If you are going to be an Army officer, there are certain additional duties that come with the territory. The good news is you don’t have to pull guard duty and you don’t have to be the observer during the urinalysis drug testing. But, you will from time to time be assigned as the Officer of the Day. This means that you will report to the post or command headquarters at the close of the business day and spend the night “in charge.”
As a brand new Army JAG Captain, my name came up to be the Officer of the Day for III Corps and Fort Hood. Counting III Corps and the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions, there were about 40,000 troops at Fort Hood, Texas. At about 1630 hours (4:30 PM), I reported to the Corps G3 Operations Office for my briefing. Then, lugging a large three-ring notebook, which contained all of the answers I would need, I headed for the duty officer area to settle in for the night. Some duty officers might be impressed with their authority. I was just hoping not to screw up. I met the NCO who would assist me and it turned out that it was his first time also.
I studied the three-ring notebook and most of it made sense. If the local police called about a GI who had gotten in trouble, I call the military police. If I received information about the death of a soldier’s relative, I notify the soldier’s unit. I transmitted messages to the right people. I could do that. The only thing that was confusing was the stuff about alerts. Some alerts were paper drills to see how quickly the on-duty G3 officer could come in from his quarters, open the safe, and respond with the correct response code. In rare cases, it would require the entire post to report for duty. The whole subject was fuzzy to me.
My NCO and I split up the duty so that each of us could sleep for a short while. At 0345 hours
(3:45 AM), a Specialist Four reported to me from the Communications Center. He had a message from Fourth Army, our higher headquarters. I looked at the message and it said, “Execute Operation Blue Bell.” I was clueless. I got out my three-ring notebook and there it was, but it was written in “operation speak.” I wasn’t sure what to do. My NCO knew a lot about motor pools, but he was no help on this message. The Spec Four was still waiting for a response.
At that particular moment, I remembered that some type of close hold activity was going on and that there was a G3 Major sleeping in the G3 shop. I told everyone to give me a minute and tore up the stairs. When I woke the Major, I scared the daylights out of him. When he finally became oriented as to where he was, I showed him the message. It turned out my Major was a one-trick pony and this wasn’t his trick. The clock was running!
I went downstairs and looked at the notebook again. Then I said to the Specialist Four, “What do you think the message means?’ He said, “I think we need to alert the entire command.” I said, “OK, go ahead and do it.” Forty thousand troops were being awakened at 0400 hours.
The whole episode reminded me of the book, Catch 22. It’s a great book about what can go wrong in the military. In this particular Air Force unit, all the important decisions were being made by
Ex P.F.C. Wintergreen in the Communications Center. When Generals Peckem and Dreedle (the commanders in charge) could not agree, each would prepare a letter to higher headquarters advocating their position. The letters would go through the Communication Center where Ex P.F.C. Wintergreen would review them. He would then forward the letter he agreed with. He would destroy the other letter. In my case, I may have been the Officer of the Day, but the only one who knew what to do was the Spec Four in the Communication Center.
About 15 minutes after the alert went out, I received a call from the Chief of Staff of the 2nd Armored Division. He asked the question I didn’t want to hear. He said, “Captain, are you sure this includes the 2nd Armored Division?” Then came my brightest moment. I said, “Sir, it’s a Blue Bell alert.” He thanked me and hung up. At that moment, I knew that I wasn’t the only one who was clueless as to what a Blue Bell alert was.
It turned out that my Ex P.F.C. Wintergreen in the Communications Center knew what he was doing and we had done the right thing by alerting the entire post. I got off duty at 0700 hours and went home, cleaned up, ate breakfast and went to my office. When I arrived, the Sergeant Major said, “Captain, you missed the alert this morning.” I said, “No I didn’t Sergeant Major, but I almost did.”