“Man, you should have seen the babe the Old Man picked up yesterday!”
“Yeah, she was gorgeous, but she’s enlisted. A Platoon Sergeant. I hope he doesn’t get in trouble for that.”
“I thought he was supposed to be married. I wonder if his wife knows about her.”
“From the way they got along, you could see they have had a thing going on for some time. I sure hope the Old Man knows what he is doing.”
* * * * * *
Monday morning, the First Sergeant pulled me aside and told me the troops were all abuzz with gossip. He wondered how I wanted him to handle it. I told him I would clear things up at the morning formation.
* * * * * *
When I arrived in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood in 1973, my first assignment was an aviation slot, the division G-2 Air. During the Engineer Officer Advanced Course when I got back from Vietnam, I was in “Cat B” aviator status, meaning I continued on flight status, maintaining my flight physical and instrument knowledge proficiency, but was relieved from actual flying requirements while I was a student officer.
To resume my “Cat A” flying status at Fort Hood, I was assigned to get my proficiency hours with a sister unit from the one I had flown with in Vietnam. When “The Cav” stood down in Vietnam and returned to Fort Hood, Charlie Company of the famed 227th Aviation Battalion was detached and reassigned to the First Aviation Brigade, as the new 60th Assault Helicopter Company, retaining their callsign as “Ghost Riders.” My Aircraft Commander callsign in country had been “Ghost Rider 8.”
At Fort Hood I was assigned for flight proficiency time to Delta, 227th. Serving on General Staff, my duty was running the G-2 Air section, so I had to get my flying hours on my free time. The only aircraft I was rated in was the good old Huey, so to schedule the 80 hours per year I needed to maintain flight status made things particularly difficult, for D/227’s operations staff as well as for me.
The G-2 gave me time when I first arrived to renew my instrument qualifications, but from that time on I had to find my own time to meet my minimum requirements, including night flying, instrument time and required periodic proficiency checkrides with an instructor pilot. That meant Delta Company had to schedule a bird and crew at a time when I was available. It became a major challenge for us all.
After a year on division staff, I moved to the 1st Cavalry Division engineer battalion, 8th Engineers [Skybeavers], to command Charlie Company [Airmobile]. Being a company commander made scheduling my required flight time even more difficult, so the aviation battalion decided to transition me to the OH-58, the scout helicopter which was flown by a single aviator, much cheaper to operate and easier to schedule.
So, for the remainder of 1975, I got the bulk of my required hours flying the OH-58, mostly on Sunday afternoons when things were quiet in the company. At Fort Hood in those days, all Army helicopter operations were flown low-level.
In 1972, during the North Vietnamese Army’s Easter offensive, the bad guys had introduced the Soviet shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile into the fray. Suddenly, the aviation tactics that had served the Army so well for years in Vietnam, flying at 2,000 feet above ground level, put us exactly in the kill zone for the heat-seeking Strella SA-7 missile. We quickly had to adapt to low-level flying to survive.
In those days, the 1st Cavalry Division [TRICAP, or Triple Capability, meaning one Armored Brigade, one Airmobile Infantry Brigade, and one Air Cavalry Combat Brigade] was the Army’s experimental test unit for developing tactics and procedures for Army forces to survive in the central European theater. Soviet-controlled forces outnumbered NATO/US forces by a frightening ratio, so low level was the only way Army aviation could survive in that environment. It was termed “nap of the earth” flying. Low level in those days meant no helicopter could fly anywhere on post higher than 50 feet elevation, with two exceptions: Over the cantonment area we came up to 200 feet, and a Chinook carrying a sling load could fly where the load was 50 feet up. Otherwise, we flew so low between the trees that we came up to clear barbed-wire fences and came down to clear under power lines. This meant even at night, which was scary.
Besides low-level flight, the Cav also utilized tactical Forward Area Refuel/Rearm Points, better known as FARRPs, at various frequently-changed locations around the huge Fort Hood reservation. All training flights refueled at the FARRPs hot, meaning the engine remained running and the rotor turning while the crew pumped jet fuel into the aircraft tanks. It was a wild time to be flying in the Cav.
When I knew I would be flying, I had the First Sergeant select two or three troops who wanted to ride along with the Old Man. This was a treat for the troops, and the First Sergeant used it as an incentive to reward our high-performing engineer soldiers. I would sign for my OH-58 at the post airfield, then fly to a landing pad near the company barracks and pick up the selected troops for a couple of hours of low level flight hugging the varied terrain at Fort Hood. While it was great fun, sometimes a troop would become queasy at the low-level maneuvers of the little bird. I tried to warn them ahead of time.
* * * * * *
While I was at the Engineer Officer Advanced Course, I met Kay, an enormously talented woman, at the time working as the Executive Secretary to the Director of the DC branch of Stanford Research Institute, a think-tank for national strategic policy. She held a Top-Secret clearance years before I got mine. I only found out later that the FBI had checked me out when she started to see me.
In the early 1960s, Kay had been enlisted in the Army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, before attending Women’s Army Corps Officer Candidate School and being commissioned a WAC lieutenant. After marrying and becoming pregnant, she was forced to resign, since the Army didn’t allow pregnant soldiers to serve in those days. Sadly, that marriage didn’t survive.
Kay loved the Army, way more than I did. While living in Washington, D. C., she had joined an Army Reserve Schools unit, serving as a drill instructor while she worked to get her commission restored in the Army Reserve. For her two-week summer active duty with her unit, she served as a basic training drill sergeant for WAC recruits at Fort Jackson, SC.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that being a bachelor officer at Fort Hood was not the greatest life situation, so I proposed to Kay and we were married in DC in 1974. She resigned from her Reserve unit to come to live with me at Fort Hood, before her commission had come through. Loving Army life, she immediately enlisted in the Texas National Guard, the 49th Armored Division. They assigned her to the 149th Adjutant General Company as a Platoon Sergeant.
So, for a year, during which I had become a company commander, she attended weekend drills with her unit in Austin, Texas. For summer camp in July 1975, the 49th Armored Division convoyed to North Fort Hood, to train for two weeks in facilities almost 30 miles north of main post.
Since the AG company took a break on the middle Sunday, Kay got some free time that afternoon. So, I signed out an OH-58 to go flying that day and picked up two of my troops at the company, leaving the left front seat open. We flew up to the helipad at North Fort Hood, where Kay was waiting in uniform. Her commander had given her permission to go flying with me, so I picked her up and she rode in the front seat beside me for a couple of hours.
I had not told my troops what the story was, because of the noise of the helicopter when I picked them up at the company. So, they were astonished when we picked up a gorgeous WAC NCO to ride in the front seat. I had a helmet for her, so as we flew all over post, up and down the Cowhouse Creek ravine and around the hundreds of thousands of acres of the post range area, we talked on the intercom.
It wasn’t until we landed at a FARRP to refuel that the troops got a good look at her. While I was pumping jet fuel into the little bird, everyone had to get out of the aircraft in case of fire. During the wait, Kay took off her helmet and shook out her long auburn hair. My two troops were too awe-struck to speak to her, so they just stood there gaping. In those days, she really looked like a movie star.
It never occurred to me, as we finished refueling and I flew her back to the North Fort helipad, that the troops wouldn’t know that she was my wife. When I returned to main post and dropped them off at our company helipad, they couldn’t wait to tell their buddies what they had just seen the Old Man do. Before I had even gotten the helicopter back to the main post airfield to close out my flight, the entire company was abuzz.
And so, it happened that at Monday morning company formation, this Old Man stood before his assembled troops to explain what was going on. While the First Sergeant afterward confirmed everything I said, some engineer troops were still skeptical, thinking their commander was up to something.
How could the Old Man be married to someone so good looking? Army regulations forbid giving rides to civilians, even if they are married. And what was he doing with an enlisted WAC, and a Platoon Sergeant at that? Dang, but he is really up to something!
Even after the troops got to meet her at later company functions, the Skybeaver troops of Charlie Company, 8th Engineers, still held the Old Man in awe. Didn’t hurt to have a great wife.