Writing Wrongs

March 15, 2006

It may surprise you that, back in the day, I was awarded the Order of Lenin. No, it’s true. I swear it. This was way back in the day, back when second lieutenant and green were, in my case, interchangeable.

And when you’re green, you get tagged to do a lot of field support because you haven’t paid your dues yet. I think this may have been the first time I went on a field exercise while in Germany. Of course, I went as exercise support, as:

The Threat.

The Soviet threat. Remember them? Ah, the good old days when all we feared was nuclear annihilation and mutually assured destruction. It was a NATO exercise, run by the Brits, who despite what you might think, have pretty good field chow. (Well, I thought so. Beats MREs.)

This sort of exercise is a command and staff sort of thing, no troops in the field. Instead, it’s a computer-based simulation. The staff acts as though they’re in the field, but all the information is fed to exercise support and the results of their decisions and actions (and of the threat) are played out in the computer.

The exercise official in charge of the threat was a British major, with one of those British accents, which are great except when you hit the language divide. At first, I thought he was saying, “hand of a.” Then I thought it was “handover.” That made some sense, but I still had no clue. Everyone else seemed keyed in. What handover? No one said anything about a handover. Were we surrendering before even starting the war?

I tracked him carefully, determined to figure this one out. Finally, when his hand skimmed across the map of Germany, it hit me.

Hanover. A city in Germany. Duh. Glad I didn’t ask. I might have been green, but I knew when to keep my mouth shut.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the threat unit I commanded. I think it was one of the older tank armies, with T-64s, possibly. We weren’t a high speed, low drag Guards Army, that’s for sure. And it was just me and a brand new warrant officer straight from the warrant officer course running the show.

We were up against the Belgium Army and the idea was to simply hold them while all the interesting action took place to the south.

Did I mention how we weren’t expected to do much?

Certainly not roll right through Northern Germany. Certainly not threaten the Belgium border. (Although, really, what were they expecting from the screen door of Europe?) We did both, so quickly, that the front line bulged, us poised to roll into Belgium and everyone else stalemated to the south, where the interesting action was not happening.

They made us stop. By “they,” I mean the exercise officials. The rationale was our flank was exposed, so we were to hold and wait for everyone to catch up. Who, exactly, was threatening our flank wasn’t clear. The French? Please.

The other reason, the whispered one, was that we inadvertently embarrassed the Belgium command and there’s a certain amount of niceness to maintain when you’re playing with your NATO pals.

So for the rest of the exercise we held the line. This involved moving a tank company back and forth and reading a lot of paperbacks.

At the end of the exercise, the Belgium commander wanted to meet the battle-hardened team that had essentially kicked his ass. I can’t remember if he said anything or shook our hands. His gaze went from us to the map scattered with our red (bad guys are always red) unit markers, then back to us. Me, a green, female second lieutenant and a newly-minted warrant officer.

With features so hard they could cut rock, the commander turned around and left. The warrant officer waited until the Belgium contingent was out of earshot before collapsing into laughter.

That afternoon, the British major handed out certificates as a token of appreciation. Generally, what you get as exercise support is to go home and that’s it. So this was a nice touch. And the highest honor, the Order of Lenin? Well, the British major handed out two that day, something he let us know was unprecedented.

He gave one to a newly-minted warrant officer and the other to a green, female second lieutenant.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 1:17 p.m.