An Army Story
Updated: May 13
Q: How do you ruin the training effect of a long run?
A: Stay on your feet after the run.
0900 hours. Long run complete. Feet up. Hank Snow, Dwight Yokam and Del Reeves on the radio. OK… let’s write a blog post about the time my colleagues almost blew up a section of Arizona highway 79 and then we’ll try to move the topic on to something more esoteric like memory.
First of all, 0900 hours is the same thing as 9:00 AM. There are pieces of military service that refuse to be forgotten. I also can’t forget the taste of C-Rats, MREs and dust clouds kicked up from Arizona desert roads while riding in the back of a gama goat .
C-Rats? Gama goat? Yes. I’m dating myself with cryptic military jargon, but there are days I’d love to be back on the Florence military reservation or in Fort Huachuca during live fire drills. Have you ever sent 100 pounds of steel five miles down range? It’s an incredible feeling of power and strength. But when all the stars are aligned right and nobody spills coffee on the charts and the second lieutenant in charge minds his own business, that’s when the field artillery really shines with incredible accuracy.
In the 1980’s we were using firing tables developed in the 1950s at the Yuma Proving Ground. These tables coalesced battlefield variables into a form that soldiers could use to put steel on target. For the most part, those tables were dead on accurate. We used to say we could land a projo in a garbage can. Projo is short for projectile: the bullet shaped explosive device shot out of our 155mm canons.
If you were to design an artillery firing range, you would probably place the impact area far away from a public highway. At least I would. I’m sure you would too.
Along a stretch of Arizona Highway 79 just north of the town of Florence, someone did it the other way around. We used to drive way out into the desert and then turn around and fire the canons back toward the road. This wasn’t completely insane, because there was a huge margin between the impact area and hwy 79. But still… you can see where I’m going with this.
I’ll cut to the chase and just say, one of the batteries (infantry calls them companies, artillery calls them batteries) overshot the impact area and threw a huge smoke and dust cloud over Hwy 79. As far as I know, no one was hurt, but there were sure a lot of high ranking officers running around. To me, as a young 20 something, it was no big deal. After all, even Sandy Koufax threw some wild pitches at a distance of only 60.5 feet yet we were lobbing shells miles away. I have no idea why it happened or who missed the safety checks, but the point is that I remember it vividly.
It’s been over 30 years since the incident. That artillery firing range may not even be there anymore, but the question that nags me is, “Did it really happen, or is it a fabricated memory?” The other nagging question is, “Does it really matter if it really happened?” Parts of my personality and character have been built on such memories. Would I be any different if Sam or Don or Doug, who were there, told me today that it never happened?
Yeah… being an amateur philosopher means coming up with questions that probably have no answers.
Until next time …