Flash back – Reforger ’89.

Reforger is an exercise conducted by the military and it stands for “Return of Forces to Germany.” The idea is this. Should the Soviets (and I’m sure the concept is being reworked now) start getting squirrely, we would start deploying forces back to Europe to counter what they were up to. The idea was you pack several stateside divisions on aircraft (like United 747s) and fly them across the Atlantic to Germany. There, they’d be mated up with equipment sitting in Europe that’s been waiting for them. They’d then go out there and do whatever needed to be done.

A freezing cold landscape in Germany – Reforger 89

Reforger could be fun for the actual combat units, but for us (501st MPs, 6th platoon), it was an exercise in boredom.

Part of the reason I say that was our mission (which we never actually did in the Gulf War). Our job was to:

1) Set up an access control tent and screen people going into the Battle Central,

and 2) preform perimeter security (which we did in the Gulf, but with the help of a whole lot of people we never worked with).

Both jobs could be boring in the extreme.

And that’s very true of the Access Tent. The job was to ensure people coming were allowed in. And that meant a lot of time on our hands.

So we read.

Richard Bachman (AKA Stephen King) was one of the writers of the books we devoured while working a night shift. And one story was called “The Long Walk.”

The book that haunted us every step of the way.

And now, deep on day 2 of the walk, that damn story was front and center in our minds. Most everyone on this little twenty five mile plus nature hike in Nijmegen had read it. And with ever step, our brains played every word over and over like a bad TV rerun in our heads.

Here’s the gist of the story. It involved a number of young people on a walk. So far you can see the similarity since the median age on the Nijmegen march is 27. But that’s where any connection between fantasy and reality ends.

In the book you started walking and you walked.

And you walked.

And you walked some more.

You walked till your feet bled and your shoes fail apart.

You walked till you started seeing things.

You walked because if you stopped for longer than a minutes, you’d be shot and killed!

While that wouldn’t happen here, quitting was something we just couldn’t do.

On day two of the Nijmegen International March, we’d been in country for three days.

A few days before, we’d all gone over the Katterbach Kasserne. We had our duffle bags packed and our rucks. I can honestly say, that was the first time my duffle bag ever had civilian clothing packed in it. I also had my uniforms, a sleeping bag, and extra pair of boots. I had a couple hundred dollars in my wallet.

Monty waiting to board the bus.

Now when I say we, I mean the MPs that were doing this. But we were joined by another team. These were guys from the Division Field Artillery unit who shared our Kasserne with us.

I got along fine with them. Most of them were into weight lifting like I was (I’ve never met an artilleryman that didn’t have arms as big around as most trees) and some liked to box. I often boxed them because it gave them an excuse to beat up on an MP and not get in trouble for it. It allowed me to work off some steam in a constructive manner. Even better, we’d have beer afterwards and laugh about it.

Anyway, they came with us. At Katterbach, the Military Intelligence unit (no jokes about that please. Especially considering what happened later.) stationed there had arranged for the buses that would take us to the Netherlands. They had a team participating also and before this was over, we’d be calling them all kinds of names.

The buses they’d chartered weren’t school buses painted Army green, but nice air conditioned coaches with comfortable seats and music piped throughout the bus.

We stowed our gear in the bottom, climbed aboard, and we were on our way.

I don’t recall much about the trip up to Nijmegen. I had only so much film and didn’t want to burn it up taking pictures. Instead, I sat, read, talked, and like most, slept. We stopped once at a roadside gasthaus for lunch (think truckstop) where I had a schnitzel sandwich, fries, and a beer.

We arrived in Nijmegen early that evening.

The Dutch Army was hosting the event and they proved to be great hosts. We arrived, got our gear out, and we were taken to our tent.

Now when I say the word tent, that almost conjures up the image of a large, military OD Green tent with horrible bunks, not unlike what we’d live in months later in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

But not here. The tent had a frame, a floor, electric lights, partitions, and so on. They were also orange in color and the military community that housed soldiers from all different nations looked almost more like a circus setup. But there were hints that this was a military organization.

One of the hints was the latrine and shower areas. Anyone who has spent time in the field would recognize the open air shaving stands or the latrines or the showers. We also had mess tents where we took our breakfast and supper.

Our hosts got us to our tent, we secured our gear, and then they told us how to go and explore the town.

A group of street performers welcome us to Nijmegen

I’m glad we did that first day there, because at the end of the Day One of the march, we went into town.

Day Two, some of us went in.

By Days three and four, there was no desire to do so. Let’s be honest here. Why would you want to go into town when you can barely walk.

So, into town we went.

Nijmegen, Holland is an old community and dates back to around 5 AD when the Romans founded it. It’s the largest city in the Dutch province of Gelderland and is a stones throw from the Germany-Holland border.

The Romans came here and established a military camp. Because of it’s location, it gave great views of the surrounding area and that gave it strategic value.

Over the course of centuries, it has been the birthplace of a few historic figures such as Henry VI. There have been boatloads of artists, singers, statesman, and scientists who called the place home, to include Alex Van Halen, drummer for the band Van Halen.

Like most old cities, the place has been the scene of more than a few battles and as a result, much of the actual history has been bombed, burned, and bull dozed away time and again.

Today, Nijmegen is a modern city with a vibe that echoes the past but is connected to the future. I didn’t know at the time of the walk, but it has an awesome university and I got to work with a programmer who had graduated from the school later in life. He was surprised I’d been to the city.

But a lot of that was furthest from our minds as we went downtown. The idea that evening was to get a beer, find a meal, and enjoy whatever was going on.

I think she was Danish military.

And there was a lot going on.

The entire town had taken on a holiday atmosphere. A dozen languages swirled around us as we encountered men and women from different countries. Like us, most were military. Someone told me that some twenty five thousand people had shown up for the walk. It’s a number I never tried to confirm, but while military represented a fair fraction of the marchers, the walkers would be well represented by the civilian population.

When we went downtown, we put on civilian clothing. let’s be honest, BDUs don’t make for about town dress. But several military members, wearing their dress uniforms, were out and about representing their nations.

Being the big deal it was for the city, all the stops had been pulled out. Street performers juggled and mimed their way around us. A girl played Mozart on a flute and Mexican Mariachis played song I didn’t expect to hear so far from Mexico. Clubs were open and packed, great bands entertained, awesome beer flowed like water, and good food was served up from a hundred venues.

One of the things I recall with fondness is a fair portion of the team around a table drinking a beer. If I stop and think about, I can almost taste that beer, even after over thirty years. And I look at the picture (not all the walkers are in it from my team) and all I can think of was how young we all looked.

just a few of the Long Walkers as we called ourselves. From Left and working around to right. Eric McArtor, Mike Haskin, Webster, Your’s truely, Tim and Tanya Honor, Karen Briggs, Lt. John Bielecki and Lt. David Grimm. In a few days, those two young officers would face a tough leadership challenge. This was maybe two thirds of the team.

We had two young officers with us, Lt. John Bielecki and Lt. David Grimm. The two of them were so new to being an officer in the Army that there butter bars still shone brightly. In a few days, these two men would face a leadership crisis that they don’t teach in OCS.

We had several NCOs with us (yours truly among them). I’m pretty sure I was the oldest person from my team doing the walk. I see pictures of Tim Honor, and Eric McArtor from my platoon and SFC Michael Geilizeui and they all look so young. Even I look young, so young that I almost don’t see much of the today me in my younger me.

SPC Karen Briggs, Super Medic

I mentioned in part 2 of this story our medic Karen Briggs. I don’t recall which unit she came from but she was a valuable asset to our team when it came to doctoring our feet. She rode a 10 speed alongside us with a pack on her back containing her gear.

Then there were others like Monty who wasn’t an MP, but a mechanic who worked on our equipment to keep us going. Monty (I wish I’d written down his whole name down) was a very even tempered, very nice guy. While much younger than me, he had an old soul and he was great guy to talk to.

As mentioned, Nijmegen is an old and historic town. And as such, it’s also one of those towns that offers a lot of different distractions.

One of them happens to be brothels.

What isn’t common knowledge to Americans is that in a lot of parts of Europe, prostitution, the worlds oldest profession is a closely regulated and legal profession. Those who find employment in it are licensed and under go regular medical check ups and so on.

We found out those services were offered here when someone said, “There’s a girl over in that window. Let’s go check her out.”

The girl in the window is how some of these “Companies” advertise themselves. They’ll put a scantily clad or in some cases, naked girl in a window to entice patrons to enter.

My reaction at the time was odd and totally out of character for me. I just shook my head and said, “I can see a naked girl anytime I want. Now a two thousand years old Roman tower, that’s something different.”

What I didn’t realize at the time was the person I used to be was changing. There had been a time when I’d have been all over the opportunity to view this advertisement, but not now. The Richard Muniz who walked under the Dutch sky that day was becoming a different person. I didn’t know it yet, but God was at work in my life and while I hadn’t accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior yet, I was becoming a new creation.

Being alone in Germany had given me the opportunity to examine who I was and I was running into a lot of corners of myself I didn’t like. One of those corners was my attitude towards women. Jesus treated women as equals to men and treated them with an incredible amount of respect.

I wasn’t the same way yet, but the change had begun. I had no desire at least, to see a fellow human being debase themselves for the prospect of money. Later, I’d learn the Biblical statements concerning sexual behavior.

The Roman Tower. Been rebuilt a time or three, I’m sure.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.”

Sigmund Freud put it a little less elegantly. He simply said, “our beds are crowded.”

Both are saying the same thing. Every lover we have becomes part of how we measure our relationships. And a relationship with a wife is the greatest of all possible relationships we can be in on this world. If we measure our spouse by our past sexual encounters, how is she ever going to measure up?

And how in the world are we ever going to be happy with the relationships we have?

I was thinking of these things when my buddy Jonesy came up. He had a look on his face that was hard to read and I asked him what was going on.

“Rich, I went and checked those girls out.”

“And?”

“They’re black.”

Jonesy is a black man and he’d later wonder out loud what kind of slavery they’d allowed themselves to be put into. Even if they did this willingly, he admitted there was something that bothered him about it.

I’d say It bothered him a lot.

A card meant to help us keep track of routes and physical condition.

We went and looked at the tower.

Shortly afterwards, we got something to eat, then caught the bus back to the camp.

Day 1 promised to be a busy day.

The march started the following morning. We were in BDUs, our rucks packed, our canteens filled, and ready to go. We’d had out breakfast, and now was the moment we’d worked for.

Walking the hundred miles was no longer a theoretical thing. It was a happening thing.

DAY 1 –

Soldiers from Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, and France stood in formation, waiting their turn to go. I wandered through the assembly area taking pictures of the different groups. Flags from all over the world fluttered in the morning breeze.

A marching band leads the way.

A signal was given and music split the air. The first marchers started for the road to the deep beat of a drum. A cry of “Forward. March,” echoed across the field. The British of course started things out in style. There were marchers in uniforms like you’d see at the palace as well as a contingent of British MPs. A blast of sounds from trumpets and the skirl of bagpipes shattered the morning.

A cheer erupted from a thousand throats.

It had started.

Marching for the first time were Polish marines. I took one look at them and was glad I’d never had to fight them. They looked like they meant business.

Eventually, our turn came.

We fell in and SFC G gave the “Forward. March,” command. My left foot went forward and I took the first of many thousand steps I’d take before the event was over.

We started marching to the sound of cheers and music.

“Your left. Left. Left, tight, left,” SFC G said and then started singing, “I’m a steam roller baby

just a rollin down the line

so you better get outta my way now

before I roll right over you. . .”

Our turn comes to move out

We echoed the cadence and a cheer went up!

We were on our way.

The first day wandered through through the town and out into the countryside. Holland is an incredibly beautiful country. As per military discpline, when marching, I marched. As a result, I missed a lot of photo-ops. An example of a lost op was a windmill.

Holland is well known for it’s iconic old windmills, and here we were less that a hundred meters from one. Rather than breaking military discipline, falling out and taking a picture of this marvel, I said to myself, I’ll get the next one.

Trouble was there wasn’t a next one and the only windmills I got pictures of were from some distance away.

We’d been told that there would be rest stops separated by about six miles and there were. Each stop had water and snacks. We made sure to take our stops, elevate our feet, and change socks as needed. Canteens were refilled and the first day passed quickly, joyfully, and easily.

The only person with wooden shoes I saw.

That evening, we of course, we went out on the town.

Nijmegen was one big party by this time. There were street performers everywhere and some of these folks were really talented. The smell of food flooded through the air, and everywhere there were people eating, drinking beer, and generally having a good time.

I kept my eyes open for people wearing wooden shoes, another icon of Holland. Only once did I see anyone actually doing so, and it was a man who appeared to one day younger than God who was wearing them.

I’ve a very vague recollection of getting some supper, but where and what is beyond me. I recall sitting opposite Webster and we watched this flood of people move past our window.

A band Entertains us

The whole town was out for a good time. There was a band in the middle of the square playing rock and jazz. I don’t know who they were, but they really good and everyone was enjoying it by singing along, and clapping to the music. Some people danced in the streets.

Pretty girls were everywhere it seemed and since most of us had a slight limp, they were more than happy to hang with us.

But we showed at least some common sense and we were back in our tents and in our bunks not long after dark.

Tomorrow was another day and we needed our rest if we intended to march.

DAY 2 –

Day two card

Day two of the march dawned much like the first day. We got up, stumbled to the bathrooms, shaved, and got dressed for the march. I checked my boots, and then checked my feet. There were no blisters though they were a little painful. On a scale of 1 to ten, they registered a 3. Before the day was over, they’d be at about a 15 or 16.

There was an interesting development and one that I’ve wondered about occasionally. Our medic, Karen Briggs was the only female on our team. Since she was a girl, she would be bunked with women elsewhere. We had an empty bunk in our little area and she showed up with her bike and gear and settled in. The best I got was that something had happened and she felt safe around us. We all looked at her as a little sister and were protective of her anyway. None of us minded.

After we cleaned up and got ready, we all went to the mess tent for breakfast. One thing I’d never been able to get used to was European breakfasts. They have sandwiches for breakfast. Now, with McDonalds and such basically doing the same thing, so you’d think I wouldn’t find that odd. But in this case, my stomach almost revolted. A son of America, when I think breakfast, I think eggs, bacon, some hash browns, and toast. Occasionally pancakes or waffles will do.

Day two – Drummers and a marching band lead the way.

But what we got a bag with a couple of slices of bread, a small tin of meat (smaller than a potted meat can), some fresh fruit, and a bar of some sorts. By the time we’d got back to Ansbach, I was more than willing to kill for an American breakfast. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. All I had to do was hobble over to the mess hall, shell out seventy-five cents, and enjoy.

I don’t recall much about lunch. I don’t recall if we drew an MRE, a sack lunch, or if they had something along the way.

Once we’d eaten, we waited our turn to leave. Our hosts came around warning us it was going to be warmer than yesterday and to be sure to drink water.

We knew about heat, and didn’t think it would be a problem.

Our turn came to leave and we left singing cadence.

We’ve all seen cadence in military movies. It’s designed to help keep you moving as a unit and to get your mind off the physical exertion you’re going through. It’s a trick of the mind in that if you’re busy singing, you won’t listen to the aches and complaints of the body. And if you have someone who can call cadence well, you’re in for a treat. SFC Michael Geilizeu was a former drill sgt. and he could call cadence with the best of them.

Like we were warned, the cool of the morning gave away to a warmer day. SFC G called “At ease, March.” Basically, we walked relaxed, staying in formation, but not marching. We could talk, look around, and so forth.

Canteens came out and we each began sipping water.

The day kept getting warmer on us and by early morning, we began to realize we might be headed for trouble. We were sweating through our uniforms and drinking almost non-stop from our canteens. Before we reached a rest stop, they’d be dry.

By noon, I’d drank almost four quarts of water. The part that I should have realized was that I hadn’t needed to urinate once. That meant every drop of water in my system was being used. When I finally did urinate later that afternoon, it was little more than a trickle and a deep yellow.

A break area along the way

I was dehydrated, and didn’t even realize it.

I remember at one point looking at Lt. Bielecki and I could see he was in almost as much trouble as I was. He hadn’t drank in almost a half hour. His canteen was empty and I urged him to get into my ruck and get one of the gallon canteens I carried out and drink from it. Since the majority of the team now had empty canteens, we passed the gallon canteens around and by the time they got back to me, they were empty.

At the next rest stop, canteens were filled again just like they were at every stop. By the time we reached the next stop, they’d be empty once again.

Somewhere around noon we passed an old woman who had a garden hose. She was spraying it up into the air and the mist settled down on us. It felt like rain from Heaven and gave us a temporary respite from the heat.

At one point, we crested a small hill and I was able to look ahead and see a mass of people on the road as far as I could see.

Glancing over my shoulder I saw the same thing. A veritable river of humanity walked under the hot sun. It was stunning to see so many people all engaged in the same enterprise. We were all from different countries and yet our goal was the same. We were were all focused on crossing the finish line that was still two days away.

Mac takes care of his feet. If you look closely, you can see blisters and bruising on his toes. Karen (our medic) is cutting moleskin in an attempt to help Mac’s feet from getting even more damaged.

It was during the breaks we began to realize just how much we really hurt. Some of us were convinced our feet were busted, but that wasn’t the case. Blisters and scrapes were beginning to appear in the most interesting places. I recall feeling like someone had stuffed a lit match between my toes and when I looked, I had a blister that had popped.

A dog tired British soldier in the beer tent.

Overall, my feet were in good shape compared to most. Some of the guys had bruises on their toes and heels. It was just the intense pain we all felt in our feet. I’d compared it earlier to how a crystal chandelier must feel when dropped off the Empire State Building. But what was really interesting was that once we got moving and after a few steps, the pain went away. It’s like there was some switch in our head that we’d reach for and just acknowledge we hurt and that was the end of it.

At one stop we decided to give ourselves a shot of confidence. When we got back to the camp, we’d march straight into the beer tent.

And that’s what we did. We came in singing cadence (Louie, Louie if I recall) and this mass of people parted in front of us. We showed off our spirit by responding to the marching calls, singing loudly, and the sounds of our boots echoing off the floor.

The inside of the beer tent.

SFT G called us to “Mark time, March” and we stopped in place, still marching. After a few seconds of that and still singing Louie-Louie he called us to halt.

And the crowd went crazy!

Applause and cheers rang out as we stood at attention, grins on our faces, and our feet screaming with a pain we dared not show.

“Fall out!” SFC G called.

That was our signal to get a beer. I purchased a glass and drank it down in a few swigs.

My throat was parched an my body was screaming for liquids.

I quickly got another glass and swallowed it down.

Then a third.

The beer tasted good and made me feel better, and so I drank a fourth.

I might have been better off drinking rat poison!