22 November 2011

Counting Backwards....364, 363, 362, 361, 360......

From the Soldier side: When I was a very young Private in the US Army, many,many years ago, I learned how to count backwards. Yeah, I know most people can do this, but we had a good reason that many civilians may not understand.
When I graduated from the US Army Infantry School at Fort Polk, Louisiana in 1975, I was sent to Frankfurt, West Germany. We were actually put in an old German prison. It was dark, cold and strange. After sitting around for a day being told all kinds of stuff in briefings that I can’t recall a word of, we were told to go sit in a room and wait for our names to be called.

Since I always obeyed orders, I waited in the room and waited, and waited, and waited. Some of the other soldiers wondered off in search of bier. I did what I was told and waited, and waited, and waited.  We did a lot of waiting in those days.  When my name was called, I reported to the Army Clerk and gave him my ID card. He looked at me, my ID and orders and said: “so you’re a grunt and you have no assignment yet. Do you know where you’d like to be stationed?”

I looked at him in total disbelief and said: “you mean I have some kind of choice?”

The clerk told me to go look at the big map an on the wall. Wherever I saw an Army post with BLUE pins, that was where they needed grunts. I walked over and looked at the map. There were a lot of blue pins all over the place. I could have thrown a dart with my eyes closed and hit a camp that needed grunts. Then I looked way over to the east side and saw “BERLIN” with a blue pin. 

I went back and told the clerk I wanted to be sent to Berlin. He set it up and I was on the train that night. Now, keep in mind, at this point of my life I was a Private E-2. That meant I had one stripe, but didn’t know nothin’.

When I got to Berlin, the Company Clerk for C-2-6 was at the train station. He asked if I was the new private, and I stood at parade rest and responded with “Yes Specialist.” He told me to relax. When I asked a few questions, he just looked at me and said: “40 days and a wake up.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. When I got to my barracks, I was greeted by some pretty scruffy looking soldiers…their hair was a little too long, the mustaches were a little too bushy, and they looked more like short haired hippies. When I asked one of them where my room was, he pointed then said: “15 days and a wake up.”

I was too confused to ask what the heck he was talking about. I slept for about 1 day, and was woken up the next day by another Specialist four who told me: “get your ass up and get your PT uniform on.”  He was my new squad leader.

I was confused, I didn’t know we’d do PT every day for the rest of our lives. As I got into the platoon formation, I was not greeted with what would be normal conversation, but soldiers said things like: “I’m Joe, 76 days and a wake up.”

What I found out later that day is they were telling me how many days they had left in the US Army. You see it didn’t matter how long you had been in, but how much time you had left…kind of like getting out of prison.

When a soldier got down to 90 days of less, they were called a “Short Timer” and pretty much left alone. They would show up for formations and stuff, but they usually were not given any jobs to do unless they wanted to do them.

Fast forward to 2004, Baghdad, Iraq. The day we got to Iraq, I had made a backwards calendar. At first most of the regular Army and National Guard troops I was with didn’t understand it. But it was a way of helping the time go by. It started with 364 days…and counted backwards. When we all were down to 90 days, I announced in company formation that we were all Short Timers.



Coffeypot said...

Longest 90 days of my life...till I filed for my divorce and had to wait for 30 days to be final.

el chupacabra said...

The curtains in our rooms were held up by a clip that had two rollers on it that slid in a track so you could open the curtain.

If you released the clip from the drape and turned the roller part sideways it would drop out- you then had short timer skates.

Your skates would be clipped to the inner flap of the BDU pocket. When you got under 60 (or was it 30?) days you could could just lift the flap up to show off how little time you had left.

When your attitude was questioned all you had to do was lift that pocket flap and say,"I'm skatin'"

Sounds kinda gay now, but we thought it was cool.

Anonymous said...

1. There was a whole litany of short timer language. The only one I remember is: "two digit midget."
2. Was never anal or interested enough to follow a countdown religiously.
3. If you wrote anything but name or blood type on the camouflage cover of your helmet, you would have been made to clean it off in my unit. Common site for short-timer calendars.
4. We had our weaknesses, but my outfit looked like soldiers when we went outside the wire.
5. Showed up at the reception center in Frankfurt without records.
6. That was due to an admin screw-up in my old unit.
7. Talk about a red-headed step child.
8. Discovered that only screw-ups and people facing charges traveled without their personnel files and finance records.
4. Went from Spec 4 to private (E-2)in a heart beat.
5. Was ordered to remove my ribbons and awards.
6. They would have made me take off my Corks, unblouse my Class A trou and put on low quarters -but that would have been too much trouble.
7. My gracious reaction to all this probably sealed my fate.
8. Wanted to go to an Airborne unit. A righteously indignant PFC chose to send me to a leg unit in Southern Germany.
9. After about 3 months of E-2 part pays, my records showed up and I was grudgingly allowed to put up my earned rank and whatnot.
10. It took many years for me to realize that, while the Army was screwed up in many ways, most of the difficulties I experienced were created or exacerbated by my big mouth and combative attitude.
11. In the half of my life spent in leadership positions, have seen my self in thousands of young men.
12. The services and society in general are less tolerant of that sort of stupidity than they were in my salad days. And that's the biz.
V/R JWest

Hogdayafternoon said...

Enjoyed that one RD. I usually tell people who ask that I did 30 years and 7 seconds police service. When I get the quizzicals re the seven seconds, I explain that it was the time it took me to turn the alarm clock off on the day I could leave and draw my full pension ;)

Citizen Soldier said...

I remeber doing that and when we got to 30 days out we had a stick 30 inches long and cut an inch off each day until it was gone. Good post.

Saker said...


Just yes. I'm not going to say exactly how many days we have left for this deployment, but we're in double digits. :D

CI-Roller Dude said...

Damn it...the first Thanksgiving I wasn't either on a deployment or working as a cop I've had off in 30 years..and I get a cold.

I knew some of my readers whould understand. The device I made was a cloth measuring tape that was easy to tear..so as I counted down the days in Berlin, I would tear off a number. I carried it on a blue infantry cord in my pocket....

The platoon sgt, who was a lifer didn't like it and kept saying I was going to re-enlist. I got out just to prove him wrong....

Saker,,,,be SAFE!

NavyOne said...

Great story. They let you pick your duty station? I love it. . .

Susan Katz Keating said...

Ah, yes... the 70's-era Army. A beast of its own, no? I went through Basic in (ulp) '76. Our male DIs had been to Vietnam. They did NOT ask to be sent to a WAC BTBN. ; )

CI-Roller Dude said...

Navy One, There really wasn't much of a choice....all the Army units in those days were so short of troops...I was an entire 81MM mortar gun crew for a long time.

SKK, I know a former WAC....

Old NFO said...

Went in 1970, retired 1992, 22 years, one day, 7 hours, and 54 minutes... Did you also have a short snorter roll?

CI-Roller Dude said...

Old NFO, I know the 70's were not a good time for our Army...but it got better. I had a cloth measuring tape that I'd pull out ever day in formation and tear off another number...