I have to be honest, by the spring of 1986 I was ready to leave Berlin. I’d been on active duty for more than 5 years, and during that time my life had changed immensely. I was on a fast track to nowhere when Ben Sacolick (now a Major General) and I decided to enlist back in 1981. We were both living in Berkeley at the time and neither one of us was all that thrilled with what we were doing (in my case it was pretty much nothing). Ben suggested we enlist, and my response was something along the lines of, “Why not?” That nonchalance belies one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. After basic training at Ft. Jackson, I spent 18 months at the Defense Language Institute learning Russian. It was then on to Goodfellow Air Force Base and Ft. Meade for more training before I started a nearly three-year stint at Field Station Berlin. By the spring of 1985 I was married and living on the economy, and a little over a year later I’d finished my undergraduate degree and was planning to attend law school in the fall. Married guy with a degree, five years of service, three years in Europe, and a future – a long way from being practically a bum and one of a handful of people to enlist from Berkeley, California back in ’81.
The spring of 1986 was a good time, personally, to leave Berlin. The disco bombing in April of that year resulted in a tightening of security and a reality check throughout the city after nearly three years of pretty much coming and going as I pleased. Getting back onto post at Andrews, boarding the duty train to and from Frankfurt, and traveling on the loop buses from Truman Plaza were all accompanied by heightened vigilance and tension. In addition, Kerry had already gotten out of the Army and I envied the degree of freedom that civilian life afforded her. Our final European trip together was a long weekend in Heidelberg towards the end of May: one last ride on the duty train, one last stroll through another charming German town. When we returned from Heidelberg I found out that the Gramm-Rudman budget cuts meant I could ETS two months early. The timing could not have been better. I remember looking forward to driving for as long as I wanted to without having to stop because of checkpoints or guard towers and a wall. I’ve driven by myself across country twice since then, and up and down California more times than I can count. I also remember declaring that when I got out I was going to quit a job just because I could. I worked in a bagel bakery while waiting for law school to start in the summer of ‘86. Well before the first day of school I quit, and it felt as good as I thought it would.
Much has happened in the past 28 years, most of it good. As the years slip by, as I work to secure the memories of an already full life, my thoughts often turn to my years in Berlin. And while I was anxious by June of 1986 to move on, I realized even then the special place Berlin would always occupy in my heart.