I went into the Army on 5 June 72. I had completed one year of college. They only thing that I learned was that I didn't like it any better than high school. I think that Kevin Bacon (in the movie "She's Having a Baby") made a very astute observation regarding college; "It is nothing more than high school with ashtrays." With absolutely no inclination to continue my education and no marketable skills, the Army seemed like the thing to do. They offered me a rather choice assignment with the Army Security Agency. Quite an elite and distinguished group as I later learned. They were an intelligence gathering organization often referred to as "the eyes and ears of the Army." My MOS (military occupational specialty, a.k.a. job) was to be Fixed Crypto Repair. It was reputed to be the top electronics MOS in the Army. So, floating lightly on these clouds of promises, off I went.
BASIC TRAINING FT. ORD, CA
Basic training was an eye opening experience to say the least. To say that it was the longest 8 weeks of my life is a gross understatement. I truly thought that it would never end. While I enjoyed many aspects of it, the environment left a great deal to be desired. But, as with all disasters, it eventually ended. It could have been much worse as I later learned. After hearing the horror stories of places like Ft. Leonard Wood and (God save us) Ft. Polk, I quickly realized the true depth of my luck. Ft. Ord was a country club compared to these hellholes.
AIT (32F20) FT. MONMOUTH, NJ
For AIT, I was stationed at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. It actually was called the "country club of the Army". It was a great place to be stationed. No K.P., guard duty, or any of that other banal Army crap. All we had to do was attend school. What a deal! However, the school that I qualified for was a gold plated bitch! Fixed crypto repair (32F20) lasted nearly a year. You had to be in the top 10% to qualify and it had an attrition rate of 80%! Of the 24 students in my class, 2 finished in the original class, 3 finished one class back (myself included), and the rest didn't. The Army's incentive plan consisted of reminding you that Ft. Dix was 20 miles away. For the uninitiated, Ft. Dix was infantry. As Viet Nam was still a very real thing, the infantry was just about the last place that I wanted to end up. Anyway, I managed to get through it. My next duty station was a real surprise.
DATA COMM TRAINING KEESLER AFB, MS
I received my orders and discovered that I was being assigned to an Air Force base. Now just what, in the name of all that is Holy and profane, am I going to do there?! More school! How thrilling. Just what I really wanted after busting my butt for the last year. To top it off it was Keesler AFB, MS. I can't begin to tell you how pleased I was at this prospect. However, it could have been worse. At least I'm white. Blacks weren't too well received in 'Ol Miss in those days. It turned out to be a real cakewalk. The first thing that I discovered about the Air Force was rank. It was a lot harder to advance than in the Army. Therefore, it meant more. I was given E4 upon graduation. I guess they figured that if we survived crypto school we deserved something. So they gave us E4. In the Army E4 didn't mean squat. In the Air Force it was a different story. My first realization of this came while processing in. At post housing the airman looked at my paperwork. "Oh, you're an E4. Do you want maid service Sarge?" After I picked my jaw up off of the floor I asked if he would repeat the question. He proceeded to explain that an E4 in the Air Force was a Sargent and as such was entitled to maid service. Things are starting to look up! My next discovery was that there were only about 10 Army troops assigned there. The Air Force didn't exactly know what to do with us so they just left us alone. This was when they first started multi organizational schools. We went to school 6 hours each day and had a Commanders Call once a month. They rest of the time we were on our own. Talk about your gravy assignments! Nothing could be better than this. Or, so I thought.
As with all good things this, too, came to an end. But it was a fun four months. My orders arrived shortly before school was finished. I took a deep breath and pealed the envelope open. The first thing that I looked for was my duty assignment. It was the 7th RRFS, Thailand. THAILAND!! Holy shit, Batman! That's where guys go for R&R and I'm being stationed there for the next year. The old saying "Somebody up there likes me" came to mind. As it turned out He must have been positively nuts about me!
7th R.R.F.S. RAMASUN STATION, THAILAND
The 7th R.R.F.S. was located in the far Northeast corner of Thailand approximately 18 clicks south of Udorn. Udorn was one of the larger cities in this region. It was a two-hour walk to the Laotian border. Thailand and Laos weren't on the best of terms at this time. It was quite common to hear artillery and automatic weapon fire being exchanged along the border. R.R.F.S. stands for Radio Research Field Station. This is an Army euphemism for a radio intelligence gathering installation. It was lovingly referred to by those stationed there as the "Rock & Roll Freak Show". Take my word for it, better duty didn't exist!
The Army never ceased to amaze me. The first thing that we were told was to get rid of all patches and insignia referring to ASA or MI. (ASA was under the auspices of MI. We wore MI lapel brass on our uniforms.) Yet, anytime there was a visiting dignitary the first thing done was to raise the ASA flag! Go figure.....
The time I spent in Thailand was some of the most enjoyable of my life, in most ways at any rate. It was disheartening to see the poverty in which most of the Thai people lived. As I came to truly love and respect them, this was a particularly hard pill to swallow.
Most Americans are incredibly rude and arrogant toward other nationalities. American servicemen are even worse. It is no small wonder that the rest of the world resents us. But, the Thai's were altogether different. They just ignored the butt holes and went on about their business. Those of us (and I include myself in this select group) that didn't act "normally" were treated quite differently. If you took a little time to learn a few words of their language and observed a few religious customs, they were your friends for life. I was by no means fluent in Thai. But, I was able to get fed when hungry and get home when lost. Number one among the Thai people was observing their religious customs. At the top of this list was respect toward Buddhist monks. You would regularly see a bunch of monks walking along in a column. I haven't the slightest idea where they were going or what they were doing. It was, however, a very common sight. When approached by the monks, you were expected to stop, bow your head, and let them pass you. You did not pass the monks! Now, I'm certainly not a Buddhist nor do I have any interest in this religious group. I did this out of respect for the beliefs that the Thais held. Take my word for it folks, they noticed!!! Howie and I were treated like royalty in Nong Sung.
Our Papa Son noticed it as well. The man we rented our hooch from was quite taken with Howie and me. It turned out that he was a village elder and something of a big man around town. Apparently, he put out the word on us. Anyone messing with us was messing with him. Nothing like having "the man" on your side, although I never heard of anyone having any problems. And, there were quite a number of us living off post. While there were the usual and expected hassles around the bars, the towns' people were never involved.
It truly saddens me that so many guys never took advantage of the situation. Here is a chance to live among a different people. Not just a quick vacation at the regular tourist spots, but a chance to LIVE among them. To get to know how they think, how they live, and what their beliefs are. I knew a bunch of guys that walked through the front gate two times: when they arrived and when they left. The rest of the time was spent working, getting drunk, and sobering up to go to work. That or walking across the road to the bars and whore houses. Talk about a phenomenal waste! Few people ever get a chance like we had and I made the most of it I assure you!
It can certainly make you appreciate what we have in this country. Not only our standard of living but our rights as well. I walked into the hooch one day after my shift. I turned around and there were three Thai policemen standing there. Two of whom were armed with M-16's. For anyone having never experienced something of this nature let me assure you that it got my attention. In one damn quick hurry I might add. They decided to check the place out for drugs and just strolled right in like they owned the place. Rest assured they got no argument from me. Howie and I came to an agreement early on that there would be nothing kept in our hooch. Once I ascertained the reason for their "visit" I told them to look to their hearts content and offered them a soft drink. The OIC smiled, said that a search would not be needed, apologized for the intrusion, and left. I proceeded to change my underwear! It raised my appreciation for the 4th Amendment to a whole new level.
All in all it was a truly wonderful experience. Not only my time at the 7th but my military years in general. The memories I have are absolutely priceless. So, without further ado, here are a few photographs of this wonderful time of my life. I hope that you enjoy them.