Under the Mountain


Army Electronics
I actually did pretty good in electronic theory, top scores. And I all but aced all the equipment I was expected to repair. The final test meant that the instructor would place a small wire from one component to another in the machine, and we had thirty minutes to troubleshoot and repair. I had no problems. I also was quite good at picking locks and cracking safes using a stethoscope and listening for tumblers. And worst case, taking a pickax and boring a hole in the case to unlock the door. Brute force is very seductive. Laying out a sheet of thermite is also quite fun, but be careful if you are on the second floor because it going to burn straight through to China.

We graduated and my friend was sent to a dream post in Germany. I was sent to Pennsylvania. Whaaat! What is in Pennsylvania? There is a site connected to Ft. Richie that was staffed 24/7. A very important site that was actually an extension of the Pentagon in DC. It was meant to be the wartime Pentagon, complete with small apartments for all the important staff, civilian or officer. It was also where the president should go if he happened to be at Camp David. And it was the secondary destination for him to go if he/she couldn’t get to Air Force One. Oh yeah, it was also a mile and a half underground. No underground bunker at the White house that could take a direct hit, No underground facilities at Camp David, it’s only fives minutes away by helicopter.

It was the hardest most secret site in the western world, big enough to hold a wartime, operational Pentagon, and hard enough to take multiple direct hits from ICBMs. There is at least forty years of storage food for the entire staff, and two lakes inside, with fresh water, one had a rowboat on it. There is a two lane highway leading into the site, and a two lane in the site proper, helping to connect five or six multi storied building, each in their own cave with cross connecting tunnels bridging the entire complex. It used to be secret, but for the last twenty years it has been on the Internet, complete with maps of buildings and other installations. It is called Raven Rock or Site R. About twenty years after I left they decommissioned Ft. Richie and moth-balled the cave. They even gave the townspeople tours to help explain what had been in their backyard. Not a secret anymore. And then 9/11 happened and the site is back up 24/7 with a slightly different mission. The President goes up in a plane, and the vice-president and others go underground.

There were tests, sometimes once a month sometimes less. It was random to keep you on your toes. The siren went off in the surrounding towns and you had fifteen minutes to get underground. It was a test! They would use telephone trees to alert everyone and the clock started ticking. Every time I knew it was a test, and every time I looked at the sky just before entering. I left my family in my home in the village and I was going to be safe buried in a mountain for forty years. Could not get used to that, ever.

I thought I was going to do my full hitch in three places, basic training in Washington State, advanced training at the Jersey shore in Long Branch, and finally, at Site R near Gettysburg and Camp David. I only had eight months left in the army, too short to be sent anywhere, a standard overseas assignment was about a year and didn’t have that much left.

Two things occurred within several weeks of each other. Either one could have been the reason to send me out of the country to one of the worst posts in the entire army, as I was to learn later. It was a place of screw-ups and primative conditions. It was within miles of the border with North Korea with dozens of infiltrations every month. People were bushwhacked, snipered, and sometimes killed with an axe, all along the DMZ. Vietnam was much worst, but we all drew combat pay and had our weapons handy.

The two things were not connected except through me. During one graveyard communications check in the Joint Chiefs War room, I found a bug or security leak. It wasn’t a separate, battery powered electronic device that you see taped under a table. It was built into the phone. It was a piece of plastic that’s was part of the working phone, but very easy to remove. Once removed all you had to do was flip it over and reinstall. It wasn’t perfectly symmetrical, so different connections were made. One effect was that it turned the phone into a microphone even if the receiver wasn’t picked up. Another thing that the flipper switch blocked the extension from lighting up when a person was trying to listen to the phone/mic in the war room. There was no way that everything was a coincidence, it was clear that it was more likely an in house bug, designed by bell labs, in order for one agency to spy on another. Everything was hushed, no comments, and no news flash. Probably just enough to send me to the boonies until my time was up.

The other possibility was due to several train engines, seven to be exact, seven diesel locomotive switch engines, although only one showed up, the other six were on their way. The one was stopped at the gate and I was called to tell me that the train engine I had ordered had arrived.

It seems that I was ordering a modification that needed to be installed on seven machines. The modification included seven resistors and 14 capacitors to act as a limiting filter, making the machine run better. The problem was, I wasn’t getting little resistors, I was getting very big train engines. Apparently when ordering the resistors I accidentally swapped two numbers in the order catalog, or maybe I just misread the number. It was on my ticket, but it wasn’t checked by my warrant officer. He had high regard for my work.

We were so secret that people outside the post had gotten into the habit of not checking the requests too closely, they were all rubber stamped all up the line. Whatever Site R wanted, Site R got. So I put at least four of my officers in trouble with a very mad post commander. Maybe things happened to them as well. I don’t know as I was sent to Korea with two weeks notice.

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