Tuesdays with the Colonel
I guess the greater part of my Army memories revolve around just living and traveling in Germany and Europe. Small town boy getting down in G-town. Stuttgart, Germany is located in Southeast Germany near the Swiss border. It is about the size of Denver and the automotive manufacturing capitol for Germany. Mercedes Benz corporate headquarters as well as plants making VWs and Audis all occupying office parks and factories . Denver’s light rail train system is made in Stuttgart and that train line stretches for miles and miles and makes this scatter shot city of Stuttgart and its surrounding boroughs easily interconnected and efficient. Don’t forget German efficiency. It really is a marvel to drive and travel in Germany. It seems as though the car and the road are such a natural part of their world that their coexistence is second nature. The politeness shown by the drivers is unlike anywhere else I have been. Big traffic circles with lanes and lanes of cars and not even a honking of the horn to voice any displeasure. Strict adherence to even the simplest traffic laws like lane changing and traffic lane merges makes the whole system work like the cliche’d clockwork we have all be told.
One of my responsibilities while stationed at Kelly Barracks was to share in driving our Colonel around. He preferred to travel in a “CUTV” or in civilian terms, a specially outfitted Chevrolet Blazer, painted in camouflage and equipped with all sorts of radio and telecommunications equipment. It stood out on the Autobahn like a fresh, swelling bruise on Whitney Houston’s face. And because of the Colonel’s rank and responsibilities, I had to take an “offensive” driving course where I was taught some terrorist avoidance skills and how to do some cool things to a Mercedes Benz on a closed track. I was taught how to make wicked fast turns; how to turn the car around with just the emergency brake; how to roll a car and land it on it wheels successfully; how to handle a car or van traveling at high speed on ice and snow and how to drive pretty damn fast on open terrain through a slalom course of pylons.
I never had to use any of those skills but the training was helpful, as I tended to party and drink pretty hard in those days and then crawl into work with a terrific hangover and no sleep. Driving around Stuttgart on autopilot was pretty simple after having advanced driving skills training. I remember once, driving back from Muenchen (Munich) in VW bus full of field grade officers. I had been up for about 28 or 30 hours at that point as part of a field training exercise. Driving the officers back to Kelly Barracks, I must have drifted off to sleep about two or three times – once Major G____ tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was okay to drive! But they seemed to trust me as no one took me from the wheel and we arrived at the base safe and secure. I ended up working about ten more hours for a grand total of nearly 45 hours straight without sleep. To this day that is a personal record and I really don’t think I am up to breaking it any time soon.
One thing though, I never drove on off duty. I never took the time to get a European driver’s license or a car for off post shenanigans. This probably saved my life and kept me out of jail. I used the bus system and the train system to get virtually anywhere I needed to be on off duty hours and have a stable of good solid friends and roommates with cars for those trips into town with the gang. But the trouble those trips caused is a different story all together.