All of us at the Intelligence School knew that wherever the Army might have troops stationed around the world, the bulk of our graduating class of 97 Bravos would be headed to Vietnam, Germany or South Korea. Most others would likely be assigned to one of the U.S. Army areas in what the Army called CONUS (Continental United States). Being assigned in the U.S. usually meant spending most of your Army days doing what all counterintelligence agents coming out of USAINTS were trained to do. That would be conducting background investigations of Army personnel being considered for a security clearance. Since I had been investigated this way for my enlistment into the Intelligence Branch, if I ended up assigned to do this kind of work, I feared I would have a safe, but terribly boring, circular trip in the Army.
Towards the end of my time at Intelligence School, a major assigned to the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the Pentagon addressed our class. His job was to describe the organization of the Army’s Intelligence Branch worldwide and the nature of available counterintelligence assignments.
When the major wound up his tour d’horizon of the Intelligence Branch realm, he closed by saying that if anyone needed to know anything further, he’d be happy to talk to them after he returned to his Pentagon office. I’m sure he thought nobody would ever actually pick up telephone and try to take him up on his offer. However, I was so unnerved by the prospect of terminal boredom for the better part of the next three years that several days later I called his office from a Fort Holabird pay phone. The phone was answered by a sergeant in the major’s office. I explained that I was a student soon to graduate from the Intelligence School and that I was taking up the major’s offer to personally discuss my assignment options. I was no doubt the first student that ever tried to take the major up on his offer, because the sergeant was clearly taken aback. However, he couldn’t very well tell me the major had made a mistake and now couldn’t be bothered seeing me.
The upshot was that when I hung up the phone, I thought that I had secured an appointment with the major in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence the next week. I also thought it was going to be easy getting there, as the major’s Pentagon office was relatively convenient and only an hour down the turnpike from Baltimore.
However, I still needed permission from my Fort Holabird superiors to absent myself from class and leave the fort. Up the chain of command I went with my request for a temporary leave. It turned out to be one hurdle after another. There were probably four or more levels that had to clear this and it went all the way up to the fort commander himself. It was a struggle at each level. Normally, they all would have instinctively squashed my request just because it was unusual, and hence out of bounds. Didn’t I know there was a war on? However, every approval step ultimately caved. I had been careful to note the major’s promise in my request for a temporary leave of absence, so, like the sergeant, they acceded to the request.
Needless to say, with my fate in the immediate years ahead completely up in the air, I allowed plenty of time to drive my 1964 Volkswagen bug down the Baltimore-Washington turnpike to the Pentagon. The last thing I wanted to do was be late for my appointment. Unfortunately, I hadn’t given thought to how and where I might park once I got there. There is no street parking at the Pentagon, which is encircled by intersecting and confusing freeways. To accommodate members of the 26,000 Pentagon work force that drive their cars to work, the building is surrounded by massive parking lots on several of its five sides. As I quickly discovered, almost all of this parking was clearly marked as reserved for those with parking permits, and it took a long time for me to finally find that there were only two or so aisles reserved for visitors. To make things worse, there was a long que of cars in line waiting for the occasional space to open up. With the clock ticking and eating away at my time cushion, I got in line and began to inch forward.
It seemed like forever, but I finally to got to the head of the line of cars waiting their turn to pull into the visitors’ aisle. As another car finally left and I began turning into the aisle to park in its space, a car driving by in the opposite direction on the lot’s perimeter rudely swung in front of me and attempted to jump the line. As I rolled down my window to yell at the selfishly mean, thoughtless twit, I recognized the driver. It was my good friend from graduate school days at the University of Chicago, Jan Grayson. Jan Grayson
My anger quickly dissipated as we both pondered the oddness of our meeting. He told me he was in the Army Reserves in a biological warfare unit that had a meeting at the Pentagon. Under the circumstances, I decided to forgive him after I learned he knew even less than I did about the parking challenges at the Pentagon. I took him at his word when he promised to never cut me off again in the visitors’ parking lot. Further proof of my charitable nature came when I asked him years later to be my son Pat’s godfather.
When I finally got inside the Pentagon for my meeting, the sergeant said something had come up and the major was tied up. He told me he would be meeting with me in his place. My argument to the sergeant was simple. I told him I was older than almost all of the Intelligence School trainees and had college, law school and a year of private law practice under my belt. I said it might benefit both me and the Army’s if there was an assignment for me that could make use of this specialized training. He pulled my class roster tacked to a bulletin board behind him and found my name on the list. Then he gave me the bad news. He said all the assignments were pretty much computer driven and there was really no way my ultimate assignment could be predicted at that point. He politely thanked me for driving down to chat and told me to drive safely on my return to Fort Holabird.
While I was disappointed that I had been left still swimming in a sea of uncertainty, I did have the satisfaction of having at least tried to influence my next two and a half years in the Army.