30 September 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Civil Affairs

My first thought when I got my orders to report to HQ Co., 95th Civil Affairs Group at Ft. Gordon, GA, after I finished language school in 1970 was, "Wow. I wonder if I'll be working with civilians and can wear civilian clothes." Little did I know that Civil Affairs was just a euphemism for what used to be called Military Government, and that my unit's insignia showed a traditional Korean city gate on it from its first and last major deployment--during the Korean War. (Its only other component, the 42nd Civil Affairs Co., was briefly deployed to the Dominican Republic in 1965.)

The 95th CA Grp. was an officer-heavy skeletal battalion (only HQ Co. and 42nd Co.) with no critical mission, so it functioned as a holding unit for people either awaiting levy to Vietnam or just back from Nam. As a Romanian translator-interpreter, I was initially assigned to the amiable 2Lt Gorniak, who had mastered German, Dutch, Danish, and Afrikaans while in college ROTC. But, like most officers, he was assigned to one of the combat branches--Infantry, Artillery, and Armored Cavalry--and soon came down on levy to Vietnam. (His name was among the handful I looked for a couple decades later when I dragged my daughter over to the Vietnam Memorial on a visit to DC. I was relieved not to find the names, but found the experience too emotional to explain to my daughter at the time.)

Among those just back from Nam were Sp4 McLaughlin, a crazy fearless helicopter door gunner who never hesitated to step between belligerent drunken soldiers; Sp4 Blaisdell, a radio DJ with a mellifluous voice who spent most of his tour in PsyOps, eating dog and other delicacies with Vietnamese villagers; and three former juvenile delinquent New Yorkers, Pfcs Carter, O'Neill, and Melendez (black, white, and Hispanic, respectively), about which more in later posts.

We did only one field exercise: Driving south on bivouac to Florida, where we pitched tents in a wooded military reservation overrun with armadillos (called 'turtle-rabbits' in Nahuatl), many of which had themselves been overrun on the road. The excess of officers over enlisted in our unit meant that each of us peons had to do twice the amount of set-up and clean-up that we would otherwise have done. I remember spending one long evening in our tent listening to Sgt Kerwin tell stories and recite Robert W. Service poems. When I asked him why a person with his wide interests stayed in the Army, he said he and his family very much needed the medical benefits.

By that time, I had become company clerk, and rode in the company First Sergeant's jeep. Just before departure, 1Sg Davis had gone off to take a shit in the woods. Unfortunately for him, he was very short and hadn't noticed that he had squatted over the back of his own trousers. Unfortunately for me, I had to ride behind him all the way back to Ft. Gordon. (Fortunately, it was an open jeep.) From then on, his epithet was Sgt Shitty Britches.

The only official public service we performed was guarding railroad crossings while a trainload of nerve gas was shipped to Savannah for eventual destruction (perhaps on Johnston Island). We were all issued gas masks and atropine, but were not allowed to keep them on our persons so as not to alarm the populace. So we kept them in the back of our truck, knowing there would be no possible way for us to get to them and put them to use within the 7-10 seconds that nerve gas would take to kill us.

Civil Affairs was relocated to Ft Bragg in September 1971. As a short-timer, with barely 6 months left to serve, I was transferred to Ft. Gordon's PCF--Personnel Control Facility (the brig), not Patrol Craft, Fast (Swiftboats). In December 1974, the 95th CA Grp was deactivated, and nowadays most Civil Affairs units are found in the National Guard, which I'm sure performs far more capably than the mixed bag of transients in the 95th CA Grp would have.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report. I was station there 1964-1966. Was Company clerk for the 95th. CO was H. T. Brewster. At that time there were 3 units. 41st - 42nd & 95th. Would love to visit with some of the old soldiers.
Robert L. Dellinger