Ever been kicked out of a restaurant? I can’t say that I have, except for this one time.
Third Battalion, Fourth Air Defense Artillery, 82d Airborne Division, 18th Airborne Corps had some unique capabilities. It consisted of somewhere around 500 steely eyed killers in the United States Army. One of our special skills was that we were Air Defenders. We had some of the most sophisticated and technical weapons that the Army had to offer.
The Product Improved Vulcan Air Defense Weapon System (PIVADS) was a gatling gun. It fired 20mm electrically primed ammunition that would explode like little hand grenades if it hit something, or self-destruct before it hit the ground again. 3000 rounds a minute. Let me say that again so that you really get it. Think about pulling a trigger, 3000 times in one minute. From a distance, when you heard it, it almost sounded like somebody let out strong steady fart. You could fire it in 10, 30, 60, or 100 round bursts. Or you could fire it in what we called, LO-NO. Then it fired 1000 rounds a minute but you controlled how many bullets with the triggers. Most of the bullets we fired at the range we always tracers. It was total coolness to light up the sky at night. We sat in what we called the tub. It had a seat that you sat down in. It was adjustable up and down, like an office chair with no arms. You sat directly on the top of two big NiCad batteries. They were the life force of the machine. Maintaining them. OMG! They were drama queens. Directly in front of you are several switches and dials. This was one of the first Army computers. It would do a self-test, kinda. That was one of the things that the squad was graded on. Can you emplace the weapon, conduct pre-fire checks, fire and hit your targets? Then conduct march order move to another position. We had a kick ass, precision weapon. And, straight up, no shit. Nobody, in any Army, in any Universe, were better at our jobs than we were. 3-4 ADAR, Bastard Brigade, 82d Airborne Division had no equal at that time and never will. Am I a little biased when I say this? Nope.
We also had the other high tech part of the 82d Airborne Division. We had the Stinger missile. The recent hero weapon of the Afghanistan/CIA war with the Russians. We had high tech locked down. Remember also, not only high tech, these Paratroopers were willing to go sit in hideouts, outside of the lines, for days at time. Just the two of them. No shit, they were Anti Aircraft Snipers.
Add the third and vitally important Early Warning component and we were the highest tech, smartest, craziest, non special forces warriors on the planet. Remember still, that we were Airborne. Part of the 82d Airborne Division. There wasn’t another Air Defense unit of our size anywhere in the world. We were regularly willing to fling ourselves out of a perfectly good airplane in the middle of the night, strapping on Stinger Missiles, M-4s tied on in crazy ways. The Stinger missile was like 96” long? I used to know all that stuff. You had to be really tall to jump it. There was a minimum requirement. I think it was 5’8”. Again, I used to know, I promise. I’ve seen folks both stand on their tip toes and shrink as small as they could so that they could jump or not jump it. We used to call it the Womack Jump Pack. Womack Army Medical Center just happens to be at Fort Bragg, NC. Rumor has it, it got its name from the SMJP.
I’m not sure exactly of the year. I’m pretty sure but it doesn’t matter. My memory is foggy about that. I do remember that we were at Cattleman’s, and drinks had been flowing for hours.
Cattleman’s was a steakhouse in El Paso. Those that know, understand what an understatement that is. Pineapple cole slaw. Steaks bigger than the plates. Happy that you ate the whole Cowgirl. She happened to be a great Medium Rare sweetheart to me many times. It was also a working cattle ranch, petting zoo, movie set…….. Oh, and not really in El Paso. It was in Fabens. Just check it on the map. You’ll have to zoom out pretty dang far. East of town. A ways north of the interstate too. You don’t accidentally go to Cattleman’s to get a steak.
We had bussed out there mid afternoon. I have no clue how many busses there were but, it wasn’t two. Hell, it could have been 15. Its quite a drive. Everyone is pumped. We have just completed our Annual Qualification Fires. AQF. We can’t fire our cannons and shoot our missiles at Fort Bragg, NC. You get it. Too dangerous with all the air traffic and such. We go the coast or to the desert. Fort Bliss was the home of Air Defense. Here we are. We had jumped in earlier in the week with our Stinger Missiles and air dropped our Vulcans and vehicles. We had conducted a competition like you wouldn’t believe to be the best of the best. Some won, some lost, but it was only by the slimmest of margins. I’ve seen competitions come down to whether you screwed up and called the Flanker the Fulcrum. Doomed! These competitions were tough. But friendly though, we have rivalry’s of course. Mostly, between the Vulcans and the Stingers. That was always such a cool little fight we had. That’s another story.
We didn’t fight tonight. Nope, tonight was the celebration. Tonight, we were done. We had a recovery day tomorrow and then we were going home. Did I mention that we had like two coupons each for beer or wine? And then a cash bar that seemed extremely cheap at the time since I hadn’t spent a dime since I’d been there, didn’t have time. Heck, I had $100 in my pocket and beers were $2. At the end of the night, my only worry was not peeing my pants on the bus all the way back to MacGregor Range, no big deal, Gatorade bottle was Prepositioned. That was a long way, no doubt.
I’m reasonably sure who was there. The usual suspects. Legends. All of us At one point, we were all on the tables. I’m not sure what happened to all the glasses and candles and table clothes. Almost every table was filled with a paratrooper on top of it. We were all pretending to hold the static line. We were chanting and responding to our Jumpmasters. We were enjoying the opportunity that we almost never had. Our Battalion Commander and Battalion Command Sergeant Major, at the end of night, after the awards, after the grog, after the bus ride, after the petting zoo, after the free booze coupons and shots upon shots for the winners, after the great meal and wonderful comradery. They were leading us in the Time Warnings and Jump Commands. I remember finding myself up on a table. Yep, in a restaurant. A very respectable restaurant. One with white tablecloths, cloth napkins. Centerpieces on the table. 200 paratroopers sounding off in unison. “Outboard Personnel Stand Up,” and “Sound Off For Equipment Check.” To put it mildly, we were…….. Robust….. that night
Yes, I do remember things getting broken. That one table, well actually a few tables did fall over. Nobody got hurt though and I don’t think there was any structural damage. All Jumpers did make it safely home. No medics needed.
Cattleman’s didn’t invite us back next year I’m told. I think we marched to a bar that year?
The best of times!