On November 21, 1960, I enlisted in the Unted States Army and was trained as a Communications Specialist because I didn’t like walking. But three years in the Army was all I wanted and was released from active duty on November 20, 1963.
Then being unemployed I was driving by an Army National Guard Center and thought, some money is better than no money so, I walked in to talk to the recruiter. I was 39 years old and the year was 1981.
Once that recruiter explained to me that they had full time positions, something called AGR, I was all ears…I think I can do this. Especially when he told me that I did not have to repeat basic training.
Active Guard Reserve (AGR) refers to a United States Army and United States Air Force federal military program which places Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers and Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve airmen on federal active duty status to provide full-time support to National Guard and Reserve organizations for the purpose of organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training the Reserve Components. Soldiers and Airmen in such status are also commonly referred to as AGRs.
Although they continue to be members of the Reserve Components, they are in a different federal status than traditional part-time Army Reserve Component or Air Reserve Component members (including full-time Army Reserve Technician and Air Reserve Technician Program members) called to active duty for training, special work, operational support to the Active Component, or mobilized for contingency operations. AGR personnel also receive the same benefits and entitlements as Army and Air Force Active Component military personnel. (“Active Guard Reserve”)
The recruiter said he was putting me in the TOW Section. I thought that I was going to be a tow truck driver which sounded cool. Nope. TOW means Tubular launched, Optical sighted, Wire guided missile that at that time was mounted on a Jeep. Yep, 39 years old and I was in the Infantry with an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code) 11H.
As it turned out, I really enjoyed that position. However what I really joined for was a full time job. But, that was not to going to happen in the National Guard. I think I interviewed with every unit in the state of Michigan but never qualified for one reason or another. Then one day while I was in the Michigan Unemployment Office, I found that the Army Reserve has the same type of AGR positions. So, I filled out one application and was hired as a Department of Army Civilian (DAC) GS-5.
When I advanced to GS-7, somebody told me that if I would transfer to AGR, I could double my income. Well, that was a no brainer. Wasn’t that my original goal?
As luck would have it, the unit I was working for just happened to have an AGR opening. I applied for it and the next thing I knew I was headed to Fort Sheridan, IL for in processing. I was a Sergeant E-5 when all of this happened and when I received my first check, I thought I was in financial heaven. Maybe not quite double my civilian pay but not very far from it.
Then I was promoted to Staff Sergeant E-6 and was sent to my first Primary Leadership Development Course at Fort Knox, KY. I was 42 and this course is geared for E-4s trying to get promoted to E-5 (making them in their late teens) so I was the old man in the course. This would be the first of many experiences like this that would follow my career.
The academics weren’t that hard but when we went out on a Field Training Exercise (FTX) for five days it really put me through my paces. For instance the school was in the winter time and when we came under a simulated gas attack, I remembered that I didn’t pull maintenance on my gas mask. It was clogged with sand and shortly after putting it on; I passed out because I couldn’t breathe. The instructor gave me a NO-GO for having a heat casualty in the winter time.
Another time I had trouble breathing was when we climbed up this huge hill and I was the RTO (radio telephone operator). Once we reached the top, the instructor told me, “Radio back to the second platoon and let them know we are in position.”
In between breaths I gasped, “You got to be kidding. I can’t even breathe and you want me to talk on this thing?”
My next school taught me all about the Bradley Fighting Vehicle from the hull up.
As with other infantry fighting vehicles, the Bradley is designed to transport infantry with armor protection while providing covering fire to suppress enemy troops and armored vehicles. The M2 holds a crew of three: a commander, a gunner and a driver; as well as six fully equipped soldiers. The M3 mainly conducts scout missions and carries two scouts in addition to the regular crew of three. (“Bradley Vehicle”)
The M2/M3’s primary armament is a 25 mm cannon which fires up to 200 rounds per minute and is accurate up to 2500 m, depending on the ammunition used. It is also armed with twin missiles which are capable of destroying most tanks out to a maximum range of 3750 m. However, the missiles can only be fired while the vehicle is stationary. The Bradley also carries a coaxial 7.62 mm medium machine gun, located to the right of the 25 mm chain gun. (“Bradley Vehicle”)
I remember showing up for class and the instructor said, “At the end of this class you will know how to break the track and replace it.”
I thought, “You have to be joking. I don’t even change the tires on my car, and you want me to break a track and replace it? Good luck with that.”
But, by the end of the course, I could break track, upload 25mm ammunition, load two TOWS, and oh yeah, I could also drive it and swim it.
The Bradley was initially designed to float by deploying a flotation curtain around the vehicle. This caused some drownings due to failures during its first trials. Armor upgrades have negated this capability. (“Bradley Vehicle”)
At that time I held three MOS’ 11B Infantryman, 11H heavy anti–armor weapons infantryman and 11M fighting vehicle infantryman. That all sounds impressive but, I rember asking a Sergeant Major, “Do you think at my age, the Army would send me into a combat zone, leading a squad or platoon of infantry soldiers?”
He didn’t even blink an eye when he said, “Without a doubt!”
I couldn’t see it happening but then we were not at war with anyone at the time so I just kind of forgot about it.
The next time I knew that I did not belong in the Infantry was when I went to The Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course (BNCOC) an MOS-specific course for Sergeants promotable Staff Sergeants, and The Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course (ANCOC) an MOS-specific course for Sergeants First Class and promotable Staff Sergeants. Promotion to Sergeant First Class is conditional upon successful completion of ANCOC. Failure of this course means that the Soldier would be removed from the promotion list or would have to give up the Sergeant First Class rank.
I was 52 years of age when I arrived at ANCOC. Again I had no problems with the academics. In fact the only thing I had left to pass in order to graduate was Land Navigation.
It was during the safety briefing on the night land navigation course that threw me into a tailspin. When that instructor mentioned the fact there were wild dogs on the course, I froze. I even told the instructor that there was no way I could go down that course. I said, “I don’t even get along with domestic dogs let alone wild dogs.”
“I can’t make you go down this course,” he responded, “but, if you don’t you will be out here again tomorrow night.” (soldiers were given three chances to pass the course).
So, away I went. But I kept to the roads thinking somehow that wild dogs don’t travel on the roads. Of course I didn’t pass either.
The next night, I tried getting a hold of my fear and went down the trails. I actually had a good time even though I still didn’t find any points. (you had to find 5 out of 7 points).
On the third night and my final attempt, I was really dragging. I was saying stuff like, “I wish those dogs would come and put me out of my misery.”
Needless to say, I flunked out of ANCOC and lost my Sergeant First Class rank which didn’t make me a happy camper but those were and still are the rules. I am not sure what the failure rate is for this course but I hope that I am not the only one who failed. But, if I am, then I am glad that I was never put into harms way leading a squad or platoon who would be looking to me for leadership.
I just wasn’t Hooah enough. (Hooah is a U.S. Army battle cry used by soldiers and also in use by U.S. Air Force Security Forces airmen “referring to or meaning anything and everything except no.”). (“Hooah”)
Knowing that I wasn’t Hooah, I put in for a reclassification to MOS 88M, Motor Transport Operator. I met with a lot of resistance to this request. The Army does not as a rule allow you to change your MOS once you have been fully qualified. One exception to this rule is if there is a shortage of personnel in a particular field and/or your occupation is not promoting very fast. (neither was my case).
On top of that, I would have to go to seven weeks of (AIT) Advanced Individual Training, including hands-on training with some of the world’s most unique and complex vehicle systems. Part of this time is spent in classroom and simulation, but over 200 training hours are spent in actual vehicles and field training environments.
The Army really frowned on the fact that I was a Senior NCO and that I would be going to school with brand new male and female soldiers fresh out of Basic Training. But, finally they agreed and off I went to Fort Leonard Wood, MO.
What an experience this was. 54 years old and a Staff Sergeant (E-6) reporting to AIT.
The Senior Drill Sergeant almost passed out. “Oh my god!” he said, “I have to get you a room; I can’t put a Senior NCO in a squad bay.”
The fun was just starting. I wasn’t allowed to socialize with the privates…in fact I couldn’t even stand in the same formation with them. So, I was a platoon of one. Until that is, one day another Drill Sergeant came out and asked, “Sergeant Reynolds, why are you standing there by your self?”
“Because,” I said, “this is where I was told to stand.”
“No way,” he responded, “you belong over there with the reclass platoon.”
So, I double timed over to the reclass platoon.
When my Drill Sergeant came out, he said, “Sergeant Reynolds, don’t you like us anymore?”
“Senior Drill, I do not have a clue.”
After the trainees stopped laughing, I was allowed to drive to class from then on.
Seven weeks later, I graduated and was awarded MOS 88M and re-assigned to an Engineering Company at Camp Atterbury, IN.
No sooner did I get settled into the Engineering Company than I had a heart attack.
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