Countdown to missile deployment in Europe
Schwabisch Gmund, West Germany
Pfc. Myron Wendland of Arapahoe, Neb., thinks he might ''re-up.'' He is working in electronics, as he wanted to do when he joined the Army. He is in an elite unit - the 56th Pershing Brigade. And he is enjoying Germany. He finds the people here nice despite some discrimination against GIs in local pubs.Skip to next paragraph
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Private Wendland and his seven red-scarved buddies of the 1st Platoon Team B operations crew are sitting in the mobile platoon control center following the Army adage, ''Hurry up and wait.''
They are going to have a rare exercise - the last one was held more than half a year ago, so as not to seem provocative to any watching Soviet satellites - in setting the older Pershing 1a to an erect launching position. But the expected West German guests from the 330th Grenadier Tank Battalion have not yet arrived for the demonstration.
On the floor next to the team is the double-combination safe with the ciphers to decode and authenticate any incoming target orders from the national command authority in Washington. Outside is the phalanx of trucks with the frequency-hopping satellite communications terminal, the radio monitor, the radio teletype, the radio set monitor with secure means of voice communication, the communication rack, the wrecker to mate and demate the missile with the erector-launcher (EL), and the tractor to pull the EL.
It is all going to become very familiar to the West German public in the next six months. It is an open secret that the 56th Field Artillery Battalion at Schwabisch Gmund is going to get the first battery of nine Pershing IIs come Dec. 15. And it is no secret at all that thousands of antinuclear demonstrators are going to congregate at this site to protest the Pershing II, and that there will be massive TV coverage of the whole confrontation.
The new Pershing in West Germany and the new cruise missiles being installed in Britain and Italy will be the first NATO land-based missiles capable of reaching Soviet territory since the mid-1960s. As such, they have already triggered threats of retaliation from the Soviet Union - and set off a mass peace movement in West Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Protestant northern Europe.
The 56th Brigade seems unconcerned about the controversy. The troops have a job to do, and they'll do it. West German police will be responsible for demonstrators outside the five fences on the road approach to this site and the two fences on the side where woods abut this airstrip.
Maj. Anthony M. Maravola, the brigade public affairs officer, says that the demonstrators are expected to be peaceful - but he adds that anyone who does penetrate the fence would be considered a saboteur.
There is the usual GI skepticism here about whether the glitches can really be shaken out of the Pershing II before the deployment date - or whether the brigade itself will be ready, given the political ban on any preparations while Euromissile arms control talks continue in Geneva (through Nov. 15). But Dec. 15 remains the scheduled date for IOC - initial operational capability.
So far the crews have not trained on the Pershing II, one crew member said. They will get training at Ft. Sill, Okla., before installation.
The ELs have not yet been converted to take the new missiles. The Pershing II - despite a weight 50 percent higher than the Pershing 1a, a doubled range, and terminal guidance that gives a tenfold greater accuracy - will still have the same dimensions as the Pershing 1a. It can therefore use the same EL, though its shift in center of gravity will require some rejigging of the scaffolding.