In Germany each fall, there's
a large-scale military exercise which is conducted called "REFORGER".
REFORGER, or the "REturn of FORces to GERmany" allows military planners
from the United States and other member nations of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization, or NATO, the chance to do some "fine-tuning" on
defensive and offensive plans should the Soviet Union and its allies
come across the "steel curtain" which separates the western nations
of Europe from the eastern nations. REFORGER also allows, in my case,
the United States Army, to train its units in what they would do if
such an attack occurs and to orient new soliders and their leaders on
"the real thing". Like the acynomn, the exercise involves returning
large number of military personnel back to Germany, getting them the
equipment and supplies they need to do their jobs, and getting them
to the "war area".
My first REFORGER occured
when I was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry at Cooke Barracks,
in south-central Germany. The "Blue Spaders" was my first military
assignment in my role as a Signal Officer. I had just completed a
stateside training course which taught me how to run wire, hook up
telephones, run manual and automated switchboards. How to manage my
people and how to deal with commanders and others wanting "their commo
now". How to run AM and FM radios, how to do some light maintenance
on them, and most importantly, what is the purpose of that one white
button on the AM radio.
(I'll clue you in:
It serves no purpose at all. It's a "dummy button", designed if the
radio was to be expanded. There has been a lot of new Second Lieutenants
left "holding that button in" while the soliders left the shelter
in which the radio was housed, having a great laugh at the expense
of the new officer that was left in that hot, confining place for
HOURS sometimes, "holding that button in".)
So now, I was ready
to "do my job" or so I thought to myself as I started work with the
New Lieutenants in
the Army have a lot of those kind of things happen to them. It's a
part of the new unit and it's personnel "getting to know" the new
officers. New LTs also get a wide variety of "additional duties" piled
on them as well: motor officer, in charge of insuring that all of
the vehicles run or are being repaired; NBC officer, which has nothing
to do with the National Broadcasting Company and much to do with protection
of the unit against a nuclear, biological or chemical attack; admin
officer, in charge of the unit's paperwork; and other essential jobs
that are "left to the new guys to do".
During REFORGER, an
officer is selected to serve as "Class A Agent". Because the REFORGER
exercise happens all over Germany and central western Europe, there
are many occasions whereby the military must pay for meals, for damages
and lodging. No, because of German laws, we Yanks just cannot pitch
large numbers of tentage just about anywhere; we cannot cut down trees
or clear farmland with our tanks and armored personnel carriers without
PAYING for it; we cannot "take over" recreational fields or areas
without compensation to the owners.
Nor could we operate
large numbers of field dining halls because during REFORGER, speed
and rapid movement from one area to another was most important. The
longest a unit stayed in a particular area was about two days.
That's the job of the
"Class A Agent": to represent the Army and the unit in paying for
those kinds of things.
And it was usaully
a Lieutenant that had that job. I had that job.
The unit "affectionally"
called the person with the Class A Agent job "The Bag Man".
You start by presenting
an "addititonal duty order" signed by your Commander to the local
Finance center. They take you back to where they keep the money, and
they tell you to "start counting" the German currency. They have it
figured out for the length of the exercise times the number of soldiers
involved from the unit as to how much money to give you, plus a little
more for "emergencies".
I was used to money:
my mother would have me or one of my two brothers to count her daily
reciepts from her job as owner and worker at her beauty salons. We
would count well up into the hundreds during those evenings after
dinner on the table. It was IMPORTANT to count it accurately, for
any mistake, however slight, can mean the difference between a check
clearing and its return from the bank with the red marks "insufficent
funds". And WE would hear about it.
So, when I was sitting
there, counting well over the American equal of four thousand three
hundred dollars and some smaller change, it did not even bother me
in the slightest. I just had to make the "count right".
Next, I was given a
receipt for the amount and told to "keep up with what you've spent.
It's your responsibility as to what the unit spends and how much....and
get receipts for anything over 300 DM (Deutsche Mark, roughly equal
to $100 at the time I'm writing this)"
[note: this was in
1985; in 1995, the exchange rate is down to half, which makes the
equal amount $150 or so]
I was then given a
cloth bag with a zipper and told "That's it". I was escorted to the
door and back to my unit, where I locked the money up in the unit's
safe until the day of our departure.
Out in the field, fellow
officers would find me and tell me "Hey LT Walton, I need 200 Marks
to feed my folks!", "I need 400 Marks to get some copper wire and
barrier materials", "I need some money to pay for damages over here".
"Hey "Bag Man"! I need 100 Marks!" I was a really busy person, confident
that everyone had legitimate reasons why they need the Army's money
and also confident that my own soldiers were doing the jobs they were
supposed to do in my absences to "dole out money". Like my mother
taught me, I also brought with me a ledgerbook, so that I knew who
asked for how much for what purpose on what day and time.
I still have that ledgerbook
with my military stuff.
Being the newbie officer
I was, I asked a fellow lieutenant why they called me "the Bag Man"
one rainy afternoon. Then, I received the significance of the term.
"It's not because you
have the bag, its because you're left holding it when this is all
over. There's no way that you will get everything balanced out, and
you'll have to pay the difference from your paycheck!"
Now I know why everyone
fought over NOT getting this additional job!
After the exercise
was over, once again, you go back to the Finance office and "settle
up". It was a rather busy day over there at the Finance and Accounting
Section, and they were extremely short-handed. I sat there, counting
the money and sure enough, I was $323.74 short. A little over a thousand
A young Specialist
Fourth Class came into the "counting room", introduced himself, and
started to recount the money.
He finally finished,
wrote some information down on a form, and looked up at me. "Lieutenant
Walton, you're cleared. It balances."
"No, it doesn't, Specialist.
It's short a thousand marks....to be exact, it's short...."
The enlisted soldier
interrupted my explaination. "It's okay, sir. I'll cover for you.
This happens all of the time...it was your first time, wasn't it?
Lots of officers take advantage of the person "holding the bag". We
know it, but when the Army regs say that you don't have to account
for every penny, just that over a certain amount, it makes it hard
for us to accurately keep track. Don't feel bad, sir...we've had some
officers come back in here short thousands.
A strong nauseating
feeling overcame me as I sat there, listening to this soldier tell
me that officers were "taking the Army for a ride" financially. No
wonder they had smiles on their faces whenever they would see me.
I then remembered the Scout Law point:
"A Scout is Trustworthy.
He can be trusted. Honesty is a part of his code of conduct."
"Can I sign this over
to you and then come back with the difference?", I asked, as I looked
at my watch. It was almost sixteen-hundred, 4pm. The finance "cage"
closes at 4pm.
"Yes sir, you can,
but it's not neccessary. As far as the Army is concerned," the Specialist
signed the release form, and then gave it to me to sign, "You've turned
it all in or accounted for it all".
"According to ME, Specialist,
I'm a little over three-hundred dollars short. I'll be right back!"
I got up and moved quickly to the front of the office.
"Sir, you forgot your
copy..." the Specialist stood there in the gated hallway. I did not
respond, but to go to the front of the center where the disbursement
cages were. I cashed a personal check to the Commander, Finance and
Accounting Center Stuttgart, for $323.75, one cent more than what
was short. I did not bother counting the German currency after asking
for it in the host nation's currency.
I did not even think
about what my wife would say when I would get home and tell her that
we are now short almost $350. It's a good thing that we had a savings
account set aside Stateside!
I took the money back
to the enclosed area and placed it on the table.
"Now, please recount
it and it should balance out to the pfinning."
As I got up after signing
my release form, the Specialist looked at me and said "Boy Scout,
As I folded the bag
and placed it on the chair, I responded in the traditional Army yep,
(MAJ) Mike L. Walton (Settummanque, the blackeagle)