Walk Your Post

Concertina wire boundary, night sky with moon as background, selA few years ago I posted a story of what it was like to be a private in the army in the `1950s pulling KP. As I understand it, the army doesn’t have KP anymore, and the young soldiers today don’t have any idea how lucky they are.
Another duty we had was walking guard. Walking guard wasn’t nearly as odious as pulling KP. Of course walking guard on a frigid winter’s night, or in a pouring downpour wasn’t pleasant, but if the weather was good and temperate, it really wasn’t all that bad.

The makeup of guard consisted of “privates of the guard,” “Commander of the relief”, “Sergeant of the guard” and “Officer of Day.” During my army career, I managed to fill all four slots at one time or another.

The duty day started with guard mount. This required all the privates to appear in class “A’ uniform, to stand inspection. Boots had to be shined, belt-buckles and brass polished, hair neatly cut, closely shaved. In addition your weapon, (the M-1 rifle during my time) had to be spotless. You stood mount in three ranks (three reliefs) and the Inspecting officer passed down, pausing in front of each one of you. As he did so, you brought the weapon up to “inspection arms” Slamming open the bolt with your left hand and holding it at an angle across your body. Then you watched the officer’s left shoulder. As soon as it moved, you jerked the arms down, sharply, by your side, leaving the rifle hanging in mid-air. Of course, it didn’t actually stay there because the officer’s left hand would grab the forestock as soon as you let go. It actually became sort of contest between the private and the inspecting officer so that, at no time, would your hands and the officer’s hand be on the rifle at the same time. Returning it was the same thing, you had to watch carefully when he returned the rifle because as soon as it was in position, he would jerk his hand away, expecting you to keep the rifle from falling.
Then would come the questions.

“Who is the Army Chief of Staff?”

“General Maxwell Taylor, sir!”

“What is the Fifth General Order?”

“To quit my post only when properly relieved, sir!”

There was always a supernumerary in the rank, one man more than was needed to walk all the posts. That was to allow the officer of the day to select the “Colonel’s Orderly?” The Colonel’s Orderly spent the whole time in the guard house without having to walk his tour.

There were three reliefs, each relief walking two hours, then off for four, then two more hours. First relief went on at 1800 (six o’clock) and walked until 2000. Then, 2000 until 2200, then 2200 until 2400. At that time the first relief came back on duty, walking until 0200, then from 0200 until 0400, then from 0400 until 0600. If you had the last relief you watched the sun rise the next morning, you heard Reveille, and you could smell the breakfast bacon.

Walking your post could be almost pleasant…you were all alone, in the middle of the night, you could think things through. I was a platform instructor at Ft. Rucker, so often, when I was walking in the middle of the night…. I would be teaching my class…. aloud. It helped to pass the time, and I’m happy to say, that I was never caught doing it . . . which would have been embarrassing.

Sometimes I would walk guard around the officers’ club . . . and dream of the day when I would be one of those men going in and of the club. The day finally came when I did become an officer, and I remember the thrill I experienced the first time I ever went into the club. I’m sorry to say that officers’ clubs no longer exist.

My favorite post at Ft. Rucker was Post Number Five. It was the Ammo Dump, and was at least three miles away from the main post . . . surrounded by a very high chain-link fence, topped with concertina wire. For the post we were given a loaded shotgun, because this was a serious post. It also had a telephone so you could call into the guardhouse if you saw something suspicious. Better, it was a class A phone, which meant I could call my girlfriend in Ozark.

There was only one road out to post number 5…so neither the OD, the Sergeant of the Guard, or the relief change could sneak up on you. Also you could tell by the sound whether it was the ODs jeep, or the relief change ¾. Every ¾ ton truck in the army had a universal gear that made a very distinct whine.

That meant you could sit down…. and lean back against one of the ammo bunkers and take it easy. One night as I was doing this . . . to be honest I think I may have dozed off, I felt something against my boot. When I opened my eyes…IT WAS A SKUNK! I was terrified it was going to spray me . . . and I raised my shotgun to shoot it. Just before I pulled the trigger though, I remembered that I had once hit a skunk with my car, and it stayed with the car for quite a while. Would this skunk spray me if I shot him? I knew at point blank range he wouldn’t be able to do it purposely…but would it be released as he died?

I sat there in total fear for at least 15 minutes, barely able to breathe. He sniffed of my boots, my legs, my arm. Then he looked at me, staring straight into my eyes. “What are are you goin’ to do now, huh, big guy?” he seemed to ask.
Then, with a shrug, he walked away…. just as I heard the relief truck arriving.

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