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As Long as We Remember...

October 1, 2003

Army Life Just Ain't The Same

Joe Volz

Army recruiters are now offering $20,000 signing bonuses to intelligence analysts.

It definitely is not the Army this G.I. Joe remembers. I was a $110-a-month intelligence analyst, assigned to Cold War Germany, 45 years ago.

But I was no bonus baby. Who knows, if they had been offering that kind of money, or even half as much, back then, I might never have left after my two years as a draftee. I might be a retired general today, or at least a sergeant, instead of a retired private first class.

Now that the Army has advanced so far from the days when it was a place to go for "three hots and a cot," it might be time for all the veterans in the audience to remember fondly, or not so fondly, those good old days.

I was a member of the "brown boot" Army in the years after World War II but before Vietnam. We were just "transitioning" from olive drab Ike jackets and brown shoes into fancy dull green uniforms and black shoes.

A while back, I returned to Fort Dix, N.J., the sandy Army base in the South Jersey pinelands, when it was still being used for basic training, to see just how the modern Army had advanced, The base, named after Maj. Gen. John Adams Dix, a Civil War hero and later a New York governor, introduced thousands of young man, and in recent years, women to the rigors of Army life. We learned how to fire bulky now-obsolete M-1 rifles, throw hand grenades and pick up cigarette butts. (They called that exercise "policing the area.")

Now, they fire lightweight rifles, drive sophisticated equipment, do all sorts of things with computers and, maybe, there aren't quite so many butts to pick up in the healthy environment of the 21st century.

Today's all volunteer Army is much more civilized than the Army of the past, which was chockfull of disgruntled draftees. They regularly went AWOL ("absent without leave") and the stockade next to my barracks was always full of customers.

However, they tell me that today's soldiers actually want to be in the Army.

So, perhaps, some of the lessons I learned in this man's Army almost half a century ago may no longer apply in today's Army that promises to help you "be all that you can be."

For one thing, I learned that "goldbricking" was a common way of life. For those born in recent decades, the word meant that you did your best to avoid work. You went into hiding when they were looking for someone to clean the mess hall, for example.

I was sent off to Germany, after going through a nine-week "intelligence analyst" course at now-departed Fort Holabird over in Baltimore. It consisted mainly of typing classes.

When it came time to deploy, I suggested, that, maybe, I should be sent to France since I had studied French for a number of years.

When I arrived in Germany, the headquarters of the 66th Counterintelligence Corps in Stuttgart did not need any analysts. What was needed was a file clerk. I became a file clerk and never did any intelligence analyzing at all. I was a librarian in fatigues. I understand in the modern computerized and soldier-friendly Army, that type of misuse of the troops rarely happens any more. Or so they say.

Yet there was plenty to do at headquarters. I went out for the base football team and that required regular practices. It was a wonderful way to escape the file room. Nobody missed me.

Today, the Army offers all sorts of educational benefits if you want to sign up. But we were not completely without opportunities in the old days. As a matter of fact, the Army had an "early out" program. We could get out as much as three months early if we wanted to head off to college and the semester was about to start.

I found that the University of Munich was offering German courses so I applied and went to Munich for a few months. It was an enjoyable time attending class and eating wiener schnitzel.

I thought all these years that I had gotten a good deal in the Army and it wasn't until I learned that today's analysts are receiving $20,000 bonuses that I realized how much Uncle Sam undervalued us old brown boot troopers.

But, then again, maybe we were just a bunch of true patriots. We certainly weren't in it for the money.

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