During the peak of the Cold War, from 1986 to 1989, I found myself serving in the 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas. As combat arms soldiers our days were filled with relentless training, as we prepared ourselves for the possibility of conflict with the Soviet Union. Our mission was to be ever-vigilant, honing our skills and maintaining a constant state of readiness.
The life of a cold war tanker, that’s what armored soldiers are called, was one of arduous training and monotonous routines. We spent countless hours in the field, sometimes remaining there for a month or more at a time. We engaged in simulated combat missions, pushing ourselves to the limit both mentally and physically. The heavy tanks we operated were prone to breakdowns; tracks would snap or inexperienced drivers would mishandle the vehicles and cause the track to come off of the sprocket or as we called it, thrown track. Repairs in the field required a coordinated team effort, testing our resolve and resourcefulness.
When not in the field, we dedicated ourselves to the meticulous maintenance of our tanks, conducting a process known as “PMCS” (Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services). We meticulously inspected every aspect of our armored behemoths, ensuring they were in optimal condition for the next field exercise. It was often during these moments that the weight of our responsibilities truly sank in – the knowledge that we were entrusted with the defense of our nation.
Life as a combat soldier during the Cold War was a grueling mix of relentless training and mind-numbing boredom. We were always on high alert, watching for signs of Soviet aggression. Our training under simulated combat conditions was designed to push us to our limits, and sleep deprivation was common, as we were forced to stay on the move for days on end, playing a never-ending game of cat and mouse with our imaginary enemy.
Days would blur into nights, and time lost its meaning. Going over 96 hours with little more than a brief catnap became the norm. The mind, deprived of rest, would start to play tricks on us. Hallucinations became a frequent companion, and distinguishing reality from imagination became a challenge. Yet, even in these extreme conditions, we had to operate our 60-ton tanks, armed to the teeth, with precision and focus.
Amidst the challenges and hardships, the constant training made us stronger, instilled within us a sense of discipline, resilience, and camaraderie that held us together. Armor crews are tight-knit, each member relying on the other for support and survival. The heavy burden of training we carried was what many believed kept the Communist threat at bay, serving as a deterrent to war until the day politicians finally reached an agreement, and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
While we didn’t see actual combat against the Soviet forces, we were not untouched by the realities of war. Training accidents claimed the lives of some of our fellow soldiers, and we were witness to the trauma of death and dismemberment, experiences that would leave an indelible mark on our souls, reminding us of the sacrifices that came with our duty.
Amidst the rigor of training and the constant state of readiness, we soldiers of the Cold War era cherished the rare moments of respite that punctuated our lives. In the midst of our relentless schedules, we found ways to unwind and savor the fleeting joys of leisure.
During those precious breaks, we sought refuge from the barracks and ventured into the nearby towns, where the nightlife provided a much-needed escape. Nightclubs beckoned us with their pulsating rhythms, offering a temporary reprieve from the demands of our duty. The vibrant energy of the dance floors and the camaraderie shared in those dimly lit spaces created memories that lingered long after the night faded away.
Occasionally, we embarked on excursions beyond the confines of Fort Hood, making our way to the bustling city of Austin. Sixth Street, a vibrant stretch filled with eclectic bars and live music venues, became our playground. We mingled with locals and fellow service members, reveling in the freedom to let loose and momentarily forget the weight of our responsibilities. Those nights were filled with laughter, camaraderie, and the shared experiences that cemented friendships.
Amidst the Texas landscape, Belton / Stillhouse Hollow Lakes became our sanctuary. We would gather for barbecues, savoring the taste of brisket, ribs, or bratwurst, as the sun dipped below the horizon. The tranquility of the lake, the laughter echoing through the air, and the bonds forged over shared meals provided a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos of our training routines. It was in those moments, surrounded by nature and the warmth of friendship, that we recharged our spirits and found solace from the demands of our service.
In the tapestry of our Cold War experiences, these glimpses of recreation and leisure provided a vital balance to the demanding realities we faced. They reminded us that amidst the trials, it was essential to find moments of joy and connection. The memories of dancing, laughter, and shared meals under starlit skies are etched in our hearts, testament to the resilience and camaraderie that bound us together as we navigated the tumultuous waters of our duty. I believe it was these cherished interludes that helped sustain us, fueling our spirits and reminding us of life beyond the training grounds. They serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the soldiers who found solace, laughter, and fleeting moments of joy amidst the backdrop of a Cold War that shaped us all.
As I reflect upon those transformative years during the Cold War, from the relentless training to the fleeting moments of recreation, I realize that amidst the challenges and sacrifices, it was truly the best job I ever had. The bond forged with my fellow soldiers, the indomitable spirit that fueled us, and the memories of both the hardships and the moments of respite will forever hold a special place in my heart. For all its trials and triumphs, my time in service during the Cold War remains a defining chapter in my life, and I am grateful for the privilege of having played my part in defending our nation.