My first Article 15—a company-level disciplinary action—happened when I was a 17-year-old paratrooper stationed at the Rhine Kaserne, Germany. Bored one weekend, I left the kaserne with a friend and took a bus into Wiesbaden. We spent our time drinking until, late in the evening, we decided it would be a great idea to crash a formal convention that we had (literally) stumbled onto. As the conventioneers looked on with disgust, we helped ourselves to a couple of dozen flutes of champagne that had been laid out on crisp white tablecloths.
An hour later, staggering away, we realized that it was way past the time when we must report back to the kaserne. We headed to the train station and stepped inside a shiny black Mercedes taxi. As we made ourselves comfortable on the luxurious cloth upholstery, my friend said, “Take us to the Rhine Kaserne! Schnell!”
But just as the driver shifted into gear, the night’s festivities caught up with me. And leaning forward, I vomited a greenish-yellow torrent all over the back of the driver’s seat, much of it ricocheting upward onto the back of his neck and head.
“Du dummer Sach!” the driver shouted, shifting the cab into park. Grabbing a club from under his seat, he jumped out and yelled, “Das zahlst du mir!” [You’ll pay for that!]
“All right,” my friend said, “but we gotta get out so we can get our wallets.”
“Schnell! Schnell!” the driver snapped.
Stepping out, my friend grabbed my arm and whispered, “Screw fatso! We can outrun him!”
“Okay, whatever,” I mumbled, wiping my mouth on my sleeve.
The next instant, we tore into the train station, with the cabbie chasing after us, yelling, “Polizei! Polizei! Polizei!”
Fleeing through the orderly, faceless crowd, we lost the driver. But moments later, we were behind the station, running along the tracks, when we heard a piercing whistle and an authoritative shout: “Halt!”
With parked trains blocking our escape to either side, and only more dark, greasy tracks in front of us, I pushed my friend’s hand off my arm and said, “You keep going . . . I can’t.” As he reluctantly vanished into the night, I started walking but suddenly felt a hand clamp down on my shoulder. And there was a policeman, saying, “Kommen mit mich, Soldat!”
And that’s how I got my first Article 15.
* * *
A couple of months later, while still 17, I came up with the bright idea that since I was a parachute rigger and my brother, Richard, was going to be a pilot, we could start our own sport parachuting club once I got out of the Army. It all made sense—all I had to do was steal enough parachutes—but someone snitched, and when I tried to send home my first T-10 main and reserve chute, I got busted from corporal back down to private.
Life took a strange turn when my company commander suddenly placed me on temporary duty as the lone parachute rigger for a long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP, pronounced lurp) company in Frankfurt. It was the perfect assignment! I had my own room, where I slept and took care of all the parachutes. With little to do, I would jump with the LRRPs, go on patrols in the Fulda Gap, where the Soviets were expected to attack, and have fun firing all kinds of weapons. The first sergeant even took a liking to me and sold me an AK47 he had brought back from Vietnam, for a hundred bucks, and he extended my temporary duty assignment. And since I was in charge of all their parachutes, I picked the newest T-10 main and reserve parachutes and sent them home.
But all good things must end, and I had to report back to my kaserne. Jumping off the truck upon my return, I learned that I had been promoted back to corporal. And right then I decided that I wanted a real military life, without the starched fatigues and the too-short haircut every Thursday, so I submitted a transfer for Vietnam. I got it, of course—anyone who could fog a mirror could get himself sent to Vietnam.
* * *
Halfway through my Vietnam tour, I was a 19-year-old sergeant and team leader of a five-man LRRP unit. After returning from a much-needed R & R in Hong Kong, I received my third Article 15. I was attached to the First Air Cavalry Division, and we had just fought the two biggest battles of the war: the Tet Offensive and the relief operation for the besieged Marine combat base at Khe Sanh. And I had just made two patrols in A Shau Valley, the most formidable enemy-held territory in South Vietnam. At that point, I had real doubts about surviving the war, so I enticed three other soldiers to go AWOL with me for a week and hit all the bars and whorehouses in An Khe.
Because I had “extended” my leave once before, when I completed the Fifth Special Forces Recondo School, my first sergeant made a special flight up to Quang Tri just to see me. As I stood in front of him by our operations tent, he snarled, “You’re gonna fall on your sword and set an example, with an Article Fifteen and a hundred-buck fine!”
Realizing that I was being allowed to keep my rank because of the shortage of men, I bowed my head and said “Okay,” knowing that it was the best hundred bucks I ever spent.
In spite of the three Article 15’s the U.S. Army recognized my combat service and subsequent service with Company F, 425th Infantry (Ranger) in the Michigan National Guard. I got an honorable discharge for eight years of military service and was awarded a Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Expert Rifleman Badge, Expert Mortar Bar, Parachutist Badge, Parachute Rigger Badge, German Army Parachutist Badge, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Recondo Badge, Ranger Scroll, Air Medal, Bronze Star, and a Bronze Star (First Oak Leaf Cluster) and "V" Device. Sometimes, the Army forgives.