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Team Spirit 1987 Part 2.
There were a lot of other things that happened during TS 87 that deserve telling. Remember that we were temporarily occupying a part of the Republic Of Korea Marine base near Pohang. Liberty was great, but a little strange. We are spoiled as a people and don’t like taking showers ankle, or in some cases, knee deep in mud. That pretty much left our integral shower tents out in the dark. (I’ve had to use those things many, many times and I think that, if the military ever takes an interest and burns all of those non-showers, re-enlistments would take off.)
We ended up finding out that the local police station had showers that were OK, but the cream of cleanliness were the local bath houses. The Koreans were not too thrilled because they were civilians and we were large and hairy and spent most of our time groveling in mud, even as electronics repair people. We never managed to ‘funk out’ a Korean bath house, but the rates for us kept climbing the whole time we were there. (I can imagine the bath house proprietor contracting with a dust bin collection agency to clean up after us.) We didn’t get dirty on purpose. We were just the victims of the duty cycle and the fact that we were set up in a garbage dump.
The Women Marines suffered the most. The baths were segregated and the male Marines were never approached by Korean men who wanted to ask us personal questions, but the women were a constant source of amazement to the Korean women, from what I was told.
Then there was the ‘Squadron commander’s Antenna which led to the picture of the ‘Dog House’. The squadron commander, who had probably majored in music history in college, felt that a UHF antenna mounted on the top of one of the TDCC HF antenna support towers, would give him more range. There are three things wrong with this concept, which has been tried many times. First, UHF is ‘line of sight’ so raising the antenna 50 feet gives you an increase of about 21 miles in range. Second, the antenna has to be connected to the radio by an antenna cable. We didn’t have any cables long enough to reach the antenna from our semi-environmentally controlled vans, so we had to borrow a tent from another unit, and set it up in the middle of a pool of noxious fluid. (Remember, we were set up on top of a trash dump.) We spent a lot of time working on that tent and its contents. When the concept proved to be unsound, we left it all there. The antenna cable itself was a problem, though. It had to be the large coaxial cable instead of the small stuff in order to keep output power losses to a minimum, so it was heavy. It was also so long that when the transmitter was putting out 30 watts at the antenna connector, only 16 watts were getting to the end of the antenna cable. I took apart the connectors on both ends several times and rebuilt them but I could never get any more than 16 watts out of it.
I do have to mention putting up the tower, though, because it was spectacular. We worked with the Ops people to put the whole thing together and we could not have done it without them. The TDCC HF antenna supports were spider webs of aluminum and steel wire. They had to be ‘jacked’ up from the ground one section at a time. In other words, the higher they got the heavier they got. When the last section went up the tower ‘operator’ had to lift the weight of the entire tower. This was done by hand because the towers were delicate. (There are three supports for the three or four element long wire antenna. One is fairly short but the other two are probably more than 40 feet tall.)
Maybe I wasn’t looking at the right time but I have never seen anyone from TDCC help raise their own antenna supports. TDCC had a lot of crypto gear that had to be ‘keyed’ on site and I never heard anyone from TACC, or Air Radio complain, but I can tell you from personal experience that those support towers get heavy when they get up to 20 feet, and the rest is just more bad news. Well, with the squadron commander’s antenna attached, the support tower was heavy even when the first 12 inch section went up.
Maybe I should explain what a tower section consisted of a little better. The tubing was thin wall aluminum and about 0.25 inches in diameter. The braces were steel wire, very small gauge, with pivots at each end. The structure was triangular and designed for ‘jack up’. The sections were about a foot tall, each, when extended. Unfortunately, in this instance, the operator, (me) was not up to the task. I tried really hard but, after weeks of making tent floors and walkways, I might as well have had flippers as hands. I jerked and hauled and finally one of the braces gave way.
You can’t imagine the scene. We had about 30 feet of tower falling everywhere, literally, because when one brace comes apart, they all do. I remember a friend of mine, who I will call Bill for the moment who seemed to be running in all directions at once. He was the only one that the ‘faulty tower’ hit on its way down. I just sat there at the base of the tower and watched it all happen. I was devastated because my UHF antenna was stuck about three feet deep in the mud and I knew that the squadron commander was not going to let us rest until the tower and the antenna were up. On the second attempt things went well. Oddly enough, no operator wanted to use the radio attached to that antenna because it had the worst transmission and reception capabilities of all of our radios.
We filled a lot of sandbags during that trip to Korea. I’m not sure what happened to them after they were filled, but I made sure that, for morale purposes, I filled my share. We may have used them to hold down the skirts of the tents and that reminds me of the ‘double wide’ GP Medium tent. Someone at Group headquarters decided that they needed a tent that was larger than anything currently in the supply system, so it was decided to set up two GP Medium tents with a common side. I managed to avoid this whole process but construction went on for weeks and when the tent was finally completed, sort of, it was immediately blown over by a high wind. The wreckage disappeared over night and nothing else was ever said about it.
It was fairly cold in Korea while we were there. Fortunately we had the best supply sergeant that I have ever seen. Somehow he got the unit to cough up enough money to buy a number of kerosene heaters for us and they worked fantastically well. They were very fuel efficient, very safe and very easy to light. Exactly the opposite of the issue stove/heaters. We loved them.
I have to digress here to talk about the one thing that the TC in Germany who took over my brand new tank was really good at. He could make a military stove do anything. I’d swear that, if they were a little more aerodynamic he could have made one fly. When we went to the field we were issued a stove with our tent and he would immediately take it apart and perform some feats of major magic with the carburetor. After that, as long as someone hadn’t stolen our fuel can, a common occurrence, we could find our tent at any time of the night or day because the exhaust pipe was cherry red from the top down to about a foot above the tent roof. Our tent looked like a stern-wheel steam-boat going up river with a heavy load. Other people tried to get the same performance out of their stoves, and usually ended up burning their tents down. In our tent there was only one person allowed to touch that stove. He was like a god to us. I realize that a hot exhaust pipe doesn’t mean efficient usage, but there was no doubt that the stove was working. When we tore down we had to clean the stoves before we could ‘clear’ the billeting area and that was a nasty job that our stove magician was exempt from.
Back to Korea. We had a number of rock climbing enthusiasts in the unit and, somehow, they found out that Korea was THE place to buy high quality gear at very reasonable prices. At least the prices were better than anywhere else that we were likely to see for a year. Somehow I got involved in the proceedings. Since we were in the ‘field’ we were allowed to wear our camouflage fatigue uniforms out into town. Six of us showed up at a climbing gear shop in town one day to start the process. None of us spoke any Korean and it turned out that the people in the shop spoke very little American. Initially the people in the shop displayed great concern and I assume that they were expecting us to rape and kill them, regardless of sex, but we finally convinced them that we were serious about buying climbing equipment. A LOT of it. We had orders from about 30% of the people in the unit. By pointing at display items and going through catalogs we made it clear that we wanted more than 20 miles of climbing rope, hundreds of carabiners, and a large number of other items in smaller quantities. After about an hour the teapot came out and the owner of the shop was starting to look a lot less stressed. Things got even better when we got them to understand that we were prepared to leave a deposit of several thousand dollars.
During the exercise I forgot all about the climbing equipment but when it was time to pack up, I was reminded that it was time to go pick up the gear. (I happened to have a current license to drive a 5 ton truck.) So we headed off through the very narrow streets of the town, trying to look a little like pirates as possible, which was difficult after weeks in the mud and away from some of the amenities of life. I pulled up onto the curb outside the outfitter’s shop and we were served tea even before we got on the ground. It only took about half an hour to inventory the gear and get it loaded. We paid in full and got back into the truck. The owner’s mother came out of the store and said probably the only American words that she knew, “Please come back soon.” or something that sounded a lot like that. We were happy.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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