It was the summer of 1987. I was in Fort Sill Oklahoma doing my advanced training for field artillery. I was in the Army Reserves.
The Kevlar helmets were still very new and only active duty units had them. We wore the old World War II style helmets that consisted of a "steel pot" that sat over a helmet liner.
Being in the Army Reserves allowed me to split my training (at the time I was still in high school). During the summer of 1986 I did my basic training and went to drill with my unit until the following year. My unit consisted of a battery of four M110 eight inch self propelled howitzers.
That big spade, in the back, is actually dug in when they are set to fire. When it does fire the whole front end of the vehicle comes off of the ground. It launches a 200 pound projectile a very long ways.
During the advanced training the Army showed us the M110, but all of our hands on training was on the smaller M109 howitzer.
This one fires a much smaller projectile (about 90 pounds) and does not require the spade in the back. The barrel of the cannon can be lowered quite a bit closer to the ground as well.
When a cannon crew sets up to fire each member has an assigned task. My responsibility for this particular day was run the communication wire from the back left side of the vehicle to the front right. During my short trip I ran in front of the howitzer to secure the wire. At this same moment the gunner is preparing the gun for a fire mission. One of his first tasks is to lower the cannon to remove the dust cover. He will also open the breach to make sure nothing is in the barrel.
Speed is everything. You have to be able to set up and be ready for a mission in X amount of time. When the mission is over you need to be able to pick up and go even faster. This is what we were working on.
I had the comm wire secure in the back and I was beating feet to the front right. The wire comes on a handy-dandy spool and I was watching so I did not get too close to the track. I zipped around the front of the vehicle making excellent time. That is when the barrel of the howitzer came down on to the top of my head with crushing force.
My knees buckled as my chin slammed into my chest. My feet sank 2 inches into the mossy ground (that I had the good fortune to be standing in) and then fell to my knees. The spool of wire rolled under the vehicle forgotten. My calf was bruised as the business end of my M16 (slung upside down on my back) jabbed into it as I landed. My helmet was squashed, Beetle Bailey like, on top of my head. Minus the smile.I flipped the steel pot off of the liner. I then took both hands and, with much effort, managed to pry the liner off of my head. It did not pop when it came off, but it sure felt like it did. I looked around to make sure no one had witnessed the accident. No one had. I collected everything and carried on like nothing happened. I only suffered a stiff neck and a bruised calf for my carelessness.
One year later I decided to go Active Duty Army, but the recruiter told me that I was not allowed to change career fields. I thanked him and walked across the hall to speak with the Air Force recruiter. I joined the United States Air Force became an aircraft mechanic for the next 8 years.
Nearly 20 years passed before I told that story to anyone. I guess it took me that long to see any humor in it.