Skip to main content

The Army Made Me a Writer, Then a Professional Writer

The Army made me a writer.  Last year I wrote here about how six versions of letters home taught me to write and rewrite and helped to make me writer.

By the end of 1977 with 14 months in Germany, I had become a writer, but not a professional writer.  Then the Army gave me that too.  Specifically, Command Sergeant Major Cubbins gave me the chance to become a professional writer.

Cubbins was one of those Top Sergeants for whom his part of the United States Army was HIS Army.  The 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division went to Wiesbaden, West Germany, en masse in October 1976 as Brigade '76.  Cubbins took over as Brigade Sgt. Major in the fall of 1977.

Cubbins was a tall, rail thin, leathery-skinned, wrinkled veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  He was over 50 years old which we 20-year-olds thought just amazing.  He had 33 years of enlisted service when he came to our unit--11 service stripes on the left sleeve of his dress uniform and a half-dozen combat stripes on the right.

At the time Cubbins joined the Brigade, we were doing regular 4-mile runs on the airstrip at Wiesbaden.  These were brigade runs with dozens of company formations running in a long procession.  As soon as he took over the brigade, Cubbins started leading those runs.  We were amazed.  In the 70s, men in their 50s did not exercise.  But here was this old guy running in front, calling cadence too.  The world was very different then.

It was Cubbins' Army.  So just before Christmas he gathered all of the sergeants in the Brigade for an NCO meeting in the Weisbaden Air Base Theater.  I don't remember most of the meeting, but I do remember one subject he covered.  Cubbins said 4th Brigade was being ignored by The Stars and Stripes, but Armed Forces Radio, even by the Wiesbaden Post.  He wanted a combat arms sergeant to volunteer to work to get 4th Brigade in the local and regional news.

He wanted a "real soldier" who could write about training.  He did not want a "goddamned sissy journalist who could not tell a muzzle brake from a parking brake."

I noticed that Cubbins wrote with a blue pen on a yellow pad.  As soon as that meeting ended, I went to the PX and got a new blue pen.  I already had a yellow pad.  And I walked out onto the airstrip to look for something to write about.

There on the edge of the airstrip were a dozen German soldiers and as many American soldiers planning to have a partnership event that weekend.  I had my story.  Before lunch was over, the story was on the sergeant major's desk along with a biography noting that I loved to write and that I fired Distinguished as a tank commander my first time out the previous year.

I found out later Cubbins liked that I had something written the same day.  The other entries came in a few days later.  I got the job.  I was a paid journalist from then until I left the Army nearly two years later.

Popular posts from this blog

Different Water for Sinks and Toilets--Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, and Amtrak

On the train to Philadelphia recently, the toilets had water, but the sinks did not in the last two cars. I walked three cars away from my seat to wash my hands. On the way back, I let the conductor know about the lack of water.  He said there are different water systems for the sinks and the toilets.  Then smiled and said the water is blue in the toilets.  
I told the conductor about a morning at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, in April 2009. We were there for training before we went to Camp Adder, Iraq.  During our two-week stay, we slept in 77-man tents.  Outside the tent were several sinks and mirrors just standing in the open on the sand. I wish I had a picture.  
About twenty yards away were Porta-Johns or Shit Ovens, which everyone called the plastic enclosures when the temperature approached 120 degrees.  One morning just after down I went out to the sinks, brushed my teeth, then walked toward the Porta-Johns.  One of the soldiers just stepped out of one and was walking toward me.  

Ten Years Ago Today: Cold War Soldier Starts Re-enlistment Process

The Night Before Basic, Killing Brain and Lung Cells
On January 31, 1972, I flew to Texas to begin basic training. On April 2, 2007, ten years ago today, I called Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Askew, recruiting sergeant for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, and began the process of re-enlisting after 23+ years as a civilian.  I was 53 years old at the time, about to turn 54.

In the Spring of 2007, The Surge in Iraq was in full swing and recruitment for the Army was down a lot. The economy was good, Congress would not even consider re-starting the Draft, so in late 2006 Congress raised the maximum first-enlistment age for the Army from 35 to 42 years old.

The program was a failure and was rescinded three years later. But that failed program allowed me to re-enlist.  The maximum enlistment age for soldiers with prior service is the enlistment age plus the years of prior service plus a one-year waiver.  I needed all of that.

I called three recruiters before I called Kevin. He was the first one…

My Last Tanker Nickname: Oddball

Donald Sutherland as Oddball, a tank commander in the movie "Kelly's Heroes"
I got my last tanker nickname more than a decade after I earned the nickname Sgt. Bambi Killer.I got that nickname on a business trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2000.The company I worked for just bought a company in Brazil and I was part of a team that went to Brazil to introduce ourselves to the people who ran the business.
Sao Paulo has traffic that makes Los Angeles look like Omaha, so the local managers sent a limo for the four of us. This meant we could be more comfortable on the three-hour 20-mile trip from the airport to downtown. 
At the time I had a beard and still had a lot of brown hair.  Among the local staff people who were waiting to meet us was my now long-time friend Ivan Porccino. Ivan speaks five languages and was assigned as our interpreter.  When we got in the car, Ivan introduced us to the driver and said we would be in Sao Paulo for a few days. The driver said, “I love Americ…