It was after midnight in Germany, and I was on routine MP patrol. There were three of us watching over the Ansbach Military Community that night. We were all NCOs and were looking forward to a quiet shift.
I’d driven around between the different kasernes (German for barracks), and was looking forward to getting off duty at six AM. We let the privates run the gate guard that night. Running patrol that night was my buddies Sgt. Richard Patton, Cpl. Eric Dietz, and myself.
And then the night went to hell.
“Four Oh One, Four Oh Two,” the radio squawked. “We have a report of a disturbance at Shipton Kaserne! Main parking lot. Reports are of a man with a knife.”
I picked up the radio and answered, “Four Oh Two, en route.”
Shipton was a small barracks just outside of Ansbach. I was already driving in that direction and was minutes out. At one of the intersections, I saw the other MP Patrol. It was Sgt. Richard Patton and Cpl. Eric Dietz. They fell in behind me. I drove up to the main gate where a very excited gate guard was pointing and yelling, “He’s over there. In the parking lot.”
I nodded, and drove to the parking lot and turned in, calling over the radio that I was on the scene.
I’ve rolled up an all manners of messes in my years in Law Enforcement, wrecks, riots, fires, but this was a first. As I turned into the parking lot, in my headlights stood a man. He had no shirt on and held a hunting knife in one hand. Blood dripped from his arms and chest, where he’d cut himself. He stood squarely on to me, anger burned in his face, and he hunched over slightly, his legs spread like he intended to fight.
He stood next to a Ford F150 pickup. He’d broken every window on it, the tires were flat, and the truck body looked as if it had driven through a hail storm.
Oh, man, I thought. Here we go. I stopped the van and got out, my hand on the butt of my 45. Being ready to draw was an empty threat at best. We weren’t allowed to have a magazine in the weapon or a round in the chamber.
I knew how fast a man with a knife could move. If he charged me, about the best I could do was run like hell.
“OK, let’s make nice!” I shouted. “Put the knife down, soldier!”
He looked at me, a smile on his face, and yelled back, “Just shoot me!”
I had to smile. “OK,” I muttered. “That isn’t going to work.”
I’d taken my hand off the pistol now, and I was walking towards him. “Come on, soldier. Put it down. We don’t need anyone getting hurt. And we sure don’t need this worse than it already is.”
That’s right, I thought. Try to reason with him.
“Leave me alone, and it won’t be!”
Rich and Eric had joined me as I approached him. Between the three of us, we made a cordon with each of us about three meters apart. He backed slowly away until he was standing with his back against a brick wall.
I kept trying to talk to him. “Come on, man. There’s been enough trouble tonight. Let’s stop this.”
“It’s over anyway! My wife’s gone! My career is gone! Just shoot me.”
“You got kids?” I asked.
“That’s none of your business!” he shouted, which in street-smart cop talk meant, “Yes, I’ve got kids.”
“Look. You’re not helping your children or yourself. Put the knife down, please. Let me help you!”
“I’m never going to see them again anyways. My wife took the kids, and I don’t even know where she went.” For a second, I saw his rage crack, but in the next, it was back. “Want to help me? Shoot me! I’m in Hell. Just shoot me!”
“We don’t want to shoot you. And we can stay here all night if we have to. I want to help you.”
I was frantically looking for options on how to end this. If I’d had pepper spray, this standoff would have been over. But the Army hadn’t allowed us to carry it. That left my hands, my nightstick, or the gun. I’d already decided the gun was out. I was not about to kill this man. I’d managed to avoid that in almost twenty years of law enforcement. Someplace, there was a way out. I just had to find it for him and us.
I played the only card I had with the guy. “What happened? Tell me what happened so we can help you.”
“She took off!” he yelled. “She ran off with my best friend. She wrote to me. Told me I’d never see her or the kids again!” A sob wracked his body. “Sweet Jesus, I want to die!”
My mind was going a thousand miles an hour. I was trying to find that one thing I could use to calm him. It wasn’t there. I briefly considered charging him with the nightstick, but I was trying to de-escalate the situation, not make it worse.
By now, the ruckus had drawn soldiers out of the barracks, and a crowd was the last thing I needed. I saw the CQ out of the corner of my eye, and Rich said to him, “Sergeant, get all these people back inside. Right now!”
He started yelling to get inside, some listened, and some didn’t. There was still a sizable crowd.
I was slowly inching my way towards the soldier, still trying to get him to talk. “Listen, we’ve got resources. We can help you find them,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. Give us a name and a DOB, and finding someone becomes a simple exercise.
“You’re lying, man!”
He moved towards me with the knife, not close enough to do anything about it, but more a feint. I held my ground. He tried the same with Rich and Eric, and they’d back up a step. I used it to my advantage and closed a little bit more. I was watching, waiting, confident that once I saw the right opening, I could disarm and subdue him. I know about knives, and I know how to take down someone who has one.
I got my opening. The soldier looked right at me and said, “Jesus, forgive me.”
I was ready for his charge, but that’s not what he did. He turned the knife to his stomach and started to fall on it.
I hit him like a tackle sacking a quarterback in an NFL game. He hadn’t even made it halfway to the ground before I connected. His breath exploded from his body as we collided. We tumbled a couple of times, ending up in a tangled pile, one half of the pile wanting to die, the other trying to keep that from happening. In the lights, I saw a glint of steel. He still had the knife, and I slammed his hand against the pavement. He howled in pain. I’d broken his hand.
The man was sobbing, begging us to kill him and saying that if we didn’t, he would. Eric spoke briefly into his handheld while Rich, and I wrestled the handcuffs onto him.
“Ambulance is inbound,” Eric said.
Now the soldier was trying to pound his head into the pavement. I put one hand under his head and the other on his head so he couldn’t hurt himself. I was still trying to reason with him, but it’s somewhat tricky when you’re trying to get control of a maniac.
After what seemed hours, the ambulance showed up. The EMTs administered something to him, and a few minutes later, he went slack.
We helped the medics load him in the ambulance, and in a few minutes, he on his way to the psych ward at the Army hospital in Nuremberg. They’d keep an eye on him and hopefully help him sort it all out.
I stood up and started flexing my hands. After restraining him for so long, they hurt. While I worked the pain out, I turned to the CQ and asked, “OK, what the hell happened?”
It seems this young Sergeant had gone after his Platoon Sergeant with the knife.
I spoke with his Platoon Sergeant, and in a written statement, he told us that the soldier had received a bad EER (Enlisted Evaluation Report). A bad EER is something you want to avoid because it can affect future advancement and your overall career. Rather than appeal it through channels, he decided to plead his case with a knife. When the E7 ran and locked himself in his room, the soldier took it out on the E7’s truck.
We got everything we needed and left the compound. I went to the Provost Marshals office to write up the incident report.
Only I couldn’t.
I sat and tried to write the report. I got my name on the paperwork, and that’s as far as I got. I walked around, tried again, and still couldn’t.
The Desk Sargent looked up and asked how it was coming,
“It isn’t,” I replied.
I had to calm down, and that wasn’t happening.
I finally walked into the Polezi Liaison Officers office and bummed a couple of smokes from her. I went out the back door where we had a bench. I sat down in the early German dawn, and I lite up a cigarette. I smoked it down to the butt. I had lit up number two when Dietz came outside.
I nodded, taking a drag from the smoke. Dietz was hiding his emotions rather well. I hadn’t smoked in years, and never while I’d known him. He knew I was in trouble but didn’t know what to do about it.
“I just need to calm down a little so that I can write that report.”
“Yell if you need help.”
“I know where you’re at.” I spent a few more minutes smoking and looking up the stars. I felt I could finally do something with the report.
Only I didn’t have to. An Agent from CID was leaning against the counter, talking to the Desk Sargent. CID was taking over the investigation. It was a simple matter of relating to him what had happened and giving him my statement. An hour later, we were finished and I went off duty.
Word had circulated that we’d had some action. We had to retell the story to those going on shift, and I finally got to bed about seven-thirty.
I couldn’t go to sleep. I was still too keyed up. I said to heck with it, got up, got dressed, and grabbed my camera. There’s always something interesting to take pictures of in Germany, and it was my day off anyway.
I could sleep later.
I wandered about downtown for a bit and took pictures of the beautiful historic city of Ansbach. Eventually, I found my way over to Main Post. The MPs at the gate told me that SFC Carter was asking for me. She and I were friends, so I said I’d wander over and visit with her.
I was walking to the door of the Provost Marshals Office when she and the Colonel came out.
SFC Carter was the NCOIC at the Provost Marshals office. In short, the ranking enlisted soldier there. If the Colonel were the Chief of Police, she’d be considered a Deputy Chief.
“Sergeant,” she said.
Despite being in civilian clothing, I still snapped the Colonel a salute.
The colonel returned it, smiled, and let SFC Carter handle it. “Saw what you, Patton, and Dietz did last night. Good work.”
“It was . . .” I took a breath. “Interesting,” I decided was the word.
She chuckled, and this time, the Colonel spoke. “It was more than interesting, Sergeant. You guys handled it well. No one got hurt, and the perpetrator was apprehended with minimum force. You guys made good calls all around.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“ We’ve put the three of you in for the Meritorious Service Award.”
The puzzled look on my face prompted SFC Carter to say, “It’s the highest award you’ll get in peacetime.”
I chuckled, “And I’m sure they’ll downgrade it to an ARCOM or an Army Service Medal.”
“Probably,” she answered with a laugh, and then both she and the Colonel shook my hand.
I had a burger at the rec center if you can call eating half of it, and leaving the rest behind “eating.” I left Main Post shortly afterward, wandered around town, and took more pictures. Finally, I went back to my barracks.
I was exhausted but still couldn’t sleep. I got into PTs and went to the gym. Even after lifting weights, my nerves were too raw to rest. I checked out a pair of boxing gloves and headgear. There were a couple of guys from the Field Artillery unit who enjoyed boxing and would never pass up the chance to beat up on an MP.
After half an hour of boxing, I felt tired enough to sleep.
I finally did.
What I didn’t recognize, and what no one else recognized, was the incident had put me on a path that would cause me more grief than I could imagine.
I was patrol sup again a few days later, but this time it was daywatch. As I got ready, I heard the sound of my Specialists and Privates up and about. Usually, I’d see them in the bathroom, but not this morning. I knocked on one door to see if they were ready. They had the TV on, and I could hear the voice of a news commentator.
They were up and watching the news. Their eyes were wide as they watched T-72s rolling into some city somewhere in the Middle East.
“What’s going on?” I asked, looking at the television.
“Iraq invaded Kuwait.”
I watched the coverage. The TV showed Kuwaiti tanks fleeing before the Iraqi assault into Saudi Arabia.
“You think we’re going?” one asked.
I watched it for a second. “Oh, yeah. We’ll be going.”
And all along I was thinking, out of the frying pan and into the fire.