Manching Air base, West Germany — Forget all those old Prussian stereotypes. West German soldiers take initiative, are non-hierarchical, and have tolerance for mavericks. Revealing this probably does not advance the careers of those who improvised beyond their orders so they could help this reporter. But to this reporter, they have done far more to create a good image for the German military establishment than the voluminous PR handouts and briefings from the ``Cheeky Sparrow'' maneuvers, last week's NATO war games.
It all began Thursday morning, when the crammed press schedule left no time for this reporter to write a story and get it off in time for Monitor deadlines. This reporter therefore asked a major accompanying the horde of reporters to allow her to remain in the first meeting place and rejoin the rest of the press party later for a press conference.
No problem. The major assigned a corporal to drive this correspondent to workrooms for the press.
The MPs guarding the hall first led this reporter into the cavernous press-room, then to an upstairs workroom with a telephone to transmit an article - and issued instructions for no soldiers to use the phone.
Half an hour later another MP on routine patrol discovered this reporter. He was terribly sorry, he said, but security regulations really didn't allow a reporter to stay there.
He expressed concern about how this reporter might continue to work, however, and was relieved by my assurance that I could easily keep on writing outside in the Indian summer weather. Yet another MP carried a press-conference chair outside. He found a nice spot of grass and sun around two corners of the building and left this reporter alone with her lap computer.
After weeks of rain and one very full day of deafening helicopter rides, the sunlight and peace were blissful. The story fell into place. Some Mirages whooshed by at tree-top level. Various khaki jeeps and trucks passed, some with red- and white-checked ``follow me'' flags, all with the decal designed to soothe passengers in any civilian cars stuck behind a Cheeky Sparrow convoy on the autobahn: ``Your understanding please! A lot of freedom [is worth] a little inconvenience.'' Some between-duty soldiers in red berets sauntered by and inquired cheerily if this reporter were the new sentry. Otherwise the solitude was uninterrupted.
When clouds blew up and it began to rain, one of the original MPs suggested I might now like to go into the police assembly room for a cup of coffee.
The timing was perfect. An electrical outlet was found in the police assembly room, and this reporter finished her story. The piece was sent off by deadline. There even was 10 minutes to change from maneuver jeans and sneakers to a press-conference dress.
This correspondent thinks she'd edit the decals to read: ``A lot of freedom [creates] a lot of impromptu convenience.''