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It Happened in October

by Maggie DeMay

It’s October again.

Fall is in the air. My birthday’s coming up.

So are the memories…

Reforger 82

And that shouldn’t be an issue. It is.

Reforger….Return of Forces Europe for all you civilians out there. Pack everything up and see how quickly you can ship it across the pond. That was back in the good old days of the Cold War when the US and the USSR were staring at each other through the cross-hairs of nuclear silos. Back when the airfield had a seven minute life expectancy if the balloon ever went up. The Nuclear Balloon. Not that we’d ever see the thing. Probably just a flash of light, some intense heat, and it’d be over.

I was working in the message center. I was a telecommunications operator. One who could type using both hands and didn’t drop phase if the system went down. Total on line and live. The shit the kids think is so cool these days, like live chat and instant messaging, that’s what we were doing back in the bad old ’80s. There are times when I hear the words “internet for peace” and want to laugh. The whole damned thing started because the military needed rapid communications. All that high tech sitting on your desk and in the palm of your hand? If the military hadn’t needed it first, you wouldn’t have it.

October in Germany. Kinda nice. Not too warm, not too cool. Lovely sunrises. God knows I saw more than my share. Smell of sauerkraut in the air. Harvest going on all over the place. And an invasion by the Americans. Only don’t call it an invasion, it was a field training exercise.

For this one it rained. A lot. Poured rain for days. Still, the army doesn’t call the game for inclement weather, that’s what the hell we do. Wars don’t stop because of rain. Neither do flight operations. Amazing what the military will fly in.

I got stuck working night shift. I usually did. Not that it mattered, it was somewhat quieter at night. All you had to do was occasionally answer the switchboard and send out a message every hour or so. It gave me time to read or do needlework or join in the card game in Flight Ops. For anyone who’s never been in the military, let me point out that military service is mostly long hours of doing nothing interrupted by intense activity that has to be done NOW.

Night shift, October 1982. It’s just me and one A***** W******. I should have known he had ulterior motives. He was one of the NCOIC’s favorites and never ever worked nights. Used his wife and kids as an excuse. Didn’t want to leave them home alone at night in a foreign country. Claimed his wife was afraid to stay by herself. In a gated housing area. More like he was afraid his wife might cheat on his ugly ass. Strange how that excuse never seemed to work for female soldiers.

W******  volunteers for night duty. I’m thinking he’s bucking for brownie points with the Captain. W******’s an idiot redneck who didn’t like serving with blacks or women. Used to rub this one black kid’s head when he came in. After about a week of that the kid asked what the hell he was doing, and W****** replied that it was good luck to rub a pickaninny’s head. He and his buddy S*******  were of the opinion that the only reason the army was sending women to Europe was to keep the American men away from the local women. Good old S*******. His favorite saying was “Fuck it, I came.” Lovely people and a credit to the uniform. Pardon me while I go throw up.

Anyhow, it’s night shift. Flight Ops brings in a message. I go out back to the comm van to send the thing out. A comm van is about eight feet wide and about ten feet long. Most of that area is taken up by equipment, leaving a very narrow access point with enough room for two teletype stations—and trust me, you better hope the person in there with you has high personal hygiene standards.

I’m sitting there, putting the message into the proper format to send over the wires. It’s warm inside the comm center, and I’m got my uniform shirt off and wearing a t-shirt. It’s allowed. I had the door open, because even then I was having problems with claustrophobia. After this, it only got worse.

You know that feeling that you get when you know someone or something is behind you? How the hair on the back of your neck starts to stand up and you get goosebumps. There I was, typing away, and it’s hard to hear because a Kleinschmidt Teletype is one noisy piece of equipment, and the crypto gear isn’t much quieter. Add in the sound of jet engines from the airport we shared facilities with and the roar of aircraft engines and helicopters, and it can get kinda hard to hear.

Breath on my neck. “Nice tits.” W****** was leaning over me aboutthisclose.

“Thanks. Get the hell away from me.”

“No, really, you got real nice tits.”

“You’ve got a wife and kids. Go away!”

He backed off. When he got to the door, he turned and leered at me and said, “Let me know if there’s anything you want later on.”

Yeah, like for you to die in a fire.

I finish sending out the message. Take the transmit info back to Flight Ops. Guess I looked a little irate because the girl at the desk asked me what was wrong. I said not much, only if she heard me screaming later, please have someone break down the door to the comm center.

I go back to work. Of course I get to both send messages and answer the switchboard because, hey, that’s what women do. W******’s reading a porno magazine that shouldn’t have even been in the area. So much for regulations. The bastard keeps staring at me, like he knows what I look like without my clothes on. I tell him to answer the damned switchboard because I’m taking a break. I went over to Photo, which was just across the hall. With both doors open you can see directly into the rooms and hear everything that’s going on. Five minutes later, I’m hearing the switchboard buzzing like a swarm of angry bees. W****** managed to look up from his porn long enough to yell at me to answer the damned phones.

Yepper. It was going to be that kind of a night.

Around three in the morning and I had to send out another message. This time I’m wearing my shirt because it’s getting cooler and I’ve got the door open. I probably should have had the damned door locked.

This time he didn’t even bother to whisper “Nice tits.” He’s behind me, reaches around, and grabs them. Both hands, both breasts. I jumped up screaming. I think I called him about every bad name I knew.

He wasn’t interested in taking no for an answer. That’s when I kneed him in the nuts. My only regret is I didn’t do it harder and that I didn’t have access to a baseball bat or tire iron.

Do you know what happens when a female soldier reports a male soldier for an incident like this?

The first thing that happens is she gets called a liar.

The second thing is, you had better be the re-incarnation of the Virgin Mary. Because if you’ve ever done anything like, oh, said a bad word, or had a drink, or gone dancing at the club with more than one person, or glanced at a Playgirl magazine, or my god in heaven, had sex, it’s all your fault.

Especially if you were wearing a t-shirt.

Heaven forbid a male soldier respect a female’s right to have unmolested breasts.

By the time the human relations NCO got done, you’d have though I was the whore of Babylon. It was all my fault. I had somehow conned the detailer into assigning me to the airfield in order to falsely accuse a man with a wife and children of an imaginary act in order to ruin his career. I figured it out later on. Our human relations NCO was married to a black man. If I had been married to or dating a black man, there wouldn’t have been an issue. One of the first questions she asked was if I had ever dated black men, although what that had to do with an attempted rape by a disgusting redneck is beyond me. Please don’t think I’m a racist, because I’m not, this was the woman’s typical behavior. And it wasn’t just me. One girl I knew ended up in the CO’s office because she was overheard in the club telling an obnoxious drunk that she didn’t date black men and heaven forbid a white women should ever bring a complaint against a black man. The truth was she had her own agenda. White male soldiers behaving badly towards white women who weren’t in relationships with black men were not on her radar scope.

Your word against his.

Maybe it wasn’t even an attempted rape.

Maybe his idiot ass thought that women like shit like that.

Newsflash: we don’t.

It was all my fault because I wasn’t wearing my uniform shirt.

I overreacted.

That’s what it came down to.

There were no witnesses.

I should have stabbed the son of a bitch with a lineman’s tool.

You know what happens after a female soldier files that type of complaint against a male soldier?

The first thing that happens is it disappears from the records. All of them. Yours, his, the army’s. I suspect that Sgt C. U. Next Tuesday ripped out the offending pages from her little notebook.

The powers that be made it all unhappen. Your word against his. Hysterical female. Probably her time of the month.

That’s when they set you up to get rid of you. And by the time they’re done, you don’t trust anyone. Not command, not the soldier standing next to you, and you sure as hell don’t trust the system that’s suppose to keep this sort of shit from ever happening.

The shrink at the VA read my records and asked what happened in October of ’82.

He didn’t know me. He’d never seen me before. Just took five minutes to read my records and knew something was wrong. It was the first time anyone had even bothered to ask.

So I told him.

Now I’m telling you.

Maybe I should have done it thirty years ago.

Who the hell knows.

I hope A***** W****** burns in hell.

I suspect I wasn’t the first women he tried that shit with. I suspect I wasn’t the last either.

I hope Sgt C U Next Tuesday’s black husband left her for a black woman.

Yeah, I’m angry.

Once I thought I was part of something special. Then that rat bastard came along and fucked it up.

Write it down, the shrink says. It’ll help.

Then why am I still angry?

Maggie DeMay is an Old Cold Warrior who never saw combat. She enlisted in the Army in 1978, and was in one of the first co-ed training companies at Fort Leonard Wood. She is now a medically retired printer and lives in the middle of the Sonoran Desert in a quaint little mining town with a little Pomeranian, a herd of mule deer that drop by for a snack every afternoon, and a flock of Gambel’s quail.
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