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Family Life While We Were At Carson

The four years that I was assigned to Fort Carson from the fall of 1968- to the end of 1972-  commanding a Mechanized Battalion, and being the G-3 of the Division, then Chief of Staff of the Post, and the 4th Mechanized Division, then commanding a Brigade - under 4 different Commanding Generals - Gleszer, Rogers, Bennett, and Hamlet - each with his own demands, perceptions, and policies - during a period of great change in the Army (and even greater national attention) while we were in the vanguard of social and military change - was a grind for me. It was 24/7 for all four years, with only occasional vacation breaks, and time at home with the entire family.

And, because many of the changes involved that were calculated to make the Army more attractive for 'Volunteers' - including the social life on the post for soldiers and officers, their girlfriends, wives and children, our family was caught up in that too.

To her eternal credit, my Army Wife Patsy, was able to take all the changes in stride, while yet running our 'household,' insuring that our children were being educated properly, behaved themselves when I was not around, while still being a loving wife and supporting me was, in retrospect, remarkable.

Patsy as the Wife of a Commander

As the wife of me as a Lieutenant Colonel Battaliont Commander, Patsy was expected to socialize with  Officer's Wives of the 30 or so Lieutenants, Captains and Majors in my unit. She had to be the glue that held various 'Wives Projects' together in the Community Center, with annual fund raising to special childrens activities. There were Baby showers, sometimes funerals. School events.

She counselled young, and often newly married, wives of junior officers.

The longer she was at Carson, the more her advice was needed for newer officers wives about how to shop 'off post,' ways to enjoy and help their families enjoy for the 3 years (only) or so of being assigned to Carson the delights of surrounding Colorado. Passing on where best to go 'antiquing' even in places like Pueblo, or Canyon City, or Florence became regular fare. 

As the wife of me as a Brigade full Colonel Commander - with four times as many officer's wives as in one Battalion - over 130 - the number of events and activities just increased. Battalions, with approximately 30 officers, thus wives or girl friends, became seperate 'social units.'

Patsy as the Wife of the Chief of Staff

Largely because the Command realized that the attitudes and treatment of the wives and girl friends of soldiers, NCOs, and officers by the Army, Fort Carson, and its personnel could weigh heavily on the decision of a soldier to enlist or reinlist, I became  one of the pioneers in meeting with the wives and girl friends of soldiers to hear their complaints, questions, and advice.

Just as General Rogers had pioneered the idea of "Enlisted Men's Councils' and 'Racial Harmony' Councils I, as Chief of Staff, held the first 'Division Headquarters Wives Council' meetings. Where the wives, especially of the more senior NCO's and mid-grade Officers who compose the Headquarters met with me, my wife, and the Command Sergeant Major's wife and listed to their complaints and suggestions about things at Carson that affected their welfare.

It was an eye-opener. But before I could convene a second meeting, I was appointed commander of the 4 Battlion,  3d Brigade with its 4,000 soldiers.

 

The motivation behind formally gathering the wives of soldiers, NCO's, and officers, was, in retrospect, obvious. Not so then. So long as the new 'All Volunteer Army' was going to depend on the willingness of sufficent numbers of civilian males to 'volunteer' to serve in the Army, with its periodic deployment of the soldier - to either combat zones where the family could not join, or to 'hardship' assignments where the Army would not allow the family to accompany the soldier in bleak, remote, very poor living condition area - then the attitude of the wife toward their husband's service and hardships could weigh on his decision whether to enlist OR reenlist - in the case of officers - to make the Army at least a 20 year career. 

 

Patsy As Wife of the 3d Brigade Commander

A remarkable thing happened when I was the 3d Brigade commander after they heard of what I did while Chief of Staff. First of all the idea of formally listening to the wives - and even the increasingly popular 'live-in' girlfriends -  became instantly popular. I was asked if I would form a '3d Brigade Wives Council.' That would be significantly different from the Headquarters Wives Council - first because the wives' husbands would be much lower rank - Sp4 with some E-5 junior - and younger - sergeants. And secondly their men would be on only their first or second enlisments, knowing comparatively little about the Army. And thirdly most all of them lived off Post - not in government quarters, but out on the general civilian economy, even if they could use the on-post hospitals, post exchanges, and commisaries. And how civilian Colorado Springs, Security, Widefield, and Fountain treated them would factor into their attitudes toward re-enlistment by their husbands.

Of course, Wife Patsy - an Army brat who had been an Army dependent, child or wife for all 44 of her years would sit beside me during those Council meetings. She knew far more than I, what life on and off Post, was like for an Army wife - Hospital, PX, Commissary, Housing, schools, Child Care. She could relate to them. She sometimes spoke up and explained things to these young wives.

Of course I also had the Brigade Command Sergeant Major and HIS wife there too. And she would know things, being an NCO's rather than more senior Officer's wife than even Patsy knew.

There was one thing I could do as a quite Senior officer on the post, that made all the difference from just these younger wives having to talk to me and the Sgt Major, and our wives. I could summon the head of the Post Exchange, the Commisary, the Housing Director, and the commander of the Army Hospital to meetings to answer questions and answer FOR how their activities were perceived by these groups of young wives of junior rank enlisted men.

That led to some very interesting outcomes. I will touch on a few.

The "Why does chicken cost more in the Commisary than in Safeway?" typical question from the wife of a PFC on a tight budget"

Answer - Patsy suggested getting the Commissary officer to attend the next meeting. He did. And he patiently explained why the Department of Defense sets the prices of all things, that they can't - like a Safeway, offer  'Loss  Leader' product advertising for promotion for their store. The Commissary does not and cannot 'advertise' or 'promote' itself. It only can provide military persons a 'Service' at the lowest possible cost and inform them what it has.

Satisfied the young women began to learn how Commissaries work.

The "Why are there no Black Cosmetics in the Post Exchange?" from a black soldier's wife?

Answer from the PX officer. "We will start getting them." Satisfactory answer. And he did. .

The "Why do we have to sit with flimsy hospital gowns on,  in the Fort Carson old Hospital's narrow corridors, waiting,  while Soldiers clump past us?"

The Hospital Commander's (Colonel) answer. "I didn't know that was happening. I will make sure the waiting rooms and hallways are handled differently." Fort Carson only had old World War II buildings for a hospital. A new-construction one only came later, after Carson became a very successful - at attracting soldiers and officers - Military Post. With a thoroughly modern hospital.

And the Hospital Commander said to me - "This is a great Forum. I never get that kind of feedback about how soldier's wives feel about us, from our own staff."

Then there was a question from a Sergeant's wife at one meeting, that became had a significant outcome. She wanted to  know whether the Army had any programs that could help out with them with their handicapped son. They lived off post, couldn't afford civilian hospital treatment, or modifications to their home to help the child cope.

Patsy mentioned that there were programs for handicapped dependents, and I knew that sometimes married soldiers, NCO's and officers who were not, in the normal course of things eligible for 'on-post' military housing, were given quarters on post for "compasionate reasons."

A Housing staff person showed up, explained the Army rules for such cases. And then privately talked to Mrs Summers, wife of SP5 Summers.

Without me doing anything more, they were given quarters on post and modifications made to it to help the handicapped child, son of a volunteer soldier. The Army could offer that kind of 'exceptional' service, but neither soldiers or their wives could be expected to know about it.

But that was not the end of it. At a later meeting of the Wives Council when I was about to retire, and leave the Brigade, she approached both of us, and presented a very nice silver cup engraved:

                             Col David R Hughes

                            With our Appreciation

                        Sp5 Mrs Fred W Summers

I only wish she had added 'and Mrs' to the top line. But it was a heartfelt gift from a grateful Army family for the help they gave to them at Fort Carson.

The Silver cup still sits on my Trophy shelf at home. I am sure he reenlisted. For through that episode the Summer's learned how the Army tries to 'take care of their own.'

 

The Cup

Spill Over into Colorado Springs

 

   The amazing last chapter of the impact of the 'Enlisted Wives Council' which was emulated in many other Commands outside Fort Carson, happened when the Colorado Springs USO called me asking for advice on how to get soldiers to come to the USO downtown. They said "Fort Carson soldiers used to come to the USO in uniform on weekends, shoot pool and otherwise entertain themselves. But they don't come any more. Yet we are here to help serve them"

I said "This is the 1970's. Soldiers don't wear their Class A's and shoot pool on Saturday afternoons as they did in World War II. For most of them were single, and lonely. Now a large portion are married or live with girl friends and with children. I have a suggestion. Why don't you offer USO services to the Soldier FAMILY, invite soldiers with their wives, or their wives alone, and teach them how to shop in Colorado Springs?

And I will prime the pump by holding my next Enlisted Wives Council meeting in YOUR USO rooms downtown which anyway is far closer to where they live, than at Fort Carson."

So I did, and invited the head of the Colorado Springs Board of Realtors to come and answer the young married women's questions about what right do landlords have to charge such HIGH damage deposits for soldier families?

Not only did the usual 25-30 3d Brigade elected representative wives show up, but the word spread, and over 200 women from ALL Carson units showed up!!!

Needless to say, the USO changed direction, and the Board of Realtors started putting out the word to landlords to quit trying to milk the soldier cash cow, or there will be a reaction from the senior comanders at Carson, the City's Cash Cow!

The Mechanized Family Road Rallies

One final set of wives questions triggered another radical solution to the 'Volunteer' problems.

Repeatedly at the wives meetings  there were questions about "Why do our husbands have to go 'Down Range' so much, even on weekends? WHAT do they have to do there?

Obviously they did not understand the need for continued training, especially in their unfamiliar (since Vietnam) tracked vehicles. And the 'rotation' of units even over weekends because there are not enough seperate training areas for all, at the same 8-5 Monday through Friday units.

But I had a really bright idea. Why not involve these wives, AND their families, in some of the exiting training that their men experience. WHY NOT LET THEM RIDE IN THE TRACKS TOO?

There are many 'family days' at all Army posts where families come and see static displays of equipment, even demonstrations. But ride in M113 Armored Personnel Carriers down range and see what that training is all about?

So we did it. With a twist. Why not, for safety's sake, let groups of a Mech Company soldiers with their wives in the open Hatch, while their man drives the track. But do it  ONLY on roads, as a kind of Road Rally - going through check points competing on points and not speed, and end up at Turkey Creek Ranch down range, and hold a Barbaque or Picnic?

Great idea, but I needed to try it out first, on my OWN family. So I recruited daughter Rebecca to first sit in the driver's seat to see what it was all about. And then I recruited my visiting sister Dorothy to ride in the open hatch, while I drove the track. And here they are:

Daughter Rebecca in the Drivers seat Sister Dorothy in the Hatch

 

Then I almost went too far, having to remember these are not perfect machines. Trying out the road rally idea with Rebecca, I put her in the open hatch, while I drove. And even though I had a soldier with us, when we hit a small bump in the road, a faulty latch released the iron lid, which came down on Rebecca's head!

There was not serious injury, but she said it took years before she had full feeling in on part of her face.

So what Army families have to go though to support their soldier husband!

Nevertheless, the scheme worked, and wives began to appreciate, participate. They felt more 'part' of the Army and supported their husbands more in his 'job.'  The Volunteer Army started to work beyond just the viewpoint of the soldier himself.


The Hughes Family as Fort Carson Came to an End with my Retirement

But meanwhile our kids continued to grow and mature.

We had sent young Edward to 'Pauline Academy' in his 4th and 5th grades. Being not Catholic he didn't like it. He was ribbed.

We had Rebecca in a Colorado Springs Lutheran School until High School. Where she attended St Mary's Catholic School graduating in 3 years.

We sent David, his last two years of High School to private, and highly regarded - as a prep school to Fountain Valley School. It was costly, but I remembered how important my last years at Colorado Military School, to prepare me for college - West Point as it turned out. And he was beginning to develop as a good all-round athlete.

Rebecca started to date the son of General Bennet, the Commanding General, whose home was conveniently just a quarter mile away from our Quarters.

Edward just continued to grow, showing that he was going to grow to be taller than all the rest of us.

I took David along with myself and Sp5 Rosendahl - who had become such a prominant 'enlisted man's advocate' to the General - on a final hard 4 day hike and camp through the 'Lost Creek' area close to the Tarryall River west of Colorado Springs. I liked the area so much, that we bought a mountain acreage plot on the Tarryall River, close to the old Dude Ranch that I attended the last month before I entered West Point - 26 years before.

But then I submitted my Retirement papers the last year at Fort Carson, 1972,  in part because I was due to be reassigned back to Washington, and the Pentagon. And I really didn't want to disrupt David's critical educational years at close by Fountain Valley. We could not afford to pay for his tuition and road and board, from back east. I had not been able, on a Colonel's pay to build up any kind of estate, to draw on. It would be another move, probable purchase of another home in Virginia.

I also had been invited, as were many other senior Lieutenant Colonels and junior Colonels, to return to Vietnam and become 'Advisors' to the Vietnamese Army. But it was clear to me that war was lost. And it would be a big disruption, again, for my family, including Patsy who would have had to raise our teen kids at critical times of their lives, without me around.

And part of the reason I retired aft 23 years commissioned service, was that I had done all I could do at Carson, under four different generals, to launch the All Volunteer Army. Which actions were still controverial within senior officer ranks and divided many of them. Even though I had been recommened for promotion to Brigadier General by two of the generals and not recommended by another I served, I could see that, as the controversial Vietnam war was winding down, the Army was going to go downhill for years to come. It was as good a time to quit, live in Colorado Springs, my home town, do something totally new, while supporting my family during their important teenage years.

My decision was shocking to both David and Rebecca. Edward was too young still to realize the implications. Patsy took it all in stride, ever the loyal Army wife. 

Before my actual Retirement date, the 31st of January, 1973, and after I had left the 3d Brigade Command before Christmas, I was put on orders to fly to Washington and, in the Pentagon, deliver to those who were responsible for the formal 'VOLAR' (Voluntary Army) programs, many of which we had pioneered, particularly General Forsythe who was charged to implementing the VOLAR changes for a month. That trip and talking to fellow officers in the Pentagon confirmed me in my belief that Post-Vietnam would be miserable indeed. It was a good time to retire.

I would then be paid for 23 years active duty service (even though I had also spent 4 more years in active duty at West Point, which should credit me for 27 years, the Congress in its infinite wisdom, refused to give retirement credits for those 4 years to either West Point or Annapolis grads. So I became entitled to 55% of my active duty Colonel's Pay for the rest of my life.

So we departed Fort Carson quarters, and moved into a new house on Squaw Valley Drive. on the east side of Colorado Springs. in the spring of 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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