Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rum and Propellant

So no kidding, there I was.......

As an intelligence weenie, I was expected to be able to look at little bits of information and figure out what was going on.  My first commander in Germany thought a good way to teach me to do this was to send me and all the newbies out for a few days with various units to see how they work.  I got to spend a few days at an Infantry battalion headquarters, trundling along with a transportation company who was driving from Wildflicken to Grafenwoehr, and a full week with a battery of VII Corps artillery.

Of all of these, my favorites were the arty guys.  The Infantry were well trained and STRAC, but the arty guys were complete animals.  I was introduced to about every personality type in the Army during that week.  One thing the arty guys did was drink, and drink a lot.  They followed Ranger rules about it though.  Each man was paired up with a battle buddy, and only one man in the pair was allowed to drink at a time.  This was of course completely under the radar.  The officers and senior NCO's either didn't know or chose not to make a federal case out of it.  The unit was recently returned from Desert Storm, and there was still a lot of boyish hijinks going on.

So after about 4 days of driving around in the beauty of a Bavarian fall, we were moving along a goat trail in a large training area during a night that was made even better with a light drizzle.  I was dozing in the back of a 2 1/2 ton truck with the rest of the gun crew I had been assigned to.  Amazingly enough, the bouncing of the truck in the ruts made it easier to sleep.

All of a sudden, the battery was given a priority fire mission.  This was a test to see how quickly the battery could be set up, calibrated, and get steel on target.  These guys were fast.  Within a few minutes all the guns were laid, the lieutenant had figured out all the appropriate measurements and sent them to the Fire Direction Center, and the gun commander was aiming the gun to respond to a call for fire.  They may have been completely unready for an IG inspection, but these veterans knew their combat mission cold.

The gun commander barked out the type of round to load and the number of bags of propellant to put in the gun.  The specialist I was assisting grabbed an HE round and rammed it into the breech of the gun.  The round stopped halfway in.  Apparently one of the crew had put a fifth of Barcardi rum into the breech for safe keeping during the road trip.  Frantic attempts to remove the bottle were futile.  Shoving that HE round up in the breech had jammed it in good and tight.

As the gun crew hopped around trying to figure out what to do, I heard the other gun commanders preparing to fire.  Within a few moments I heard the battery first sergeant giving the orders:

Gun 1, Fire!  BANG!
Gun 2, Fire!  BANG!
Gun 3, Fire! 
Gun 4, Fire!  BANG

Need I say I was assigned to Gun number 3?

The gun commander was at this time about to have a nervous breakdown.  As he continued his futile attempts to dislodge the booze, we could hear the first sergeant coming down the line, cussing at the top of his lungs about why Gun 3 had not fired.  Apparently an eloquence in profanity marked this senior NCO for greater things.

As the first sergeant approached the gun, the gun commander must have decided to use the most direct approach to getting rid of the rum bottle:  blow it out the end of the gun.  He threw a couple of bags of propellant in the gun, closed the breech, and fired the gun.


Instead of the bang of propellant firing the bottle downrange, the propellant went off, broke the end of the rum bottle, and ignited it as it flew down the breech of the cannon.   When it reached the air at the end of the barrel, it expanded into a blue fireball that lit up the battery like sunrise.

The first sergeant was stunned as he came to the gun.  He made sure the breech was clear and then silently walked to the front of the gun.  Reaching down, he picked up the still hot neck of the rum bottle, looked at it, and put it in the cargo pocket of his pants.  He gave the the gun commander "The Look", and walked back to his truck.  You probably could have heard a pin drop at that moment, if the pins had had the guts to make a sound.

A few minutes later, we were ordered to displace and continue our trip to the other side of the training area.  As we bounced down that dark and muddy trail, every man in the battery must have been searching the equipment and baggage for contraband, because a steady rain of beer cans, bottles, and jugs went flying off into the weeds.

I finished my rotation with the artillery and returned to my own unit a couple of days later.  The battery was still in the field when I hitched a ride with a supply truck back to main post.  I never found out what happened to that gun commander and his crew, but I'm sure it wasn't pleasant.  Hell hath no wrath like a first sergeant who is not only pissed, but has time to think about it before acting.


Nancy R. said...

Epic. I wish I could have seen that fireball!

Old NFO said...

Oh man... My sides hurt from laughing... Leave it up to the troops to get away with anything they want to, just don't get in the way of them doing the job!

Jon P. said...

:D Nice! Were you at Grafenwoehr between '84 and '90? If so, you might well have met my father. He was the 7th ATC safety director.

DaddyBear said...

I just missed him. This was in the fall of '91.

NFO - Like I said, these could rain hell on anyone within range very very quickly. The other parts of discipline? Well, the only thing that can be said is they weren't mutinous.

Nancy - It was big enough that some of the guys ducked for cover. This was a full unopened fifth of Bacardi 151.

Nancy R. said...

Finally a good use for Barcardi.

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