Oh Little Observation Post
From John Hooten (L Troop, 3/11 ACR): I came across this a number of years ago. I was at OP India in the spring of ’76 when the DDR started removing the old double- apron, barbed-wire mine field for the closing mesh single fence. It was really loud when they started cranking off the charges to blow the old mines.
OH LITTLE OBSERVATION POST . . .
By Robert J. McCartney
The Washington Post
December 25, 1988
OBSERVATION POST INDIA, WEST GERMANY — A small Christmas tree in the mess hall is the only reminder of the season for the 66 soldiers at this U.S. Army outpost on the front line of what is left of the Cold War.
Outside, the clouds hang low and a steady drizzle falls on an observation tower, blue metal barracks and a tank shed perched high on a wooded bluff. The jagged black line that cuts across the valley below is the fence, covered with electronic sensors, built by East Germany to keep its citizens on their side of the border.
Somewhere not far beyond that fence are Soviet and East German tanks. If they ever invaded, it would likely be right here in what is called the Fulda Gap. The terrain is relatively open, and nowhere else does the Warsaw Pact jut so far west.
The men here of Lima Troop, 3rd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment watch the border around the clock, and Christmas will be pretty much like any other working day. The dreary surroundings, isolation and monotonous work take a toll on morale. There are gripes about the lack of housing and transportation. Everybody here would rather be home for the holidays in the United States, or at least back at the squadron’s headquarters barracks in the pleasant West German town of Bad Hersfeld, 24 miles away.’
But, as the soldiers say over and over, with more than a touch of pride, “Somebody’s got to do it.” They feel privileged to stand guard in the face of a living enemy. They enjoy the excitement of driving 60-ton tanks through the Hessian countryside. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they radio back a report each time they see a Soviet helicopter patrolling on the other side.
Their friends back home, they say slightingly, are “still working at McDonald’s” or “still hanging out at the bowling alley.”
In addition, there seems to be less risk this Christmas than ever before that the tanks on the other side will come their way. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has announced that he will remove six
armored divisions from the Warsaw Pact’s front lines in Eastern Europe and trim the Red Army by 500,000 troops in the next two years.
“It makes you feel more secure about being here. It makes you feel safer,” Pfc. Charles Graviss, 20, a tank driver from Bowling Green, Ky., told a reporter Thursday.
Because of Gorbachev, several soldiers said, their parents do not telephone quite so often with anxious questions about whether their boys are going into combat.
“I think it makes my mother feel better than it does me,” said Sgt. Kenneth Bacon, 23, a tank gunner from Cincinnati. This will be his first Christmas away from his wife and two daughters, but he was not complaining. “I’m kind of a patriotic person. That’s a lot of the reason why I joined the Army. If we weren’t here, maybe there wouldn’t be any Christmas,” Bacon said.
These soldiers have two overall missions: watching the border, and taking out their M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles to practice maneuvering, scouting and shooting.
The soldiers normally live in the Bad Hersfeld barracks, but they spend about 50 days a year at border outposts such as this one. They come for several weeks at a time to patrol the frontier by foot and in jeeps.
Their main job on such outings is to watch for any indication that the other side is building up its forces for a possible attack. Nobody here could remember ever seeing any sign of such an intention.
Instead, they report mostly on the East Germans’ efforts to make the border “leakproof,” such as by installing new sensors or putting up additional fences. The Americans gather information on the frequency of East German patrols, appearances of Warsaw Pact Hind-D and Hopflight helicopters, and of East German military vehicles.
The Americans are not supposed to speak with or otherwise acknowledge the presence of the East German border soldiers they see. But it was clear that there is a bit more contact than regulations technically allow. Several soldiers reported exchanging obscene gestures, and, in one case, a cautious smile, with their counterparts on the other side.
“They do the same thing we do, which is looking. They’re more worried about their people going out than our people coming in,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Kregel, 41, of Harlingen, Tex., the outpost’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
The heavily fortified border and its clear purpose make a deep impression on U.S. soldiers, especially newcomers. Officers and enlisted men said they felt sorry for their many comrades-in-arms who never get a chance to see the frontier.
“Until I saw the border, I never knew you could do something like that to another person — keep them penned in. It made me feel like I joined the Army for a purpose, not just to cook,” said Pvt. John Hubbard Jr., 20, a chef from Dexter, Mich.
Second Lt. Christopher Kolenda, 23, of Omaha, the outpost’s officer in charge, added, “You get a real awakening when you see that guy on the other side, and he’s got that rifle and it’s loaded.”
The soldiers sleep here in crowded quarters, four or six to a room. But the facilities are much better now than a decade ago, when troops here lived in Quonset huts and had their meals sent up in large green metal cans. Now they have a sauna, weight machine and game room featuring pool and table tennis.
After years of watching television only on videocassettes, they have recently gotten a satellite dish and can receive U.S. Armed Forces Network (AFN) television live.
On Christmas Day, the cooks are to serve up turkey, roast beef, ham and shrimp cocktail. Any celebration will be sober, as no alcoholic beverages are allowed at the camp, and there will be no let- up in patrols, guard duty or other surveillance.
But Kregel, who appears to be the outpost’s principal taskmaster, hinted that discipline would be relaxed a bit. “What the Christmas party probably will consist of” for the troops, he said, “is not getting harassed so much.”