Comments (Roger Neiswender): “Greetings from the President of the United States of America. You have been selected for induction…” So began my military service on November 21, 1968 ushering me into the U.S. Army, thereby terminating my graduate school and track grad assistant coach experiences at UT. On December 2, I boarded the bus from the Birmingham, Alabama Selective Service parking lot and proceeded to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
At Fort Benning I served as guidon for our platoon, and was the battalion champion in Pugil Sticks. I won the grenade distance toss using the Bubba Beal discus wind-up never before seen on the post and immediately thereafter banned due to numerous safety violations. I ran third leg on the battalion winning relay team – the latter three endearing me greatly to the drill instructors who formally hated all college graduates. That, plus my skill at filling out their IRS EZ tax forms, assured a relatively trouble-free basic graduation. Those experiences taught me a lot about how the lower levels of the military really worked.
For some reason, after basic I was shipped to Fort Polk, Louisiana – Tiger Land — to specialize in jungle warfare. This was in fact very close to the end of the earth as far as US service was concerned. Then came orders to Fort McPherson, California, for the All-Army track team for three months – by contrast, as close to heaven on earth as military service has to offer. Maybe it was just the contrast with the prior duty station. But that hiatus eventually ended and I was sent back to finish infantry training at Ft. Polk. I got very lucky and because of high scores in PT, expertise in all firearms, and turning down the OCS opportunity, it looked like I could get a top secret security clearance. I was one of three from the two thousand Ft. Polk grads not sent to Nam. I was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to train to guard warheads for the Pershing missile program. I had dual MOS classifications for Infantry and Missile Warhead mating.
After four months of intense training, I was stationed in Lager Lechfeld, Germany for 16 months as the junior NCO (Sergeant E-5) in charge of security for bunkers containing warheads and two remote firing sites in the Alps. Duty was so good that I declined a second season with the All-Army track team so that I could travel with my remaining leave in Germany, France, and Italy.
I received an early out to return to UT graduate school and ETS’ed from active military service at Ft. Dix, NJ on September 24, 1970. I served proudly, gave them what I had to offer, and gratefully departed back to civilian life, where I gladly used the GI Bill to finish Graduate School.
What success I did have in the Army I attribute largely to Coach Rohe’s grueling workouts; his focus on the objective while blocking out the pain; and his eternal optimism. Not every day served was “What a Day”, but many of them were.