Do you remember your first time away from the influence and control of your parents? Was it when you went away to college or when you moved out of your parent’s home to your own place? Do you remember the ambivalence of feeling that you should follow those parental teachings of your youth and being pulled toward the excitement and missteps of your newly found freedom? Maybe, like our protagonist in this memoir, your taste of freedom came from when you served in the military.
This is a light-hearted account of a young man from a small town background trying to come to terms with coming of age, while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Germany and being tempted regularly with opportunities for mischief. It’s a somewhat fictionalized memoir of his experiences but also brings attention to the proud tradition of American K-9 service members.
Deciding that his on-duty assignments were cutting into his party time too much and having had his fill of the straight security duty, Jerry managed to get reassigned to the sentry dog unit, the K-9 unit or as the base referred to them, ‘dogmen’. He had become attracted to this duty because of various encounters with dogmen, while he was standing post. They seemed to appear out of the fog that frequently filled the German nights, like the phantom rising from the mist. Besides, he was a life-long dog lover and, if he had to be there for three years, what better way to serve the rest of his time than by walking in the shadows with a dog. One of the officers referred to them as, ‘the infantry of the Air Force’. He was assigned to a German Sheppard Dog named, Drusus von Stuben der Unhold (a.k.a. Sam). This story didn’t seem as complete without some comments from Sam’s perspective, so several are included.
Sam eventually accepted this new human and became Jerry’s best friend, companion, and on-duty partner. Sam did more to train Jerry than Jerry ever did to train Sam and they managed to get involved in several bits of trouble during the couple of years that they worked together. The K-9 unit provided a unique combination of skills, a dog and man partnership. While on post they were the angels of the night, serving with these skills to protect the assets of the Air Force given to their responsibility but, when the humans were off duty, it seemed that by design each escapade was more outrageous than those that preceded it, they were likable devils after dark and off duty.
Our character even found himself being tempted to devilment while on post, at times. Like the time when Sam and he made a captain lie face down in a spread eagle in the snow in front of his car, which he had routinely parked in a restricted security area that was part of their K-9 post that night. When Sam, still growling and gnashing his teeth, and Jerry finally identified the captain and let him up to drive his car away, the captain was spewing threats of loss of rank and time in the brig as he got in his car. Jerry wasn’t so concerned about loss of rank because he wasn’t interested in a military career but time in the brig weighed on his mind that night. Fortunately, when the captain went to see the Provost Marshall the next morning, it was he who got the ass chewing for parking in a restricted area. That kind of skating out of potential trouble became a theme for Jerry, his guardian angel worked overtime most of the time.
Jerry survived his own misspent youth in Europe but almost did not. As he was becoming a ‘short-timer’ and looking forward to his transfer to the U.S. to be discharged (unbelievably honorably) one of the escapades that he and some of his fellow dogmen engaged in resulted in the loss of a close friend and left him with a broken back and leg. Coming back to base in a car driven by one of his fellows, who did not drink all night while the others made fools of themselves drinking beer and chasing bar girls, there was an accident that caused the car to smash into a stone wall. The front seat passenger went through the windshield and was pronounced dead at the hospital. His recovery was probably hastened by the hospital staff’s desire to be done with him, his wheelies in his wheelchair and the wheelchair drag races he orchestrated (he wound up losing wheelchair privileges). After a few months of hospital treatment and light duty recovery, Jerry left Germany, saddened by the loss of a friend and saddened at not being able to convince the Air Force to let him bring Sam home with him.