Category Archives: My Military Daze

Some Assignment Rules in the Army

“The needs of the service.” What that means is that you would like to be assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, but you are needed at Fort Hood, Texas. So that is where you will end up. Of course, some other lucky guy got assigned to Fort Lewis. I guess he was needed there more.

I never worked in the JAG career management office. If I had, I might have made it to Fort Lewis. But I did become familiar with a few of their fundamental rules. Like Rule One: “Everybody has to be assigned somewhere.” And, believe me, some people are hard to assign. The Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC) had and has a large number of outstanding lawyers. But, there are always those on the far end of the bell curve. Another career management office rule is that if you are running a large office, you are going to get your fair share of the problem children.

I had been in charge of a number of large offices, so I had had my share of marginal officers. But if you have 15 to 20 officers and the vast majority are truly good, you can work around one or two problem children. Most officer assignments are routine. It’s when you get a call from the Pentagon notifying you that you are getting a particular officer that your antenna goes up. When I was the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Riley, Kansas, I received one of those calls. The officer being assigned was transferring into the JAG Corps from the Military Intelligence Corps. I said that was fine and please send me his file. The assignment officer said, “Well, that’s just it, Jack, we can’t get his file because it is sealed. But we have been assured that there is nothing in his file that would preclude him from performing his duties.”

This is when, even though you know you are being hornswoggled, you smile and say, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.” Remember Rule One: “Everybody has to be assigned somewhere.” Well this officer, who I will call Ted, was already at Fort Riley serving as an MI officer. In fact, his wife, who was a captain in the Transportation Corps was also at Fort Riley. The Army tries to keep married military couples together, except “for the needs of the service.” Well Ted worked for someone who worked for someone who worked for me. So I didn’t have a lot of contact with Ted. When I would inquire, I would get a report that he was doing “OK.” Then I would be advised that he was a little bit strange and secretive. Surprise! But I could live with OK.

I remember one time Ted was scheduled to teach a one-hour class on legal assistance issues to Army Community Service volunteers. I bumped into him in the hallway and asked if he was ready. He told me he had put together 400 slides and felt very comfortable. I should have told him that if he was going to show 400 slides, he should have a medic present.

One of the neat things about the Army is the social aspect. Commands will have formal dining ins and usually on New Years Day, senior commanders will have a reception at their home. Everyone dresses up in their dress blue uniform and wishes each other a Happy New Year. Even though I was technically not a commander, we always had our officers over to the house to start the New Year with a drink and some snacks. The Commanding General usually had his reception late in the day so the major commanders under him had theirs earlier. We usually had ours from 12 to 2 PM so we could attend some of the other receptions.

Ted came in towards the end of the year and told me he would not be able to attend our reception because he and his wife would be in Kansas City over the holiday. Even though Ted couldn’t make it, everyone else seemed to have a good time. Then Carole and I slipped over to the Wheelers for their reception (now don’t get ahead of me). Al Wheeler was the Division Support Commander. As we stepped into the receiving line guess who was right in front of us? There stood Ted and his wife in their dress blue uniforms. His wife was part of the Support Command so she was attending her bosses’ reception. Had someone mentioned that Ted was secretive? How about sneaky? We acknowledged each other, but that was about it.

A few months later, Ted came into my office and told me that he had decided that the JAG Corps was not for him and he had made arrangements to return to Military Intelligence. I wished him well. We had survived Ted.

A few years later, I was the Staff Judge Advocate for V Corps in Frankfurt, Germany. Much bigger office, so there was a need to support a few problem children. “Everybody has to be assigned somewhere.” A young captain, who will be called Bruce, was assigned to the Trial Defense side of the operation. He didn’t work for me, but was due to be assigned to my office in a couple of months. He was a nice looking, well spoken officer. He approached me and said that he needed to use the phone and my deputy was not in that day and would it be alright if he used the deputy’s desk. I said “Sure.” Fifteen minutes later, I walked by the deputy’s office and Bruce was on the phone, but he was leaning back and his boots were on the desk. I gestured to him to get his boots off of the desk.

My Chief of International Law was being reassigned and Bruce let it be known that he wanted the job. I discussed it with my deputy, Bob Kirby, and we decided that a female captain working in Criminal Law would be better for the position. After the announcement was made, Bruce came in to see me. It was 5:30 PM and I was wrapping up the day. Bruce told me that he thought he was better qualified and I hadn’t given him a chance. I told him that he might be right and if it turned out to be the case, I would try to make it up to him. I had been there a short time and had to make a decision. I did the best I could under the circumstances. He kept saying I hadn’t given him one good reason why he wasn’t selected. I told him I agreed, but that I selected the other captain because I had had more of a chance to observe her performance.

Bruce said it wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t worked for me. I told him that he was correct. It was now 5:50 PM and I told Bruce I had to finish up some work and I needed him to leave. I asked him to leave. He started in again that I hadn’t given him “one good reason” why he wasn’t selected. I asked him again to leave, but he wasn’t going to leave until he was satisfied. Then I said, “OK Bruce, I now have a good reason why not to select you. I’ve asked you to leave four times and you are still here. Please leave.” He started to get out of the chair, but he couldn’t make it. He had to go for one more round. By then, I knew we had made the right decision.

When Bruce arrived, we assigned him as a legal assistance officer. It was the first time I ever received written complaints on the conduct of a legal assistance officer. One time he showed up a half hour late for an appointment, dressed in a sweat suit. Then, as the lady was explaining her problem, he pulled out his lunch bag and started eating. On another occasion, he was using a sample will that, as an template,
had a trust provision in it. Not understanding that it was only an example, Bruce put the trust provision in a number of wills. When the client would asked why he would be leaving his residual to the Judge Advocate General’s School, Bruce would explain that it was just boilerplate language.

Bruce was finishing up his four year obligation and wanted an extension. I told him it was a bad idea. I then called Heidelburg (higher headquarters) to let them know that he should not be extended. Bruce outsmarted me and called back to the Pentagon and got his extension teaching logistics somewhere in Virginia.

After leaving the Army, Bruce had criminal difficulty and ended up in a Virginia State prison. He escaped once, but they caught him and brought him back. That was years ago and I hope Bruce has returned to society. All I know is if every large office has to have its share of problem children, I should have gotten double credit for Bruce!

written by PJ Rice at
Copyright 2014

My S.O.B.

We had our Old Fuds luncheon this week. A bunch of old retired Army Jags standing around before the meal trying to remember each others names. Oh yes, we have name tags, but with the condition of our eyes, it’s still a challenge. Then one of my friends showed up with his beard shaved off and I was clueless.

I ended up sitting between John Naughton, whom I served with in Germany back in the 60’s and Fran Gilligan, whom I served with twice at the JAG School. Whenever John and I get together, the subject eventually turns to our boss in Germany, Major Charlie Baldree. Working for Baldree was the worst experience in my life (not just professional life), but I survived it.

John and I worked as captains in the 4th Armored Division Staff Judge Advocate’s Office in Goeppingen, Germany. An SJA office only had about six officers back in 1967. Joe Donahue, our deputy, got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and left and in came Major Charlie Baldree to disrupt our lives. Baldree would grin and smile, but he was downright mean as a rattlesnake. He insisted on competing with me. Believe me, I’m smart enough to know not to compete with my boss and rater. But every time I turned around, I was in the barrel.

Charlie’s office was about twenty steps from mine, but he would send me notes on everything. I would receive 20 – 30 notes a day. I remember receiving three notes at the same time. The first asked about the status of a particular matter. The next two complained that I hadn’t answered the first inquiry. I tried my absolute best to keep him informed and happy. But he was determined to crush me and I didn’t understand why. Was I paranoid? You bet.

There was a claims matter that I recommended paying. Charlie disagreed. That should have been the end of it. If he had told me to write it up denying pay, I would have. But Major “B” sent my recommendation and his disagreement into the SJA, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wright and asked him to choose. You see how I am screwed? Well, to make matters worse, Colonel Wright notified Charlie that he would hear oral arguments on the matter. Here I am, competing again. After we both expressed our views, Colonel Wright agreed with me. Talk about a no-win situation. Jolly Charlie grinned, smiled and sent me back to my office. Here comes the notes.

At this time the Vietnam War was in full throat. The Army was increasing in size and people were being promoted rapidly. Because I was in the cue, I spent only three and a half years as a captain before I was promoted to major. Major “B” was unhappy that officers weren’t spending as much time as captains as he had. He didn’t come to my promotion party.

My promotion permitted me to move into field grade quarters. Majors lived in a building called the Glass House. Charlie, of course, lived there with his new bride. Shortly after I moved in, he sent me a note saying that since I had time to wash my car over the weekend, he assumed the projects he had given me were completed.

There actually was a chapter in the Army Officer’s Guide entitled, “Working for your S.O.B.” The chapter basically said it happens to everyone and do the best you can and before long, one of you would be reassigned. Well the first to be reassigned was not Charlie or me, but Colonel Wright. Our new boss was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dribben. Colonel Dribben had been a reservist and had not spent much time on active duty. Now, all of a sudden, he was the 4th Armored Division Staff Judge Advocate. Colonel Dribben created enough confusion to keep Major “B” busy and things eased up on me. And, Colonel Dribben really liked me (bless his heart).

The OER or Officer’s Evaluation Report is how the Army decides who will be promoted and given positions of additional responsibility. Major Baldree wrote my OER. Before he wrote it, he came in and told me that he would never give a score lower that 92 (92 out of 100), because he wouldn’t want to kill a person’s chances for promotion. I need to explain that the OER numbers are highly inflated. A 95, at that time, was not a good number and I was convinced that a 92 would kill an officer’s future chances. When I got my OER from Major Baldree, he had given me a 92! He had that earlier conversation with me to let me know that he was giving me the lowest score he ever gave. Sweet. His narrative was consistent with the low score. He didn’t say anything negative, he just didn’t say anything positive. “Major Rice completes every assignment given to him.” Whoopee!

So how did I survive and go on to be the Commandant at The JAG School? Well, what saved me was the endorsement to the rating by Colonel Dribben. He maxed me out on everything. He gave me 100 out of 100 and said all the right things including that he considered me the best major in the office! When I departed Germany, I felt like a gigantic yoke had been lifted from my shoulders.

I have reread this draft about six times. First, it’s not very funny and my original purpose was to make you at least smile. Second, I’m not sure I can paint how stressful and downright horrible the situation was. I may come across to you as a griper or complainer. If that’s the case, you should have stopped reading well before now. Two years after Germany, I was in Vietnam and bumped into a friend who had had similar experiences with Charlie Baldree. A third person who was listening to us asked us what it was about Baldree that set us off. My friend said, “This is the best way I can sum it up. If Charlie were throwing a big party and wasn’t going to invite you, he would ask you to pick up the invitations.”

The ordeal was miserable, but I believe it made me stronger and I used the experience many times to help me out. When I was faced with a really bad situation and was having difficulty figuring out how I could manage, I would say to myself, “Hey, I can do this. This is not half as difficult as surviving Charlie Baldree.”

Written by PJ Rice at
Copyright 2014

Veterans Administration – Take a Number Sucker

I think it was a year or so ago when President Obama said he was going to fix the backlog problem at the Veterans Administration.  I am pretty sure he also promised to bring the killers of our Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, to justice.  I think his strategy is to say the right thing at the right time and then hope the people forget about it.  The Media is in his pocket, so they won’t remind anyone.

But unfortunately (for him) the present problems at VA have reminded the public that he hasn’t kept his promise.  So now, on cue, it is announced that Obama is “madder than Hell” over the VA allegations.  Well, that makes me feel a lot better.  The Washington Post had a cartoon a week ago Saturday in which a veteran was entering a VA office.  There was one of those take-a-number machines and sitting right next to the machine was a soldier in a Civil Was uniform!  Loved it.

When I was a young officer, Mr. Kenty, a warrant officer whom I worked with, and had been in the military for over 30 years, told me that there was only one person really interested in my military career and that was me. He started in the Army as a Blacksmith Apprentice.  He loved the day the Army got rid of their horses and he didn’t have to feed them at 0600 hours everyday.  His message about my career was clear and I did my best to keep track of what was happening to me.  I also strongly believe that the same holds true for medical care.  Especially in the military.

Upon retiring, Carole and I continued to receive our medical care through the military, always mindful that we were the only ones interested in our health and wellbeing.  A number of military families, upon retirement, got as far away from military medical care as possible.  That was their way of addressing the issue.  We learned how to get great care within the military.  The thought of using the Veterans Administration never crossed my mind.  If VA was the answer, I have no idea what the question was.

I’ve had only a few experiences with the VA.  None has been good. At the time of my retirement from the Army, I was told to apply to the VA for a disability rating.  I was also told to make a copy of my medical files before VA got them, because they would surely lose them.  They did.  Three times!  But each time they lost them, they found them.  So technically, they didn’t lose them, they were just misplaced.

This all happened 24 years ago, so I’m a little fuzzy on some of the facts.  Other parts of the experience, I remember like it was yesterday.  In applying for the VA disability, you have to list all the things that have fallen apart during your military career.  Then the VA gives you an appointment where they can evaluate your problems.  They set it up so I had five appointments in the same day.  I could receive all of my evaluations that day and be done. Sounded too good to be true.

The first evaluation was with an orthopedic doctor.  I was given a couple of forms to fill out while waiting for the doctor.  The forms were so ambiguous and confusing that I left a lot blank.  When the doctor arrived and saw that I hadn’t completely filled out the forms, he became furious with me. He was screaming at me with some Eastern European accent.  I was so bewildered that I just took it.  It was his play pen and I was thoroughly confused.  Here I had just retired  with 28 years of military service and I was being treated like a truant school child.  I thought about getting him in a hammer lock and giving him options.  But, I had come over to this strange hospital with a mission and this jerk wasn’t going to get me off track.  He eventually examined me and sent me on to my next appointment.

I made it to my next appointment which was with an eye doctor. He was young and friendly.  We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked to see my glasses (a reasonable request).  My glasses had been made in Germany which made the bifocal portion different. In the US, you can feel the bifocal portion of the lens extending from the front of the lenses.  My glasses had the built-up portion of the bifocal on the back of the lens.  The doctor noticed this and got all excited.  He asked about where I got the glasses and I explained to him that they came from Germany.  He asked if he could borrow them for a few minutes and I said, “Sure.”  He didn’t come back for an hour.  I just sat there.  I eventually went out to the receptionist and told him I was missing my next appointment.  He told me not to worry.  It would be OK.  The doctor came back as if he had been gone for only ten minutes and sent me on my way.

The next doctor concluded I had high blood pressure.  Duh!  I was delighted I hadn’t blown a leak.  The next doctor was a psychologist who asked me how my day was going.  I smiled at him and said, “Fine.”  Way back in 1962, I had a buddy going to ROTC Summer Camp at Fort Sill (I was also attending).  His car broke down three times on his trip from Missouri to Oklahoma.  He got there late and they rushed him through the physical.  Finally he saw a psychologist who asked him how his day was going.  He went into a rant about the trip down to Fort Sill.  They kept him under observation for three days.  So whenever a psychologist asks me how my day is going, I smile and say, “Fine.”  I also tell them I love my parents.

A year later, after “misplacing” my file a few times, I was notified that I was being awarded a 20% disability.  That came to a little over $100 a month.  Sound great?  Well, not so great.  The $100 they award is subtracted from my retirement pay.  The only benny is that I don’t have to pay taxes on the VA money.  Whoopee!

My only other VA experience was a screw up on my part.  The year I was assigned to Northwestern University to get a Masters Degree in Criminal Law, we lived in Evanston, Illinois.  Every couple of weeks we would go up to the Great Lakes Naval Station Commissary.  We would pass the hospital on the way to the commissary.  I had messed up my knee in my previous assignment in Germany and called up to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital and got an appointment.

On the day of my appointment, I drove up to the hospital and went inside.  I found the room number of the orthopedic section and headed there.  I found the room and went in.  There was a receptionist sitting at a desk.  I told her who I was and that I had an appointment.  She said, “Well the doctor isn’t coming in today, but if you would like to sit down and read some magazines, go right ahead.  Whoa!  I headed back down to the reception section and got in line behind a young kid.  He was big as a house, but the
little woman behind the counter was very upset with him.  He had lost his medical card (and not for the first time).  When it was my turn, I told her I thought I was in the wrong place.  She starred at me and said, “Are you sure?”

It turned out that rather than going to the Naval Hospital, I had gone to a VA mental hospital.  I smiled at her, told her I was fine and that I loved my parents and got the hell out of there.

Written by PJ Rice at

Miranda Rights Booby Trap

Life was good.  I had just gone Regular Army (career) and the Army had kept its promise and sent me to Presidio of Monterey to study German.  Each morning I would get up, look out the window of my Fort Ord quarters and see Monterey Bay (or fog).  When I finished the language school, I would be on my way to Germany for a three-year tour.  I was being assigned to the 4th Armored Division in Goeppingen, 30 miles east of Stuttgart.

Then I received my welcoming letter from the 4th AD Staff Judge Advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cates.  He hated me. Fortunately, at the time, he did not recognize my name.  He would as soon as he saw me.  He had been one of our instructors in the JAG Basic Course in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Colonel Cates had many idiosyncrasies.  And, at our class’s final banquet and party, I was part of the entertainment and had been introduced as Colonel Kiss-Me Cates.  I mimicked all of his little quirks.  Afterwards, he sought me out and told me that he enjoyed my performance.  I thanked him, but neither of us was very convincing.  I had never planned on seeing him again.  Duh.

So how did I last 28 years and end up as the Commandant at the school where Colonel Kiss-Me Cates had taught.  I was just lucky. When I arrived at the 4th Armored Division, Colonel Cates had departed three weeks before.  It reminds me of what Brigadier General Ron Holdaway told one of my JAG Graduate Classes many years later.  “To make general officer, you have to be good and lucky.  But, if you can only be one, be lucky.”

I arrived in Germany in 1966 about the same time the Miranda decision was being handed down by the Supreme Court. As most of you know, it requires that before law enforcement officials can take a statement from a suspect, they must advise him or her of his or her’s right to remain silent and right to an attorney. Practically the first case I was handed was the retrial of a murder case originally tried in 1964.

Back in 1964, Private Mayberry left his barracks in Erlangen and caught a train to Nuernberg.  He partied at his favorite gasthaus and then went with a prostitute back to her trailer.  After a couple of hours, he announced he had to get back to his unit or he would be AWOL.  They argued and she put a cigarette out on the Private’s privates.  He then strangled her.  He then took her wallet (she no longer needed it) and caught a cab back to the train station.  The cab driver observed Mayberry going through the wallet, emptying it of money and then throwing it out the window.  A bus driver saw the wallet fly out of the window, stopped, picked it up and turned it into the police.  The cab driver identified Mayberry as the one who threw the wallet.

It didn’t take long for the military police to latch onto Mayberry and he confessed that he killed the prostitute (I’m sorry I can’t remember her name).  He pleaded guilty to second degree murder and the stipulation of facts laid out that she had burned him with the cigarette.  The Army Court of Military Review, on appeal, determined that Mayberry, being burned by the cigarette could have put him in such a “heat of passion” that the crime committed was only manslaughter.  So they did not approve the conviction, but sent the case back to Germany to be retried.  I think the appellate court could have reduced the case to manslaughter and reduced the sentence and we all would have been fat, dumb and happy.

So, I’m designated the Trial Counsel (prosecutor).  We still have Mayberry’s confession, but we don’t know if it is admissible.  My position was that it is hard to give a Miranda warning before the Supreme Court decides the Miranda case.  A few years later, the Supreme Court decided that such confessions, as Mayberry’s, were valid and admissible.  But I had to try the case in the nether-nether land.  My trial judge decided that Miranda was the law of the land at the time of this retrial and the confession could not be used.

So what did I have (if you think I am going to be the hero and somehow get a conviction, forget it.  Sometimes you play the hand you are dealt)?  I had fiber testimony, testimony from the gasthaus that they left together and the wallet.  The fiber evidence was extensive.  It was taken from Helga (I had to give her a name), Helga’s trailer (blanket, etc), and Mayberry’s clothes.  The University of Erlangen had used their forensic lab and tied Mayberry and Helga in a knot.  One example should suffice – fibers from his socks were found inside her bra.  Now, just use your imagination.  I had lots and lots of fibers and lots of connections.

The cab driver still remembered Mayberry and him throwing Helga’s wallet out the window.  Even though the wallet had been kept in an evidence vault during the intervening years, the bus driver insisted it wasn’t the same wallet!?

The defense put on only one witness who lived in Helga’s trailer park and testified that someone had been sneaking around the trailer park that night.  Probably the one-armed man from the “Fugitive.”  The bottom line was I could put them together in the trailer, but without the confession, I had no evidence that he killed her.  The military court acquitted Mayberry.

Then to add insult to injury, I received a whopping bill for the forensic support from the University of Erlangen.  I talked to my Finance chief and he told me that I should have gotten authority before I authorized the contract.  “Authorized the contract?” Whatever happened to German-American Friendship?  I thought we were walking down this road together.  It really shook me up.  As a young Captain, I couldn’t afford to pay the bill.  For about three months in a row, I received the bill.  My friend in Finance had his hands full because his boss was a drunk and he was trying to hide him out.  The good news was that higher headquarters found out about the boss and shipped him home.  They brought a young Lieutenant Colonel over from VII Corps to run the Finance Office. When I asked him about my Erlangen problem, he said, “Oh, we’ve got funds up at VII Corps to dispose of such matters.”  Free at last, free at last (be lucky)!

I later found out that it was none other than Kiss-Me Cates that had insisted that Mayberry plead guilty to murder rather than manslaughter.  So, maybe Cates got me after all.

Written by PJ Rice at

They Don’t Make Halloween Like They Used To

I truly don’t know the history of Halloween and I can’t push myself to find out.  I may be better off not knowing.  It’s a time when kids can dress up in costumes and race around the neighborhood collecting candy from their neighbors.  This is very important to the economy.  All the grocery stores, drug stores and Walmart make lots of money selling candy to people who have no choice but to buy it.  That reminds me, I saw a cartoon in the Washington Post where Obama was on the television saying, “If you are happy with the candy you collected on Halloween, then you can keep it.”  The little kids in front of the TV looked horrified!

I don’t remember dressing up when I was in college.  But I guess it’s a problem, because the University of Colorado has put out rules as to what students shouldn’t wear.  I think they went overboard. They don’t want anyone to wear a sombrero or to dress up like a cowboy or an Indian.  What in the world are they doing?  They said you shouldn’t have a theme party where people dress up like “white trash” or a “hillbilly.”  I’m not an expert on political correctness, but I think it is quite insulting to call a group of people “white trash.”  So I don’t think the PC people at Colorado University should be referring to this group that they are trying to protect as “white trash.”  Just as I have refrained from calling the CU PC people pretentious jerks.

When I was a kid, “trick or treat” had meaning.  We all had a bar of soap (or paraffin), and if no one opened the door, we decorated their window.  Now the kids don’t even go door to door.  There is something called “trunk or treat.”  Parent drive their vans and SUVs to the school or church yard and open up their “trunks” and the kids, hopefully not dressed like a cowboy or “white trash” get treats out of the trunks of the cars.  I’m concerned as to where this will lead. What if the parents have a small economy car?  Kids will be saying, “Gee, he doesn’t have a very big trunk.”  This could lead to trunk envy.

One thing I did learn from the CU instructions.  I found out that “squaw” is an offensive word.  Some Native American woman explained it all on Oprah, so that makes it official.  I must have missed that show.  I’m just sitting here trying to figure out what we should call Squaw Valley.  How about Native American Woman Valley?

When I was stationed at Cooke Barracks in Goeppingen, West Germany, we had a Halloween party at the Officers’ Club.  About two weeks before the party we had an incident on post.  A brand new Second Lieutenant who was assigned to the Engineering Office beat up his wife.  He really did a job on her and she ended up in the Army Hospital in Stuttgart.  She didn’t want anything to happen to her husband and without her help, we were at a loss.

They even came to the Halloween party at the Club.  The Second Lieutenant came dressed as Dracula with blood on his fangs and the petite little wife appeared as a ghoul with blood dripping and her body wrapped in gauze!  After that, I quit worrying about the poor little damsel (I wonder if it is alright to say damsel?).

At the same party was a newly assigned major and his statuesque wife.  He came dressed as a special forces night fighter and his bride came dressed like Jeannie in “I Dream of Jeannie.”  If you are too young to remember Barbara Eden, it’s your loss.  Anyway, between ghouls and “I Dream of Jeannie,” it was quite a night.

The problem with writing a lot and getting older is that you can’t remember what you have published.  Carole thinks I have already written about being struck by lightning in Viet Nam.  I have used the available search engines on my site and I can’t find it. She is still probably right.  So, I’ll make this quick.  A few years after the Halloween party, special forces night fighter and I were assigned to the 1st Cav headquarters in Viet Nam.  Carole and “I Dream of Jeannie” were both spending the year at Schilling Manor in Salina, Kansas.

We got rocketed every night, but never twice a night.  The VC would set up, hit and run.  I never told Carole about the rockets. I truly did not feel threatened.  However, the special forces night fighter would tape messages to “I Dream of Jeannie” during the incoming. Jeannie told Carole and Carole wanted to know what was going on.  I tell her there’s about as much chance if me being hit by a rocket as being struck by lightning.  Three weeks later, I was talking on a poorly grounded telephone line when lightning struck the wire and knocked me across the room.  I survived!

Written by PJ Rice at

Bill Suter, Clerk of the Supreme Court

On the 12th of June, Bill Suter had his retirement party.  It was held at the Supreme Court of the United States.  Bill will retire as the 19th Clerk of the Supreme Court sometime this fall, but if they waited until then to have the party, the Court would have trouble finding a quorum.  As you probably know, the Court finishes up its opinions in June and then goes on an extensive recess.  So June was the best time for the party.

Bill and I go way back.  We reported for duty on Tuesday, September 3, 1962 at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  We had both received direct appointments as first lieutenants in the JAG Corps and our first assignment was the Armor Officers’ Basic Course.  This raised the question as to whether we would be able to handle our court room duties if we could not fire the main gun of a M-48 tank.

Over 50 years later, I was sitting in the Great Hall listening to Chief Justice Roberts praise the incredible job that Bill had done as the Clerk for the last 23 years. The ceremony started with the Marshal of the Court, Pam Talkin, coming to the lectern and announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”  The Chief Justice then said, “Thank you for that warm and generous introduction.”  The laughter that followed set the tenor for the ceremony and the following party (a party that didn’t cost the taxpayers a penny).

At Fort Knox, while on a three-day field operation, which was to conclude the armor portion of our training, we sat in the dark on a bleacher and listened on a transistor radio to President Kennedy announce the “quarantine” of Cuba.  The Soviets had been slipping nuclear missiles into Cuba and Kennedy had decided we would go to war before we would permit nuclear weapons that close to the United States.  We had little communication with the rest of the world for the next two days.  Rumors of sunken ships and war were rampant.  I even heard that our class was on its way to Florida to be ready for the attack.  Today, on reflection, I know how absurd that would have been, but back then, it had us all shook up.

As soon as we came in from the field, we started cavalry instruction.  Bill and I were sitting in a small amphitheater and we all remember what happened like it was yesterday.  Bill Suter, Larry Henneberger, Don Wolf, friends for life, remember that moment.  Our country was holding its breath to see if we would be at war with the Soviets.  A cavalry instructor was babbling about how one out of three in the class would be assigned to a cavalry unit.  Those of us who were JAGs were ignoring him. Then the door to the classroom swung open and a secretary came rushing in carrying a piece of paper.  The instructor took the paper and spent 30 seconds reading it.  Had a pin dropped, it might have shattered somebody’s ear drum.  The major looked up and said, “Listen up, this order seems to impact all of you.  Effective immediately, the members of this armored officers’ basic class are assigned to Troop B, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry.”  Still extreme silence, confusion and disbelief.  Then the major said, “See gentlemen, it would be just that easy for you to be assigned to a cav unit.”  IT WAS A JOKE.  It was the way he started off every one of his cavalry orientation classes.  But his timing with our class left us weak.

I couldn’t get over the dignitaries that had assembled for Bill’s ceremony.  What a distinguished group.  And I was amazed at how many of them I knew.  I felt honored to be there.  Sitting two seats away from me was Susan Crawford.  She had held any number of distinguished positions with our government, but when I was working in the Office of the Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon, she was the Army General Counsel.  I also had some contact with her when I was the Commandant of the JAG School.  When I was trying to get a political appointment with the first Bush administration, I needed someone with political connections to recommend me and Susan was the only one I knew.  I called Susan and she made things happen.  At Bill’s ceremony, I thanked her again for the major impact she had on my life.  She responded by saying she was just happy someone took her call.

Chief Justice Roberts mentioned that through the years, Bill had probably done more towards making counsel feel comfortable before they argued than anyone else.  Bill had written a “Guide for Counsel in Cases to be Argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.”  It answered all those questions a first time counsel so desperately needed.

After Bills comments and just prior to the conclusion of the ceremony, Jeanie, Bill”s wife and Ashley, his grand daughter, unveiled his portrait.  Yep, they still do things like that.  Even in the days of Twitter and Face Time.  And, it was magnificent.  Bill’s portrait will hang in the Supreme Court from this time forward.  Richly deserved.

In November, 1962, Bill and Jeanie and Carole and me arrived at the JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Bill and I were members of the 37th Special Class.  Brand new JAGs.  Because of the length of the class, we would be in C’Ville over the Christmas holiday.  The School did not want their basic class students hanging around over Christmas.  They wanted the students to take leave and disappear.  We were told if we stayed, we would be put to work.  Most of the class disappeared.  Bill and I stayed over the holiday and “went to work.”

We were assigned the project of preparing a paper setting forth the reasons why the Advance Class (later called the Graduate Class) upon their graduation should receive a master of laws degree, rather than just a diploma.  We put a lot of energy into the project and came up with a half a dozen good reasons the degree should be awarded.  Of course it was a make work project and nothing came of it.  Nothing came of it until 26 years later when Bill was the Assistant Judge Advocate General and tasked me as the Commandant of the School to make it happen.  In 1988, Congress passed the law granting our graduate students a Master of Laws Degree in Military Law.

I would like to tell you that I dug out the paper that Bill and I prepared in 1962 and used it as our rationale, b
ut I think it was used to start kindling in the officers’ club fire place.  But the ideas were still keen in our minds.  So to all the JAG Graduate Class students since 1988 who are proud recipients of master of laws degrees, Bill and I say, “You’re welcome.”

Written by PJ Rice at

Save Our Commissaries!

On Sunday, the Washington Post devoted it’s front page to out-of-control military spending.  Well, it is the government.  Then, this expose took a sharp right turn and devoted most of the article to the need to eliminate our commissaries.

It appears that three summers ago, a Richard Spencer, a retired investment banker and member of the Pentagon advisory board, proposed shutting down all the commissaries in the United States.  Spencer was surprised by the furor he created.  I’m thinking, if that surprised him, he couldn’t be too smart.

Spencer was in the Marine Corps from 78′ to 81′ and remembers the commissary at Camp Lejeune.  He insisted that they only sold basic staples, “much of it leftovers from the mess hall.”  Golly, I knew those Marines were tough, but I didn’t know that their wives were purchasing mess hall leftovers at their commissary.  And this is the kind of background information our leadership is using to make financial decisions. 

As most of us military types know, the commissary is a real benefit to the military family.  Almost everything is sold to us at cost and we save 20 to 30%.  When I came in the military, I made $281 a month and it was nice to shop at the commissary.  We knew we wouldn’t get rich in the military, but it was nice to be working toward a retirement pension and medical care for life, and serving our nation.

The argument goes that in order to give us such great prices, DOD must budget over a billion dollars a year to keep the program running.  Some of that has to do with too many employees and mismanagement.  Unfortunately, if the government runs it, it will be mismanaged.  Look at Federal Express, UPS and the US Postal Service.  Guess which one can’t even break even, even.

In 28 years in the Army, I have seen the government contract out “to save money.”  Then they consolidate everything within the government “to save money.”   It never works.  They can’t get any responsible grocer to run the commissaries, but if they could, somehow it would cost more.

I came on active duty in 1962.  That reminds me.  When I was in the commissary last week, I saw some sacks of potato chips.  I don’t remember the brand name, but they stated they had been proudly making their chips since 1992!  I thought, I’ve got socks older than that.  In 1962, many women were prohibited from going into the commissary or the post exchange in slacks (or God forbid, shorts).  When we traveled to another post, Carole carried a skirt in the trunk of the car, just in case.  If slacks were forbidden, Carole would slip into a ladies room and put on a skirt.  I think commanders at those posts thought that women in slacks were part of the slippery slope; or, their wives were running the post.

Speaking of potato chips, neither the Fort Myer nor the Fort Belvoir commissary (not even a trip down to Quantico would help) carries Gibbles potato chips.  This is a real kick in the teeth to those of us who think the Gibbles is at the top of the food pyramid.  I don’t think their departure was an austerity move by the commissaries.  I think Lays just outmaneuvered them.

I don’t think the commissary article was serious.  It was just something to keep the IRS off the front page.  If you can believe the President, he found out about the IRS scandal at the same time as the rest of us.  I guess he is either lying or his staff is hiding the ball from him.  I can’t figure out why a dedicated staff would keep him in the dark.  I hope this last paragraph doesn’t get me audited.

Written by PJ Rice at

The Day I Set Vietnam On Fire

I didn’t go to Vietnam until late in the war.  Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t a war, it was a conflict.  The military didn’t have jurisdiction over accompanying civilians because it wasn’t a war.  I’ll say this, it was a hell of a conflict.

I almost went to Vietnam in 1965.  I was assigned to III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas.  A secret message came down to Fort Hood directing that a corps headquarters be constituted and sent to Vietnam.  I had just stepped forward to go Regular Army so I figured I was a lock to go.  As it turned out, I was on orders to go to the Language School in Monterey, California.  That secret message directed Fort Hood not to take anybody who was on orders for a school.  So my JAG friends left without me.  The Corps SJA, Colonel Joe Sullivan, was part of the corps headquarters arriving in Vietnam.  As Colonel Sullivan got off the plane, he was advised that they had not requested a JAG full colonel.  That’s the Army we know and love.  After wandering around for 60 days without a job, Colonel Sullivan convinced the powers that be that he was a fifth wheel at the headquarters and was shipped back to Fort Hood.

I ended up going to the language school (studying German) and then having a three-year assignment in Germany; and, also, spending a year at Northwestern University before I was shipped to Vietnam.  I know it doesn’t sound like the Army we know and love to actually have someone study German and then be assigned to Germany.  The Army we know and love made up for it by sending me to Northwestern to get a Masters Degree in criminal law and then, never giving me another criminal law assignment.

I finally arrived in Vietnam in July 1970.  I spent my birthday at the 90th Replacement Battalion.  Their singular goal was to make life so miserable for new arrivals that they would jump at the chance to join their new units.  They were very good at their job.  They had a detachment that cut wood all night long using ban saws.  What seemed strange to me is that the saws were silent during the daytime.  By the end of three days, I was delighted to climb on a chopper and join the 1st Cav SJA Office at Phouc Vihn. 

I think Phuoc Vihn was about 40 to 50 miles north of Saigon.  We called our outer permitter the “Green Line.”  It was three and a half miles long.  Inside the wire was the provincial capitol, a large air field and the Cav headquarters.  Sometime prior to my arrival, Viet Cong snuck onto our base and did some damage.  We remedied this by leveling everything outside the wire for a quarter of a mile and erecting ball park lights all along the Green Line (pointing out).  No more sneak attacks.

The VC had no problem finding us and would fire a rocket or a few mortars or RPGs at us each night.  We eventually caught the sneaky group and took out our vengeance.   The JAG Office and our quarters (hooches) were not in danger.  We were located quite a distance from the air field, headquarters and provincial capitol.  In fact, we were located down close to the Green Line, surrounded by defoliated rubber trees.  Periodically, during a storm, a rubber tree would fall over.  But, they weren’t very big and no one was hurt.

About six or seven months into my tour, we were instructed to do a “Spring Cleaning” around our area.  Being the Deputy SJA, I was tagged to run the clean up.  I had about 12 captains and about 15 enlisted men.  But, the area we had covered about five acres.  Our office, the courtroom and our hooches were in pretty good shape, but we had a large wooded area that was a complete mess.  We had been instructed to clean out undergrowth.  In the wooded area, the undergrowth was everywhere.

Then it came to me.  We could burn the wooded area and be done in no time.  I walked around it to make sure the fire would not spread.  Between the roads and fields, we seemed to have natural boundaries to retain the fire.  I checked the wind to ensure it would burn in the direction we planned.  I was really proud of my idea.

We started three or four fires on one edge and the fire took off.  It burned much more rapidly than I thought.  The next thing I remember is it appeared the fire was totally out of control.  And the noise.  The roar of the fire was deafening.  I could see branches on fire flying higher and higher, taking on a life of their own.  I was scared to death.  I saw my military career slipping through my fingers.  I had been a prosecutor and a defense counsel in trials.  Now, I feared I would be an accused.  I would be charged with unmitigated stupidity!

After what seemed like hours, but was probably thirty minutes, things started to settle down.  The deafening roar was gone.  I began regular breathing again.  The self-generated crises had passed.  To this day, I have always wondered why no one outside of our JAG office reacted to the fire.  We didn’t see the fire marshal or an MP or a concerned operations guy.  No one.

By the evening, everything had returned to normal, whatever that means in Vietnam.  And, I guess I missed my 15 minutes of fame.

Written by PJ Rice at

Becoming a Pentagonian

It wasn’t that I was avoiding the Pentagon.  I was really trying to avoid Washington D.C.  And that was a financial issue.  Life was expensive in DC and with a wife and three children, I was trying to be assigned to places I could afford.  How’s that for career management?

Well, in my 13th year, as I finished up Command and General Staff College (C&GSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I had run out of options.  I had been told earlier that a three year instructor’s tour at the JAG School in Charlottesville, VA, would be the same as a Pentagon tour.  When I parroted back to the assignment people what I previously had been told, they advised me that it was no longer applicable.  I would have asked what that meant, but I knew.

There were so many C&GSC students being assigned to Washington that the realtors came out to Fort Leavenworth to “help” us.  That worked out well.  We hooked up with Gloria Bothwell who 35 years later is still a dear friend.  Among the three of us, we selected a home in West Springfield that we loved, but could not afford.  $72,500 in 1975 was mountain top for us.  The owners wanted $73,000 and we insisted on a $500 reduction.  Even today, when I think about almost losing that house over $500, I break out in a cold sweat.  What’s $500 over a 30 year loan?

I was to be assigned to the Administrative Law Division of the Office of The Judge Advocate General (OTJAG).  That didn’t mean much to me.  The assignment officer told me that General Williams had selected me for the assignment.  I knew that General Williams was referred to as “Big Daddy”, but none of it meant much to me.  A previous assignment officer had told me that a tour at the JAG School counted for a DC tour.

In my first assignment in the Army, at Fort Hood, Texas, I worked for a Major Bill Neinast.  Now, as I was wrapping up C&GSC, and getting ready to move, I received a phone call from Colonel Neinast advising me that he was taking over the Litigation Division at OTJAG.  He said that he would like me to be one of his branch chiefs.  At that time, there was no branch chief slot available in Admin Law.  Neinast told me to give assignments (PP&TO) a call and tell them I would like to be assigned to the Litigation Division.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Fontenella had been my boss at the JAG School and he was finishing up three years in the Pentagon as Chief of Labor Law.  I called him to see what he thought.  He told me very firmly and clearly that I was not to fiddle with my assignment.  “Go to Admin Law, do not pass go, and do not call PP&TO.”  It was great advice.  I suspect that one call to PP&TO at that time may not only have been considered stupid, but would have raised questions about whether I was the type of officer they wanted in OTJAG.  If that sounds Byzantine, it is.

So Major Rice started to work in the Admin Law Division at OTJAG.  I was an action officer (worker bee), but there were some clues that might lead one to conclude that I would shortly be the branch chief of the General Law Branch.  For instance, I was sitting at the branch chief’s desk.  There was no Admin Law deputy and Lieutenant Colonel Bill McKay, the General Law Branch chief, was sitting at the deputy’s desk.  All the other action officers were captains and I was a major when I left Germany, when I left Northwestern University, when I left Vietnam, when I left the JAG School and when I left C&GSC.  I had been a major so long I have forgotten my first name.

All of the above signals did not register with a young, tactless captain, also in the General Law Branch.  On a bus trip home, after work, he counseled me on how to get along in the office.  I was listening intently.  I need to explain that Admin Law was, to a great extent, the legal advisor to the Army Staff .  We spend all our waking hours preparing opinions advising them.  My young captain explained to me that if I turned in my draft opinions early, McKay would mark them up and send them back for a rework.  But, if you waited until the last minute and submitted the draft, McKay would have to make the changes himself, because there would not be time for a rework.  I listened to him wide eyed.  He also told me to relax, because I looked a little up tight.  He was right.

When the young naive captain was told he wasn’t working out, he requested an assignment to California.  We found him a post in the desert where they hadn’t had a JAG in two years.  We figured if they had gotten along without a JAG for two years, he would do just fine.

So, I had become a Pentagonian.  I was a branch chief, in a five- man car pool, and just barely making my house payments.

I had not been there too long when Brigadier General Joe Tenhet came across the hall and asked me when I was going to be promoted to lieutenant colonel.  I told him I was in the present zone for consideration, but didn’t know if I would be selected.  He told me that it was a lot more difficult to get my present assignment than to be promoted to lieutenant colonel.  After he left I decided to relax and not be so up tight.

My Longest Day in Vietnam

No, I am not a hero and this isn’t about a firefight.  I am not trying to compare my experiences with those who lived and fought in the bush.  I was just a major assigned to the 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) Division as the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate.  It was 1970, so I remember parts of this adventure better than others.

A few days before, the executive officer of the 8th Engineer Battalion came into my “office” (my office had air conditioning – flaps down or rolled up) to explain that he was investigating an alleged rape that took place in Pleiku.  Our headquarters was in Phouc Vihn, about 30 miles north of Saigon.  Pleiku was approximately 300 miles to the north.  This young major advised that he would take care of the transportation, but he needed me along to advise him.

I agreed to go with him and a few days later, at 0-dark-30, we were in a chopper flying down to Saigon.  There, we loaded onto an Air Force C-130.  This old prop job must have flown a milk run to Pleiku everyday.  It was loaded with Vietnamese and their animals.  You sat in a canvas-strap sling trying not to draw attention, while the NCO load master screamed and yelled at everyone.  It’s hard to feel important when your butt is almost on the floor and you are staring at your knees.  I had no idea how long the flight took.  All I remember is noise and vibration.  We filed off the plane right behind a mamasan and her chickens.

We were picked up at the airport and taken to the CID (Criminal Investigation Detachment) Office.  The rape took place in a truck park.  In order to supply Pleiku, supply trucks were constantly traveling back and forth from Quy Nhon to Pleiku.  The drivers would overnight at the truck park.

We were able to interview the driver who brought the girl to the truck park.  She had planned to spend the night at the truck park and had been duly paid.  It turns out our suspect was in a nearby truck and he was lonely.  He remembered what he learned in kindergarten about sharing and went over to the other truck to find out if that driver had gone to kindergarten.  The driver with the girl was not interested in sharing.  So our suspect pointed his loaded weapon at the non-sharing driver and changed his mind.  “Oh yes, kindergarten.  Now I remember.”

Miss Su, the young Vietnamese girl, went with our suspect and was paid for her visit.  Since she was paid twice, I thought about making reference to double dipping, but I won’t.  Later, she returned to driver number one.  I was having trouble putting a rape case together.  It gets sticky when they accept payment.  But, if the fact checked out, I thought we had a pretty serious aggravated assault. Even though the Army was living with their weapons in Vietnam, we frowned on soldiers pointing loaded weapons at other soldiers in a threatening manner.

Now, we had to find the girl.  I don’t remember anybody mentioning it, but I guess the CID Office was at Camp Holloway.  Now we needed to go into Pleiku.  We were in luck.  Pleiku had been off-limits for years, but we arrived the day the off-limits was lifted.  I suspect we could have gone anyway as we were on official business, but it wouldn’t have been as entertaining.  As we drove in, young girls were trying to stop us on the street.  GIs were waiving around cartons of cigarettes.  I think I was observing the barter system in full operation.

Well, we found Miss Su and she verified what we had previously heard.  No rape, but a pretty serious assault with a deadly weapon.  On the way out of town, I began wondering what “Hey GI, I love you too much” really meant.

I don’t remember meals, but I think we got some lunch before we had to race out to the airfield to catch our cattle car back to Saigon.  More mamasans, more chickens and a louder load meister.  Hello knees.

We arrived at Tan Son Nhut Airport at dusk.  I think my engineer major, whose name stole away from me 40 years ago, felt his providing of transportation was completed.  But somehow, we needed to get out of Saigon.  We walked over to Hotel 3.  This was the tower for all the helicopter traffic.  I had used it a couple of times before with good success.  The tower was 50 to 60 feet above you and you, periodically, looked up to make sure it was still there.  Every so often a loud speaker announced that a bird was leaving for somewhere (eg. Tay Nihn or Bearcat) and could take so many passengers.  People would shuffle off.  It was getting darker and there were fewer announcements.

We wanted to go to Phouc Vihn, but would have taken Bien Hoa because our rear headquarters was there.  No announcement and we were the only two left.  It had been a long day and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight.  Suddenly, they announced that a bird was leaving for Long Binh.  I figured we could find a phone there and get someone from Bien Hoa to come get us.  We were desperate.

I have no idea where the pilot dropped us off.  It looked like a helicopter landing strip that was 300 yards wide and at least two miles long.  There were wooden one-story buildings lined up on one side of the strip, but no lights were on in any of the buildings.  Well, Long Binh had sounded good earlier.

There was a helicopter about a half mile down the strip and it looked like it was refueling.  We started walking toward it.  It would be nice to ask somebody where we were.  So much for the lieutenant with the map and a compass.  How about two majors wandering around in the dark on a helicopter landing strip.

When we got about 200 yards from the Huey, we saw the most beautiful sight.  There was a large yellow horse blanket on the nose of that bird!  We started running towards the Cav patch.  The crew was getting ready to take off, but saw these two crazy majors running towards them waiving their arms.  It was too good to be true.  They were on their way home and, now, so were we.  The pilot had a long white silk scarf wrapped around his neck.  Definitely Cav.  He kept smiling at us and we kept smiling at them.  It was like a long lost reunion.

I slept in my own bed that night.  I was really hungry the next morning.  Lunch had been my last meal.  But thinking about that Cav patch on the front of that Huey kept me smiling over and over.