NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
Submitted by: Jim Young
This incident happened while I was at USAMMCS. I was an instructor in the Air Defense Branch, Missile Division, Officer Training Department (1966-1967) and was heavily involved with presentations dealing with NIKE equipment as well as providing a practical overview on what Ordnance missile shop operations were all about. I had a division chief (an Ordnance Corps major) who had great esteem for ordnance warrants: in my case I had field experience plus I knew more about the missiles and launching area equipment than the other instructors (they were all IFC/radar types). In those days warrant officers were "a breed apart." Being probably the youngest NIKE 251B chief warrant officer in the Army Ordnance Corps at that time (I was 26), and like the senior warrants I knew, I wanted to be "salty", "crusty", and have no tact.
The mid 1960s were a hectic time at USAMMCS, just as they were everywhere in the Army in those days. The demands of the Vietnam War put a lot of folks to working at new jobs, sometimes in jobs and places they didn't like. I encountered a whole class of lieutenants like that. But let me say first, that excepting this class, lieutenants that I taught were great students! I thoroughly enjoyed teaching them and, as I wasn't any older than most of them, I developed a friendly rapport with a lot of them. All but this one class.
This particular class came to USAMMCS about January 1967. They were all men who had gotten ROTC commissions and then deferred their military service to pursue graduate degrees. Nearly all had masters degrees and there were several PhDs, too. They were not happy to be in the Army and they seemed to let everyone know it. But they had taken Uncle Sam's money and now it was time to do Uncle Sam's work. They were branched Ordnance Corps and since they had graduate degrees, most (as I found out later) went on to nice easy assignments at the Engineering Directorate at MICOM. None were slated to go to Vietnam---as was the case with officers in the ammunition courses.
During their course in AD Branch, they continued to annoy instructors and it was a rare day that guys didn't come off the platform feeling frustrated and pissed off at having to match wits with some of these students' questions (and attitude). I hadn't had them for a class yet, but when they hit the missile and launcher subjects, they met me.
My initial experience with them was no better or no worse than any other instructor. I just went ahead and presented the material as I was supposed to do. Then, one afternoon we got together for a class on HERCULES launcher operation. At one point in the POI, I was required to describe the up and down cycles of the erecting beam. Admittedly dry stuff (for a lieutenant, anyway). These guys were "thrilled."
After I had gone through the technical details, a lieutenant raised his hand and asked, "Mr. Young, just what are we supposed to get out of this class?" Leaning on the podium, my hand on my hip, I looked him dead-square in the eye and replied, "Lieutenant, you're gonna get just enough out of this class to make you goddamn dangerous." None of the class was happy with that reply. Obviously, no instruction evaluators were present at the time.
After class I went about my business and never made mention of it to the branch chief. But the class filed complaints about me and, as it surprisingly turned out, some other instructors as well. A few days later, Major Oakes, the division chief came striding into the instructor office and I saw what I figured to be a nasty look on his face. "Young! You got a few minutes? Let's go to my office." What an invite! I followed him down the hall to his office and on the way he made some sort of wisecrack. But I wasn't much interested in his humor at that moment. When we got there, I was making ready to report to him and he said "Jim, close the door and sit down."
He then started to laugh as he picked up a batch of critique sheets (written by this class). Most of it were adverse comments about me. He read a few out loud. He then told me that he'd never read so much garbage in all his life. I didn't argue the point.
Actually, I'd done what everyone else in the division had wanted to do. Without planning to do it, I'd let the whole class in on what most everyone else thought about them. Of course Major Oakes couldn't publicly endorse my behavior so my visit was considered a reprimand for "offensive and discourteous conduct." That's as far as it went, however. He did counsel me on the advantages of more tactful responses and did some badly needed (for me) mentoring. But I really came close to being in some serious trouble. Being a wise-ass like that could have ruined my Army career. I behaved myself from then on, and when I left (in June 1967) I had an outstanding evaluation report from both my rater and from Major Oakes, who was my senior rater.
Sometime later, in January 1968, I was on a TDY mission to do a CMMI on ASA units stationed in Korea (another story). In the course of my travel, I was at Camp Humphreys one day and happened to be coming out of the PX. Who should I run into but the very same lieutenant who had asked me "that question." I said hello to him and asked him what he was doing in Korea. Evidently he had been reassigned out of MICOM. I asked him if he was assigned to any ordnance unit on post. "No", he replied, "I'm the post special services officer." The guy was helping run the Service Club! I grinned. "Enjoy your tour, L-T."
Again, let me clearly point out that such lieutenants were an exception. The "hard bars" I served with were excellent guys who did a super job. Not surprisingly, some later became captains. I served with two of my former students in later assignments. One wrote my OER in Korea (CO, 30th Ord Co), another was my senior rater in Germany (S-4, 3/71). They did well, so did I.