It has been a lot of years since my tour of
duty in Europe at the Army base near the little town of Landau, Germany.
my military "career" as an MP... a most unlikely duty for me if you had asked anyone who knew me before that time. Previously,
I was an electronics repair technician. After a battery of tests during Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Army saw fit to
ignore my previous knowledge and training as a tech and slap a rifle on my shoulder. So, for almost my entire stay in Europe, my
main job was to guard the missile base at Bravo. I did my best under those unpleasent conditions to serve my country when it
was my turn. I don't regret doing it, but I'm glad it's over. Most of the guys I met in AIT at Ft Gordon, GA went to VietNam
when that war was just getting "warmed up". A handful of us got Europe and elsewhere. I was "lucky".
Those guard towers in the wintertime were (to me) the worst duty one could get. Four hours on and four hours off for twenty
four hours made everyone a little crazy. After four hours of standing guard, my feet were numb. I would crawl into the bunker for
my four hours shuteye, but by the time I warmed up and got to sleep, it was time to go back on duty. In the summertime, sheep
were corraled just outside the perimeter fence at night. The stench was unbeliveable. Nightmares of those days and nights have
finally gone away, but for the longest time, I dreamed they changed the laws and I got sent back. They'll be drafting 90 year old
pregnant women before they get to me again, I've often said. But, I did my duty. As I write this, I think of our Soldiers in
Uniform in the Middle East and elsewhere... then I think how easy we -really- had it at Bravo... hardly life and death for us.
Towards the end of my stay at Bravo, I fabricated a signaling device (made out of a discarded transistor radio) and wired it
up to the main gate. The idea was, if the guard at the gate was under duress of any kind, all he had to do was push a button on the
gate and the signal buzzer would sound in the nearby guard house. I wasn't thinking about praise or anything else... just something
to break the boredom. I was hungry to get back to useful work in any kind of electronics. I didn't realize what effect my "creation"
would have, but that primitive effort seemed to impress the base Commander, Captain Holder. He sent me to radio school for two
months! Talk about "get-away" duty... I nearly slept through their classes and still made honor graduate, got a gold cigarette lighter,
and received several citations for my "efforts". The school was at Lenngries in the Bavarian mountains... nice while it lasted.
Bact at Bravo, I was transferred to the Commo section. My duties included manning the base switchboard and doing minor
maintenance on their two-way radios... a far cry from freezing my buns off in those cold (and later, windowless) guard towers.
With all that new knowledge under my belt, my superiors thought I would reinlist. Fat chance. I'd rather have hot needles stuck in
my eyes. So nineteen months after getting stuck in that wasteland of boredom, I waltzed out the door and back to "the world".
Until my retirement in 2009, I worked at the University of Washington in Seattle as a bench and field tech. All the fancy
gadgets in their electronic classrooms needed a technicians touch to keep them running. The instructor comes into the room and
pushes a few buttons... the lights come down and the data projector turns on, and presto: his Powerpoint presentation is on the
screen, or videotape, or whatever. It's a far cry from chalkboards and overhead projectors. High tech still needs repairmen but
electronic gadgets are becoming less and less serviceable. Pretty soon, nothing will be repairable. Look at Consumer Electronics.
Lots of new stuff goes in the dumper because we can't get parts and service data. The initial low cost makes consumers buy new
rather than try to get the old device fixed. I've gone extinct along with the stuff I used to repair and all that I've learned over the
years. No matter. I'm tired of it anyway. Time to have some fun. It's difficult to mentally shift gears after a lifetime of work....
that's the real challenge for me now. I'm learning.
Ray Carlsen... a leader in trailing-edge technology.