Sunday, February 25, 2024

A Rerun From Ten Years Ago

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea -- Senior Airman Ben Vincent guards the flightline during a chemical exercise here.
He is assigned to the 51st Security Forces Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Church)
As I mentioned the other day (here), I once was given the opportunity, no, the sacred trust, of guarding stuff at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany. While I didn't have the awesome ride nor the magnificent M-2 .50 caliber machine gun which SrA Vincent has above, I did have an amazingly heavy German rifle to lug around for 12 hours at a time. Oh yeah, I had the MOPP* gear too. Which also had to be lugged around. Though sometimes I got to wear the MOPP gear. I'm still of two minds as to which was harder, lugging it, or wearing it. But we'll get to that.

German G3 Rifle (7.62x51mm NATO)

On the Security Augmentation Force (SAF), most of us carried the German G3. In the picture above, it's the one in the foreground, with the wooden stock. This rifle weighs in the neighborhood of 10 pounds. However, the longer you have to carry one, the heavier it gets. By the end of the standard SAF 12-hour shift, your rifle weighs (and this is an approximation) roughly 350 metric tonnes. Or thereabouts.

Now when guarding stuff during a NATO exercise, it is absolutely essential to carry your MOPP gear with you. Because if you have the sheer bad luck to be assigned to the day shift, you know that they are going to sound the chemical attack siren, at least once. You also know that they won't sound the "All Clear" for at least 2 hours after the initial "attack".

So odds are, you're going to need that stuff. And there will be exercise evaluators (or a$$holes as we called them) wandering about hoping (praying) to catch someone who is not fully "playing the game". Those types get to be declared "casualties" and sent off to a central holding point. Perhaps you're thinking "Sweet. Sent off. Don't have to play anymore."

Well, yes, that's true. But you need to factor in the a$$-chewing and the assignment to guard the perimeter fence on the opposite side of the base in the middle of the night on the next shift. Yup, immediately after the shift you just pulled as a "casualty". It pays to play the game according to the rules.

As a member of the SAF, I had the opportunity to guard three different places. During two separate exercises. The first exercise I had the day shift. Guarding a supply building. I was told to "stay out of the way" and "look busy".


During that stint, all I did was pace back and forth near the building. Grimacing at all and sundry and making potentially menacing gestures with my rifle. That was fun for a while. Then the attack siren sounded. Yes, the chemical one. Crap!

Rifle gets propped against a tree as I squirm into my MOPP gear. Once the mask is on I am now, to all intents and purposes, an armed Mister Magoo. Yes, the fellow below. Myopic star of stage and screen.

Mr. Magoo

For you see, I had the old style gas mask -

For which I did have eyeglass inserts (which would typically fog up and stay fogged up right after donning said mask) but didn't bother with. With them I was effectively blind due to the fogging issues and they would occasionally fall off, inside the mask. (The way they were mounted was rather awkward.)

Without them I could at least see somewhat clearly out to about ten yards. I could see shapes beyond that range. If I had ever been near a "real" war I would have been screwed. To put it bluntly, our chem gear (while allegedly effective) was cumbersome, uncomfortable and made one essentially 50% effective after a couple of hours. It was most certainly made by the lowest bidder. (Oddly enough, when I joined the NBC team, we used German-issue chem gear which was far better than the US variety. Though the mask wasn't as good, everything else fit better and was more comfortable. Unless we were on the vehicle decontamination team. Where we wore all-rubber suits. It's like having your own personal sauna. Which you can neither turn off nor leave!)

Fortunately I didn't have to menace anyone while I was wearing my MOPP gear. Primarily because most people stay inside (if they can) during these drills. So the a$$holes, I mean evaluators, can't spot them not wearing their chem gear. Not that I would ever do that. Ever. (There's no evidence and all participants were sworn to secrecy. Besides which, that was in the old days, on the flight line. Generally they left us alone during exercises as the jets still needed to get fixed, regardless of the games being played. Hhmm, there's another blog post right there. Again, I need to write that down somewhere...)

So that was my one time on day shift.

For the second exercise in which I got to simulate standing firm against the Soviet hordes (which had ceased to exist when I was doing all this) I was assigned to the night shift. Guarding the USAF clinic. For this I was instructed, "No one goes near the clinic without you challenging them and checking their ID cards." Awesome. I get to mess with medical types. They are of a semi-military nature, these medical types. We're not talking corpsmen attached to Marine battalions or your "out in the field with the grunts" Army medics. Nope, these are partially militarized doctors and nurses and their attendant flunkies staff.

While the "staff" (Air Force enlisted types) are as military as the rest of the Air Force (i.e. not that much), the doctors and nurses are simply medical types who received direct commissions due to their medical skills. I think they go to a two week school where they learn how to wear a uniform (training which was wasted IMHO) and learn about who had to salute them and who they had to salute. And how to salute, many of them never mastered that skill. (But that's okay, I've never, ever seen a fighter pilot who knew how to salute. Or cared for that matter.) So yeah, doctors and nurses were essentially civilians wearing uniforms.

So I started my shift to keep the clinic safe from the simulated (non-existent) Soviet hordes. Shortly after night had fallen, I saw my first two victims approaching. What appeared to be an Airman First Class and a captain, probably a doctor.

Now bear in mind, I'm semi-concealed in the shadows, trying to be stealthy and all. The doc and the airman had no idea I was there until I stepped from the shadows and barked "HALT! Who goes there?" In my best martial voice mind you.

I think the airmen may have wet himself, the doctor went from startled to indignant...

"What the hell are you playing at? You scared the sh!t out of us!"

"ID! NOW!" Said while racking the bolt back to chamber a round. (While all I had was blank ammunition, they didn't know that. Though the blank adapter would have been a dead giveaway to an actual military type.)

Now the airman is scrambling to get his wallet out. The doctor (bless his soul) is still trying to be all rough and tough.

"Now look here Sarge, we need to get into the clinic..."

"ID! NOW!" Rifle is now swinging to a rather menacing position.

The light finally comes on for the good doc and he produces his ID card.

"So what would you have done if I didn't show you my ID?" The doctor asked, politely this time.
"Well Sir. First move would be to put you on the ground with your hands behind your head. Had you refused or if the airman tried to jump me, I would have shot you both."

"You're kidding, right?"

"No Sir. I'm not kidding."

"So can we go in now?"

"Of course, Sir. Have a nice night, Sir."

The word got out. Everybody else coming to the clinic that night had their IDs out and ready as they approached the entrance.

NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen (Part)

Now that yellow delimited area to the left is the USAF Clinic at Geilenkirchen. That area to the right is the base headquarters (HQ). That wooded area in between is behind the NATO Clinic and is fenced in with a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Sort of an invitation to stay out of said area.

So of course, while making my rounds around the clinic, while in the lower right part of the yellow bordered area, at (or around) 0300 local, I saw approximately 6 armed individuals climbing over the chain link fence.

I jumped into a convenient ditch (which provided cover and concealment) and brought my weapon to bear on those 6 individuals. (Who were making very slow time over the fence. Remember, it was topped with barbed wire.)

My first instinct was to bellow "HALT OR I'LL SHOOT" and then commence firing if they did not halt. My second thought was to call this event into the command post. Perhaps those were good guys doing something.

Command post responded with "don't shoot, we got this".

As I watched, the guys trying to go over the fence stopped their efforts and schlepped back the way they came. Seems they were pretending to be "Soviet hordes" and I (and my trusty G3) had stopped them in their tracks.

When it was all said and done, the Luftwaffe guy guarding the building across the street asked me, "What was that all about?"

Apparently his idea was to stand blithely in the middle of the road and watch the proceedings. I guess he didn't feel the need to get involved.

His sergeant disagreed. This worthy showed up as I was explaining to my German colleague what had just happened. The sergeant (Hauptfeldwebel if you must know) replaced the guy with an American and could be heard chewing the lowly flieger's butt all the way down the road. Yes, they were in a vehicle. The sergeant did not sound happy.

So, you may wonder, what was my reward for this brilliance in guarding stuff? Why, the second (and last) night of the exercise, I actually got to guard the command post itself. Wonder of wonders that I was entrusted with that responsibility.

But in retrospect I shouldn't be that surprised. After all, I had stopped the rampaging, simulated (non-existent) Soviet hordes on the first night. Who better to protect the command post?

But that was a long, long time ago. In a land far away. But it was somewhat fun. Though nowhere near as fun as Skip's adventures in the Shore Patrol. Not even close. Though Skip didn't mention any firearms in his story, at least I got to carry a rifle. (A big heavy rifle mind you...)

*MOPP = Mission Oriented Protective Posture. Think chemical warfare protective clothing. Think wearing this for hours at a time. Think hot, sweaty and absolutely cumbersome.

From 24 Feb 24, that is, Saturday - As I'm having fun at a wedding reception, so ...

You get a rerun!


  1. Good choice Sarge, have fun at the reception.

  2. Thanks Sarge! I have never known anyone that has talked about participating in such an exercise, so it was very interesting to read about it.

    (Perhaps sadly, audit preparation for my industry including mock audits do not require [or allow] weapons of any kind - on the other hand, no MOPP gear either, so perhaps not all bad...)

    1. Taking the good with the bad! (No MOPP gear is always a good idea.)

  3. "Security Augmentation Force"

    Which I read as Argumentation thinking it a play on words..then I put on my glasses .

    " Again, I need to write that down somewhere...)"

    And then write down where you wrote it down

  4. while assigned to the USS Constellation (CV64) I was assigned to the master at arms. this was back in the days before it was a full time rating. people were assigned temporary duty for 6 months and given minimal training on how to do the minimum job. any way....
    during our refresher training the ordinance department had a nuclear handling drill. so the aft weapons handling area was roped off and the marines were stationed inside the ropes to keep everyone out. as a MAA, I was stationed outside the ropes, for the same purpose. the area was just forward of the aft galley, chow hall for you non squids, and the drill took place over the noon hour, so there was lots of spectators. now, to get around the area, if you were on the wrong side, was a bit of a walk. so this arrogant, young, and stupid LT(JG)(O2) decided he was NOT going to walk around, he was an officer, and he was going across, drill or no drill. i politely suggested he not do that, as bad things would happen, the marines were NOT playing nice. he gave me a dirty look and stepped across the rope. the PFC. with the gun butt stroked him back across the line. the LT(JG) was carried to sick bay for treatment, and the PFC(E2) was field promoted to LCpl(E3), and later given a Navy commendation medal. good times, good times.

    1. Now that's an excellent story! Bravo Zulu to that Marine!

    2. Nuke Weps was serious business in those days. Every "Nuclear Weapons Capable" ship ("I can neither confirm nor deny the presence..." was the mantra in the day). Marines did the job on carriers and at the piers when handling between the ship and the storage bunkers; but on Destroyers or Cruisers all of the security was done by ship's company. Did I say "serious business"? More like " sorta serious" in that while we were all armed and had "live" ammunition, weapons were generally not fully loaded unless somebody really violated the rules.
      When a "Security Alert" happened ( and these were NEVER drills) qualified members of the duty section reported to the small arms lockers to be issued pistols, shotguns and rifles with ammunition and sent to various posts around the ship until whatever had caused the alert was resolved. Some ships did the minimum required, others took it far more seriously.
      Boat Guy

    3. You simply have to take it seriously. The consequences of not doing so could be catastrophic.

    4. ...For they are the guardians of the holiest of unholies...

    5. On many occasions ships were moored alongside each other ( for this was back when we had about twice as many ships as today); if one had a security alert, everybody else alongside went too. One night ( no telling WHAT damn time) I was laying on a cold piece of gray metal in the dark with my shotgun guarding our most sensitive space and I looked across at our sister ship and here's some fat guy standing upright in a pool of light, .45 at "raise pistol" slide locked back with his magazines in his other hand. Sorta the sea going version of your German colleague.
      Boat Guy

    6. Those guys drove me nuts, at least in a real war those guys would draw fire!

    7. When I couldn't get an aircraft job in San Diego after my May '73 discharge from being an A.F. Crew chief (jet aircraft, 1 and 2 jet engine) my uncle got me hired on in the ship yards. My crew of inside riggers, had to go to 32nd Naval Base, San Diego for an emergency steam turbonectomy. When we get to the pier, there's armed sailors EVERYWHERE. There were ships on each side of the pier, the armed sailors were on the ships and on the pier. Turned out we got there near the same time the Navy was bringing a few million dollars cash for "our" ship. When they deploy, they take lots of cash.
      Any way, I told you that, to tell you this. The Navy never got rid of ANY small arms after WWll. The guards had, M1 Garands, M14s, 12 ga. shot guns, pump and semi autos and the best armed guards, where we got on the ship, had Thompson sub guns. Worked rigging (Boatswain's Mate much?) for 8 years after giving up my F-102 in Iceland. After that, TREE SERVICE!...hence...

    8. Sorta like running faster from the bear than your hunting buddy, we just wanted to be a harder target than the other ships.
      The Navy always kept small arms longer because they weren't important, always secondary in consideration.

    9. BG - and why spend money on such things when you've already got somethng suitable?

    10. Too true, Sarge! The old stuff was still plenty good! IS still plenty good! I was very pleased with our small arms back then and would be happy with any of them today. The only thing we were missing was M79's.

    11. What? No Thumper? Gotta have Thumper.

  5. Wow. Good stories and almost similar trajectories. Although I stayed CONUS (continental US). Got to do the Security thing in n. Michigan at our nat'l guard base during exercises. No running there in February, there are ice patches. Bounced and slid couple times. Took awhile to learn that lesson, I was still young. Got sent out (helicopter ride!) to guard a crash site where one of our -16's did a lawn dart. (pilot ejected safely). "Yes captain, I'm guarding this site with an M-16a2, but I'm not going to stop you going up to the crash site. Mind the UXO (unexploded ordnance) and the hydrazine (world's most poisonous oxidizer) leaking from the jet, and if you don't make it back down here I'll get the guys in moon suits to recover your body."
    Add'tl MOPP comments. South GA, Moody-air-patch-in-the-pines. Daytime humidity, temps usually same and approaching three digits. Simulated bunkers around our building, sandbags stacked three high. We had a great Staff Sgt in our shops, I'll call her TJ, maybe 98 lbs after a rainstorm. Went to red/sirens, suited up, bunkered up. After about five minutes cowering in the bunker she jumped up screaming, cussing like CMSGT. MOPP gear and clothes flying everywhere.
    If you don't know, the unofficial insect of south GA is the fire ant. Little sandy hills about every two meters. One bite, you'll know why 'fire'.
    She did recover with a plethora of bite marks and we had a newfound respect for her vocabulary.

    1. I'm familiar with fire ants, they have them in Louisiana as well! Nasty buggers.

    2. Ditto what Sarge said. NO ONE messes with nuclear security. NO ONE!

    3. Yup, nuke security is pretty damned serious business.

  6. You need to train like you're goin to be doing it, whatever it is.
    There was a time a guy tossed something out the back of a C-130 to a boat in distress, his first time for real and he did it just like he'd trained all those times...
    The training did NOT include pulling the safety pin on the parachute, after he did that they changed the training.

    1. You have to train like you fight, otherwise what's the point, right?

  7. Ha! Well done. As a USMC recruit, I put a colonel in the dirt to wait for the "real" guards. He was ... not happy. At me, and then at them. The story I heard later that day was that I was in fine shape, had done exactly what I was supposed to. He had "borrowed" a jeep, had run out of gas, and was trying to sneak back to where he was supposed to have been. Further details were not available (although they appeared to be very giggle-worthy.)

  8. Crusty Old TV Tech here. I was TDY a lot to Europe back in my USAF days, got briefed on the NBC drills that might get run whilst on station, never ran into one. Boy, am I glad about that, especially after reading the above. SP/MP/AP shenanigans however...two come to mind. I will recount the first here.

    I was not directly involved in, but got to see a bit of it from afar, and hear about it later. Griffiss AFB, NY. Seems the Base Commander's wife (Base Commander, the usually O-6 in charge of the Air Base Group, physical infrastructure king in other words) and a friend decided to go jogging (it being the early 1980's) on a certain road on the other side of the runway. Perimeter Road I think it was named. In any case, it went past numerous interesting places, one end had the Fam Camp, my unit's pole climbing training area, and down on the other end, a certain large, double-barbed-wire-fenced bunker-equipped compound. Did I mention da Griff was a SAC base? Yep, the WSA. Well, EVERYONE on base gets briefed multiple times, DO NOT STOP NEAR THE WSA, either in a car, or on foot. Shoes get untied, friend stops adjacent the WSA. I swear, the SP's must have portable mud puddles/snow banks, beause the story is friend and wife got spread-eagled in a massive mud puddle by a couple M-16-armed 18-year-old A1C's amped up on testosterone, adrenaline and Sarge's cop shed coffee. It had been dry as a bone outside for a week at least, so the mud puddle part was a mystery to all. Wife and friend had to assume the position until O-6 hubby responded in person. He was not amused, but neither was the SPS commander. I heard the Wing King (Bomb Wing commander) personally chewed the Base Commander out for letting his dependents run wild like that!

    1. You'd think an O-6 on a SAC base would know better!

  9. Can anyone identify which diamond is pictured in the Osan AB photo?

  10. I was the Crypto technician so I had to carry a M-9. It made donning MOPP gear during an ORI a bit challenging. I had a shoulder holster for regular use. In MOPP I had a chest rig for carrying the pistol while still wearing the empty shoulder holster. I got lucky and only had one ORI in 21 years in the Air Force.

  11. I was teaching a course on Governors Island for the USCG. One of the people in attendance was a US Public Health Service employee who was just transferred there to augment the Coasties staff . It was summer and both groups had their ice cream salesmen/ whites on. Going to the mess hall he couldn't remember who he was supposed to salute and who was supposed to salute him. The 100 yard walk to the mess hall took 400 yards so he could avoid coming in contact with anyone in uniform. I guess he didn't pay attention in his 2 week class. I helped on the way back had so we could take the short way back.

    1. Hahaha! Wonder if he'd been to "knife and fork" school where they teach that sort of thing.

  12. So after reading this, I had to go read what I'd done. Ya know, to see if I left out any of the really good stuff.
    Thanks for the mention.

  13. Wow, 10 lbs for three days! Should have joined the Air Force instead of the Army. Official weight of an M-14 is 9.2 lbs and carried one around 200 days a year and a gas mask strapped to my right thigh. A humbling experience was visiting my son, the Medic, who had his full battle rattle less weapon laid out. I couldn't believe the weight. Then he pointed out he also carried an M-16 and his medic pack.

  14. Flying a fighter, even on practice employment missions, means you sweat and are usually dripping wet on landing. We had to fly in full chemical gear regularly.
    That was officially "Not Fun". I remember having enough sweat in my full face mask that I could barely see outside it. Someone employs chemical/biological weapons, I fully ok with employing a mushroom bomb or many on them.
    P.S. Enjoy the wedding.

    1. The wedding was beautiful, the reception was great. To be there to see a lovely young couple start the journey ...


    2. I remember those M-17 gas masks and their eyeglass inserts. the lenses were tiny, and were NOT positioned so you could use the rifle sights normally. The only option for any kind of aimed fire was to hole the rifle out in front of you like a big pistol. At least that was possible with an M-16, not so much with a G-3.

    3. I was better off without the little inserts. The newer gasmasks are much better for those of us who wear eyeglasses.


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