The saying of, “You don’t always get what you want, but you might get what you need”, is probably true for most people. As has been happening of late, certain conversations trigger memories of my Army days. In the short version, I joined the Army in order to afford law school. The fact that didn’t happen is a very different post that I’ll do at some point in the future.
Anyway, I actually came into the Army through a special program because contrary to popular belief, women could not enter as officers through either ROTC or the military academies until 1976. I was commissioned into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in the waning years before they officially disbanded that. Part of the disbanding was to no longer have all women assigned to WAC units, but rather have them go into the various branches of the Army, most of which were open to women. Through a series of misunderstanding on my part (also another future post), I found myself in a situation where I didn’t know which branch to ask for and the Ordnance Corps decided they wanted to increase the number of women being brought in. They sent a couple of majors to Fort McClellan to explain to all of us why we ought to request being in Ordnance. Now, there are essentially two major areas within Ordnance. The original, as the name implies, is Ordnance as in ammunition. The other is maintenance which gained far greater prominence once there were things like vehicles. To say I was not mechanically minded is an understatement and so when I was assured by the two majors that Ordnance really was the branch we ladies ought to join I agreed and thought, “Okay, how hard can it be to learn about munitions?”
A not particularly important event occurred and I was later strongly advised to swap from my idea to instead go into the maintenance side. I very carefully explained my genuine concern about my ability to learn about maintenance. I was again assured the fact I didn’t know anything didn’t mean I couldn’t learn what I needed to. As an officer, I would not be actually working on vehicles (to include things such as tanks). The mechanical training we would receive was to enable us to understand the basics so we could understand what it was the fully qualified mechanics (enlisted and warrant officers) were doing. In other words, we had to know just enough to be able to say, “Bull___” if someone wasn’t doing their job. I reluctantly agreed and in the initial stages of my training, my concerns seemed justified. Several of us struggled and failed tests because we really weren’t grasping what pistons, wiring harnesses, hydraulic systems, etc., did. Our instructors were equally struggling because they couldn’t figure out how to get the ideas across any differently.
Our male counterparts stepped in to help. This was when most guys worked on vehicles to some degree or the other. They essentially took those of us who were having difficulty and said, “You’re making this too hard.” Of the two that took me under wing, one was a mechanical engineer and the other highly mechanically inclined as what was referred to as a “shade tree mechanic”. Admittedly, this was back before vehicles became much more complex with electronics and computers. As it turned out, the guys were right. We just needed someone who could take their time with us and phrase things in a way we could grasp. One of the practical exercises we had to complete toward the end of the three-month course was to disassemble and reassemble a jeep engine. Despite the extra tutelage, I certainly wouldn’t have tried to tackle this alone, but we were in teams and I was in fact fully capable of helping and understanding what my guys were doing. Aside from the direct application to my Army career, the same knowledge has been quite useful when dealing with auto repair shops.