NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
By: Allan W. Swank
196th Ordnance Detachment, Worms,
Germany, summer 1963. I arrived in June just as big changes were occurring in
the unit. Unit CO, Major Coen, was rotating out in a few days with no
replacement arrived yet. SFC Raubach (Ranger, 3 WWII combat jumps behind enemy
lines, white wall hair cut, military pressed fatigue jacket) arrived the same
day I did to fill the empty 1st Sgt slot. Shortly our new 2nd lieutenant
bible-thumping CO arrived. Throw CWO-4 Cardwell into the mix and the power
struggle was on.
Who's gonna be the boss? The unit under Maj. Coen had recently won a performance award for completing an unprecedented number of work orders in the effort to keep the freshly deployed Nike presence operational and disdained the idea of posing as spit-n-polish soldiers. The new top announced his version of a spit-n-polished 196 Ord Det to us troops at the assembled morning formation which was itself a new experience for the unit. We patiently listened and when he finished, short-timer sp-4 Toto, in a tee shirt, raised his hand and asked, "can we take a vote on that?"
Not to let this grab for leadership go unanswered, CWO Cardwell collected our class “A” passes (up till then, everyone had been allowed carry his, a reward for outstanding performance, I had heard) saying that, henceforth, troops would have to request class A passes in accordance with USAREUR protocols. As the quest for supremacy progressed other undeserved measures were instituted by one or another of the unit's contenders for boss. Guard duty, pre-dawn morning formations outside the barracks, police call, PT, marching to and from the main kaserne for lunch, bed checks. These activities were not novel to most of the US army but for us it was a "Brave New World". We were missile technicians not combat troops. Our newly arrived ROTC 2nd lieutenant CO was too new, too naïve and too preoccupied with bible study to assert himself in his new position of authority. We troops were powerless to change our circumstances so, without collusion, we all simply concentrated on participating in this shape-up campaign.
And our job performance went into the toilet. We stood our outside morning formations for Mr. Cardwell and dressed to look sharp in our in-shop formation for Sgt Raubach. Guys would even stand all day to avoid ruining the press of their uniforms. We heard that the line batteries started to complain about the level of support they were receiving. The number of completed work orders fell toward zero. I was in the Launcher section and was lucky enough to be dispatched, most days, to one or another of our four line batteries. The personnel heaters there were always requiring repair or simply PM-ing. We learned to rush nothing, whether the drive to and from the site or the work to be done there. We became really familiar faces to the battery ADA cadre. So much so that I came to be personally requested by them to service, their work orders. As a result, I logged over 100k (accident-free) miles in a 12-month period and I missed a lot of the home base BS.
Finally, about six months later, middle of the winter of '63/'64, things turned around. We got yet another CO, a mature Captain this time. He took command right out of the gate and was strongly supported by the section chiefs who were not into the power struggle, just wanted to do their jobs. Mr. Cardwell went back into Tech Supply, where he belonged all along. How he justified getting into the struggle, I'll never know. Sgt. Raubach became a pretty nice guy, after all. Maybe it was because he knew that we all learned that his wife and kids ruled the roost at home that he mellowed out and even let his hair grow a little.
Troop morale and performance improved. We never earned another performance award but we did catch up the considerable backlog of work orders that had accrued. We put away our Mickey Mouse boots and parkas, which we no longer needed for standing guard duty and tucked our returned class “A” passes into our wallets. We enjoyed the chance to organize the upcoming day and exchange ideas and concerns that the one casual indoor morning formation permitted. We even welcomed the idea of continuing morning PT (where some of us learned to walk on our hands), just because it was a good idea and good for us. The remaining 18 months of my assignment in Germany still stands as the best period of my life.