Battery D, 4th Missile Battalion, 562nd Artillery

Work in Progress

The following articles were written by Derek Olson and describe the lives of missilemen, both on-and-off duty, when they served at Fort Wolters during the 1960's

Rob Maddox - Fire Control Mechanic (August 1964 – May 1966)

John Geist - K-9 Handler (October 1967 – August 1968)

Rob Maddox -  Fire Control Mechanic (August 1964 – May 1966)

Rob Maddox enlisted in the U.S. Army in May of 1963. He was shipped off to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training on May 30, 1963 - just seven days after graduating from high school.

Rob picks up his story there: “I enlisted when I was 17, so I was single for my entire tour. I was a veteran before my 21st birthday!  In those days it was either get a job and get married (not necessarily in that order!), go to college, or join the military. I enlisted on a guaranteed MOS program, which meant that I was guaranteed the type of job that I had selected when I enlisted. That training was for Fire Control Maintenance Technician, 11G30, which at the time was one of the longest training programs in the Army, 144 weeks at Ft. Bliss, in El Paso, Texas.”

“I completed my training at Fort Bliss and was promoted to SP/4 in August of 1964. I was immediately sent to the 4th Missile Battalion (N-H) 562nd Artillery, located in Duncanville, Texas at the Duncanville Air Force Station. The 4th Missile Battalion consisted of a Headquarters Battery in Duncanville and four missile batteries surrounding the Dallas - Ft. Worth area. These were located in Terrell, Alvarado, Denton and Fort Wolters. Two of the batteries were manned by National Guard Troops, and two were regular Army.”

“When I arrived at Battery D at Fort Wolters it was all hustle and bustle. The focus of all the activity was not the Primary Helicopter School, which didn't actually exist at the time, but a Combat Engineer Battalion located on the post and in heavy training for deployment to Vietnam. I remember days during their training that they would come up the "hill" where our IFC (Integrated Fire Control) was located. As they neared our location the sergeant in charge would order the troops into marching step from route step and they would call in unison as they passed by, "Boy Scouts, Boy Scouts". After passing our main gate they would once again go into route step. It had the opposite effect that they were intending. We thought it was pretty funny. Not long after, the entire battalion disappeared overnight. They had shipped out to Vietnam.”

“There were very few married men in the battery and the majority of them were Regular Army. We did have some draftees as the draft calls were just gearing up for the mass buildup for Vietnam. Most of the "old timers" were married but they were mostly located in the Launch Area and we didn't interact much. As far as I can remember, we had only one Battery wide party and that was a picnic at the Picnic area over by Wolters Village. Pretty much the Launch Area people hung around together and the IFC folks did the same.”

“As far as interaction with the local folks, there wasn't much except for bars, restaurants, fast food joints, etc. In that time, soldiers were not allowed off post unless you were wearing Class A Uniform or civilian dress. You didn't have everyone running around town in fatigues. There was a restaurant on the west end of town that offered a great steak dinner deal for active military. I think you could get a T-Bone, baked potato, salad and a drink for something like $2.00. I remember it was actually a better deal than any place on post.  There was also a drive in fast food joint just as you entered town where the highway split that was very popular with the troops. Jacksboro was another place that many of the troops frequented because of the proximity of Possum Kingdom Lake.” 

“Our battery lived in what were very nice barracks at the time. We were in a three story concrete block building with several two man rooms on each floor. Although we had a common shower area on each floor, each room contained two beds, wall lockers, foot lockers, a desk with two chairs and a sink and mirror. It was quite comfortable, especially if you got along with your roommate. Offices for the Battery Commander, First Sergeant and duty clerk were also on the first floor.  The small wooden building in front of the barracks, close to the road, was our supply building. Across the side street from the supply shack was our mess hall. Behind the mess hall a ways was the post bowling alley.” 

“Battery "D" consisted of two work areas and a Security Dog area. The work areas were the IFC area which contained two acquisition radar sets, a low power (LOPAR) and a much larger high power (HIPAR), a target tracking radar (TTR) and a missile tracking radar (MTR). The Command trailer and the target and missile tracking trailer were located inside a large berm which could be totally enclosed by a large concrete and steel blast door which would be closed in the case of an attack. This would protect us from the initial blast but that was about all. As I remember, there were no provisions, water or medical supplies behind that door. We also had a twin diesel generator on site to provide power when we were under alert. A day room was also on site for the troops to relax when they were not at their work station.  The day room contained several bunks and a kitchen area. Meals were brought up the hill from the mess hall twice a day.  Breakfast was served in the mess hall for the ongoing crew who would relieve the hill crew at 0700, then the off crew would eat after they returned to the barracks.” 

“The other area was the Launch Area, which contained eight missile launchers on rails and was located about two miles down the hill from the IFC area (line of site from the MTR to the missiles). Troops from each area were not allowed in the other area for security reasons. The idea was that the less anyone from one area knew about the other the better. Nutty idea since there was no restriction on roommates being from different area that I knew of.  I believe that we had about 24 missiles which were stored in underground pits beneath the launch rails (hence anyone working in the launch area was referred to as a "Pit Rat"). Some of my best friends while there were Pit Rats. We were capable of launching missiles with high explosive or nuclear warheads.”  

“The third area of the battery was the Security Dog area. This area was located inside the Launch area. The IFC perimeter was surrounded by a chain link fence and a guard shack manned by an MP from the dog unit. The launch area was surrounded by two chain link fences with the dog unit patrolling the perimeter between the two and at two guard shacks, one at each fence line. This unit was independent of the battery and attached to it.” 

“Most days were pretty boring, consisting of testing systems and replacing failing units with refurbished units. The entire system was modular so instead of fixing a problem, my job was to identify the failing unit and replace it quickly. The suspect parts were normally sent to our replacement depot in Fort Worth where they would be tested fixed and then returned to our supply. Sometimes we would repair units ourselves. We had a trailer full of vacuum tubes. Yes, this system used vacuum tubes like your grandfathers television. Anytime, sometimes more than once during a shift, we would be put on a 15 minute alert. Once the alert is sounded we would have 15 minutes to get all systems online and have locked onto a raised missile in the launch area. Many of these times we would lock onto B-52's flying out of Paris, Texas as targets.”  

“Once a year, our battery would go to White Sands for SNAP (Short Notice Annual Practice). We would actually fire a missile during this practice.  I can't tell you much about SNAP as I never attended. I got to Fort Wolters just after the unit went in 1964. In 1965 I was not the senior technician so I didn't go then and I got to the end of my enlistment in 1966 before they were scheduled. My bad luck.” 

“I think the best part of my time at Ft. Wolters was that I truly enjoyed my job. Even though we were in the Army, the job felt more like a civilian job.  We were not bothered with daily drilling, running around doing all the infantry type stuff of the military. We did have formations from time to time, annual PT testing, rifle qualifications, grounds policing, etc. but nothing like what you’d think of an Army unit would do. We worked 24 hours on then 24 hours off, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We were pretty much left alone on our off time and were totally dedicated to the job when we were on site. I think the worst part of the job was antenna maintenance in the winter. Winters on the high desert, and especially the highest point around could be brutal with nothing between there and Canada but a barbed wire fence and it was broken. Our IFF antenna tower seemed to always need attention during the worst times in winter and it was the farthest away from the maintenance shed. Those were some long nights!” 

I asked Rob what the thought of his officers and NCOs while stationed at Fort Wolters.  “We had a great First Sergeant. He was very old school but looked out for his troops as long as they towed the line. Cross him and there was Hell to pay. I remember that he was always trying to outdo the other First Sergeants in the Battalion. One year there was a Savings Bond drive and the unit with the greatest participation in the Savings Bond program would receive a flag to fly. It didn't take most of us long to figure we had better get with the program and join up. They would take $18.75 out of our paycheck and every payday we would get a $25.00 Savings Bond and the remainder of our pay (which wasn't much) in cash. Not long after pay call, those of us that were off duty would hustle into Mineral Wells and hock the bond at the local pawnshop. He would give us $15.00 for the savings bond and we would just chalk it up to goodwill with the First Sergeant. Well, we had one PFC draftee from New York who refused to join the program. No matter what the First Sergeant would do to this guy (always on KP and every other crap duty the first shirt could think of) he refused to buy a bond which kept the First Sergeant from having 100% participation. It got so bad the PFC finally contacted his congressman and said he was being harassed. Not long after the First Sergeant gave up on the bond harassment but that PFC paid the price every day until he transferred out. I had no beef with the First Sergeant. He helped groom me to go up before a Battalion review board for Battalion Soldier of the Month (another competition for the First Sergeants). I won the award that month and I think I got a 3 day pass plus and a $25.00 savings bond. It looked great in my personnel file. I also had a CWO4 in charge of fire control maintenance that I really liked a lot. He was well liked by everyone on the hill. He was a great mentor to me and helped me with my duties if I needed it.  The last Battery Commander we had while I was there was a Green Beret Captain.  Boy, was he by the book. He had just returned from a tour in Vietnam and was all spit and polish. He must have been a REMF over there. Anyway, while in Vietnam he became friends with Martha Raye the comedian who was also a Army Reserve Colonel in the Nurse Corps.  Somehow, he got her to come to Fort Wolters. He took her all over the area and when I met her she was most gracious. She even autographed my Short Timers Calendar! Twenty days later I was a civilian.”

“Fort Wolters was my only assignment while in the Army. I joined the Army to see the world and never left Texas! As my enlistment was nearing an end the First Sergeant had me into his office for the obligatory reenlistment conversation. He offered me a 30 day extension on my enlistment for the good of the service during which time he would put me up to the Promotion Board to be promoted to SP/6. If I passed the boards I would reenlist for 3 years and if I didn't I could go home at the end of the 30 days. He told me I was off to a great start and if I stayed in the Army I would be able to retire at the ripe old age of 37! It was a good offer as the reenlistment bonus for an E/6 was much better than for an E/5. After much thought I turned him down. I was very serious with my girlfriend back home and didn't think she would wait another three years. I guess it worked out okay - we will celebrate our 51st wedding anniversary on August 13th, 2017.  Overall, I had a great time and learned a lot while serving in the Army.”

   

John Geist  - K-9 Handler  (October 1967 – August 1968)

 John Geist entered the U.S. Army in September 1965.   His first assignment was to a Nike Battery in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Defense Area.  While at Milwaukee, John trained to become a dog handler which got him sent to Lackland AFB in December 1966 to receive his formal training as a Security Dog handler.   Subsequently, John was transferred to the 64th Artillery Group, Duncanville AFS Texas, in September 1967.   He was posted as a 92B2D (Security Dog Handling) at Battery D, 4th Battalion, 562nd Artillery, Fort Wolters, Texas on October 2nd, 1967.  Early in 1967 he was attached to the 3279th School Squadron, Lackland AFB for additional training as a K-9 Supervisor.  He was very proud that he was designated the “Supernumerary Trainee” of his class.

“At the launch facilities we had a complete kennels and training areas for our dogs.” John says.  “At any given time there were at least four K-9’s housed there.  There were four to five handlers and our shifts were from sundown to sunup seven days a week.  We were typically 24 hours on and 24 hours off every other day.  Although, we were flexible enough to basically plan our schedule to meet our needs.  The command was very accommodating, but we knew our duties came first.  Two handlers worked each shift rotating in 4 hour increments.  The dogs, not us, needed the rest as we patrolled the entire launch area several times an hour.  Our barracks were located just past the base theater and before the swimming pool and bowling alley.  It was located on a hill just off the main base road.  I really liked our barracks - single rooms, showers, TV, and recreation areas all in one.  Much better than the open dorms I had while stationed in Milwaukee!  There coming off shift in the morning I would hit my rack and just get to sleep when the AM inspection tour would commence.  Invariably the Lieutenant or Sergeant Inspecting would stop at the foot of my bed and announce “Why isn’t he on duty?”  They knew but I guess it was a running joke for them.”

I asked John if letting the dogs loose was allowed and said “YES!  We did usually at the start of our shifts.  We would call the CQ and tell them the dog would be off leash.  The dogs loved it.  The launch areas were approximately 2 acres in size and the dogs took advantage of every square foot to run.  After all they were in their kennel most of the time.  The training area was only about the size of a basketball court.”

John continues – “I really enjoyed my service schooling and working with the K-9’s.  I had three primary dogs.  Bullet, was my fist dog in Milwaukee.  My second dog, Lux, was my training dog from Lackland.  I got him after returning from primary K-9 training, but had to leave him when I was transferred to Fort Wolters.  My third, Sam, was assigned to me while at Ft. Wolters.  I really enjoyed all my dogs.  You get attached to each one of them in ways that are really hard for some people to understand.”

“I was single at the time.  Not much to do, except for local watering holes and of course Possum Kingdom Lake.  We did have the pool and theater (the films changed once a week) on base.  The best part of the posting was being near family.  I was born about fifty miles away from Mineral Wells and would use my time to visit my Grandmother and cousins in Cisco, so I spent a lot of off time with them.  I worked double shifts to get days off together.”

“About the missile system - it was a never ending series of alerts, DEFCON ups and downs.  We would go from dull and normal to completely ready to track and launch in under 30 minutes.  We never knew if the alerts were real or a test.  I must say there was something really impressive about seeing one of those Herc’s come up out of the missile bay and rise up on the launch rack.”

“I never went on actual launch activities at Fort Bliss or McGregor Range.  I did get sent TDY back to Lackland AFB to train on their Vietnam village course with my dog and for training as a Senior K-9 Supervisor.  I think the army had thoughts about hanging on to me.  While at Lackland I was selected as a Supernumerary Cadet and received more comprehensive training in instructing and vet care.”

“It was good training, bad time of the year.  It was in July – hot - dog really suffered but we got through it.  I thought the Army had ideas about sending me to Vietnam but I didn’t have enough time left, and I didn’t think about re-enlisting.  As I was and E-4 in an E-6 slot and more than enough time in grade, I felt that if I re-enlisted I should receive my E-5 and further service guarantees.  But no, my First Sergeant (he was old school) made it clear that no guarantees would be made prior to re-enlistment.  Given my MOS and training I had a real good idea where I would be headed once I re-upped.”

I was surprised that John told me he had a part time job while at Fort Wolters.   John continues “…several of us had part time jobs working for Texboro Cabinet Company, just off the base.  We worked part time and Texboro wanted us as we were fairly flexible as to hours. ”.  I was surprised to hear this but John says command staff knew about this part time job. Several of the soldiers had part time jobs.

“That extra money bought my first new car.  It was a 1968 Chevy SS.  Picked it up at the Weatherford dealership and drove it home when I was discharged from the army at Fort Wolters at the end of August 1968. “

“I must say that my time at Fort Wolters was enjoyable.  I really enjoyed my army service.  I met many good guys.  I learned a lot and grew up a lot.” 

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 

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