training situation besides Reforger used to involve “Trigon Circle.” Catchy name, no?

Trigon Circle was the name for the aggressor-force during war games used for training. The unit of currency used as a prop was called the “fralmato.” Really. This 50 fralmato ‘bill’ is our sole souvenir of my husband’s Trigon Circle days.

Fifty fralmatos. The  really poor-quality photocopy picture on the reverse was of "Comrade Marya."

Fifty fralmatos. The really poor-quality photocopy picture on the reverse was of “Comrade Marya.”

 

The Circle Trigonists (Aggressors)

These Field Manuals offer the aspiring alt-hist writer a treasure trove of information on a totalitarian state’s military circa 1947-1959, with detailed descriptions of tables of organization, ranks, medals, divisional histories, and doctrine.

All this was to support the U.S. Army’s Aggressor Force (aka Manouver Enemy) which was an asymmetrical opponent training program that ran from November 1946 to 1978, when the Circle Trigonists were retired in favor of an openly Soviet-Style OPFOR known as the Krasnovians.

One of the most memorable Trigonist operations was Operation LONGHORN in March/April 1952, when Lampasas County, Texas was used to stage a huge mock battle between the Aggressor Forces played by the 82nd Airborne and liberating US Forces played by units from nearby Fort Hood.

[see page for other links, plus photographs of the exercise from Life magazine]

 Hell, as far as “the military” loving field training exercises goes, I remember at Ellsworth AFB when I was five that the entire housing area was evacuated as a drill. After the alert sirens went off, the dads stayed at their duty stations while the moms loaded all us kids into cars and drove into the Black Hills where we stayed all day. We now know that this would have been completely irrelevant to any survival of a nuclear attack, but in the mid-1950s it was considered a strategy. That drill was a mess — can you imagine an entire housing area worth of babies and kids loose in the woods without anything constructive to do and only some outhouses and a few picnic tables? Those poor moms.

The evacuation drill was never repeated.

In the spirit of people learning from their mistakes, I hope this nutsy-cuckoo reaction to Jade Helm is never repeated, either.

The upshot of this blog post is that military exercises are nothing new.  My dad recounted stories of his cavalry troop riding their horses around the hills around Monterey, California and Fort Ord, probably the last of the horse cavalry in the late-1930s.

 

1939  Dad on Warwhoop at the Presidio of Monterey.

1939 Dad on Warwhoop at the Presidio of Monterey.

 

These exercises are what the taxpayers pay “the military” to do when “the military” isn’t actively fighting. It’s not all peeling potatoes and painting rocks. The work done during these exercises is how skills stay sharp. It’s how new techniques are integrated into what servicemembers already know. It’s how new equipment is tested.

If you want to read a thorough, if profane, explanation by someone who speaks in the voice of my people of why the nonsense-hyperventilation about Jade Helm is irresponsible pot-stirring,  hop over to Stonekettle Station. I can’t improve on Mr. Wright’s rant.