Have we met before?

And then Artillery M-108 I was browsing the news photos at Yahoo and noticed this piece of artillery and I was thrown back in history, when I was a little naive younger adult who was called into military service to serve at the proud 42nd Artillery Batallion (Bravo Company plus a lot more little abbreviations I don’t remember). Yes, no joke. And that sir, in that picture, that’s not a tank, it’s an M-108.

There are a couple of fragments I wanted to share: at that time everybody who was older than 18 was ‘eligible’ to serve the Royal Dutch military, including me. I bet there were hundreds of people able to (afford to) skip the service by either pretending they weren’t qualified or by having parents with deep pockets. But the fragments first, with the saucy details:

When I received my first initial call to service from the Department of Defense, I was assigned to the infantry. I wasn’t pleased with that and I remember returning a letter requesting for a more appropriate assignment: something more related to Civil Engineering. That came in within a couple of weeks: I was reassigned to Artillery, and was ordered to the baracks in a small town called Assen.

We were strictly ordered to forget about calling the M-108s ‘tanks’. Our drills instructed us to learn to say ‘artillery pieces’ or rather ‘mounted artillery’. While I was a horrible sharp shooter with the FAL, I learnt to appreciate the quarter master. On one occasion (‘The First Day At The Range’), I accidentally pointed the muzzle of my weapon at a sergeant. I got heat for pointing an unloaded weapon.

I was pretty athletic: I had no problems taking the obstacle course. This to much surprise of my fellow privates (nee: cannoniers). Carying the weapon during the obstacle course was a different question.

Official celebrations were the best days: we were required to show up in full honorary uniforms, which (naturally) were more fashionable than the ones worn by the Infantry. I mean, we had cannons on our badges and barets.

Before receiving the personal weapon (that FAL I mentioned before), we were informed about our rights to refuse the weapon and sit out a jail term equivalent to the amount of months of normal service. Go figure.

The Russians always come during the first night of training and they throw firecrackers in the air. Also: walking through waist deep water is cold, but going out of it is a lot more colder. Also 2: army clothes aren’t water tight. Also 3: every Cessna plane is a Russian spy plane. You’re supposed to run for cover.

During Urban combat classes, I posed the question if walking around in green wouldn’t make us easy targets. I was silenced by the Captain.

One of the on-site reverends happened to be the father of a friend I’d be meeting two years after military service. I thought that was a funny and amazing coincidence: I wouldn’t have remembered him, but for some kind of reason I truly believe he would have remembered me.

Thanks to me, Alfons didn’t need to do service: by fulfilling my duty (albeit shortened), the ‘two sons only do service law’ was applied to our family. I was and I’m still really proud of that fact. I hope Alfons still has that letter that freed him from his duty of active military service.

Life is full of murky roads and memories you sometimes prefer to forget.