Posted in Me, Military Community Interests

2 Years Is Long Enough Away, I’n It?

I’n’ it? That’s the shortened version of “isn’t it,” which is the shortened version of “is not it,” which makes zero sense.

OK – so I’ve been away from this for 2 years now. In all honesty, this was never intended to be a regular post; I have neither the talent, patience, or desire to maintain a running monologue.

Much has changed these past years, although much has also not. Still working where I was working before, watching the Wiesbaden community expand well beyond its intended capacity. A 1000 car garage has been built, with a 500 car extension being added to it. There’s also a 2nd garage being built, and, I believe, even a 3rd. So now, with all these new spots, parking here is worse now than what I reported in 2012.  The original spots are either designated for specifically registered vehicles, or 1 to 2 hour parking only.  The remainder of the “unlimited use” places that still exist are usually filled well before I get to work.

Sometimes, it can be amusing watching cars go through a Musical Chairs routine as they – as slowly as possible – circle our one hour customer only parking lot (or vultures circling roadkill, if you prefer).  As I mentioned in a previous blog, many park where they shouldn’t.  MP presence hasn’t noticeably increased with the larger population, and we don’t have “meter maids” here, so parking tickets are rare, and apparently with no real punishment (no fines, although the Community Commander has threatened a “3 strikes – no driving privileges” policy).

Moving on – we have fewer places to eat now on base than we did 2 years ago.  The mobile imbiss is gone, but the Shoppette promises a Starbucks(!) very soon now.  GREAT!  We can never have enough coffee service.  Caffeine is a great alternative to food.  I’n’ it?

Thank You, Dave Kellet



Also, Cinnabon has been replaced by a German bakery, which provides crappy coffee, crappy espresso, and crappy cappuccino, along with some pastries, and a few crappy samiches.







Moving on – I’m going to relate a story that could be taken out of the Al Bundy/Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor diaries…

About 6 months ago I went to a local, German hardware superstore, for a replacement shower wand – most German homes don’t have fixed shower heads – they use wands, connected by hose to the faucet.

Traditional Brass Hand Shower Wand & HoseI don’t ‘member why I went – the old one may have been clogged with kalk, leaking, or  whatever.  Do’n’t matter (different tense than i’n’ it – stay with me here).  While perusing the aisle for the €15 or €20 replacement I came upon a rather retro fixed “Rain” shower head.  Of course, it’s a system – I can’t just screw it on to the end of a hose. I picked one – and since it actually came with a wand as well – I can say that I even accomplished my original goal – for €180.

So, I loaded it into my car and took it home.  An hour and a half later, with no working shower, I assembled it, cut a couple of fingers from the rough edges, drilled a few new holes into my bathroom tile, and another hour before it’s fixed to the wall.  Now, my shower is actually an extension of my bathtub, and the faucet is in the center of the long part of the tub – there’s probably a proper term for that, but hell with it.  After all the hoses are connected, the shower head’s in place – it’s all finished, I can now try it.  First I noticed that the head reaches just a little bit too far across the bathtub (this is why I had to explain where the faucet was because that’s where I installed this thing). If the shower curtain’s not in place my floor will get soaked.  It worked fine until I decided…

Let’s movc forward to this last week.  I had decided to buy a new showerhead – smaller – about 20cm (8″) wide instead of the 25cm (10″) that came with the system.  Back to the hardware store I went (Do Not get ahead of me here), found a suitable, €20 showerhead.  Went home, unscrewed the old, larger one, and screwed the new one in place.  As I was tightening it down (by hand) I felt something give, and suddenly the showerhead’s no longer tightening – just spinning.  Being mechanical, I figured that something broke.

I took a gander at the armature that connected the showerhead, popped off a cap that was not only poorly glued, but the amount of glue that was inside this channeling made it obvious that it was placed as a form of “loc-tite” ( formed around the nut to keep the showerhead from spinning just like it was doing.  Not just that, but the stuff that was glued was an incredibly cheap plastic flange, which itself was broken.  I cut my fingers (again – I keep an adequate supply of band-aids) and managed to remove the flange so I could “work” with it (i.e., glue).  I realized in the morning that even if my gorilla glue worked that it would fail when the shower was all put back together and water started running through it.  So, I grabbed it, cleaned up most of the glue and blood from the flange, and the next day grabbed a German-speaking colleague for a trip back to the hardware store.

Of course, this particular flange was not a common hardware flange – it was special, and the German specialist who knows about these things referred me to the Flange Specialist Shop down the road.  Since I was on a relatively limited schedule (aka lunch), I didn’t have time to go chasing down maybes.  Let’s see how much time/patience  I’d have after work.

Wednesdays, after work, is laundry day.  There’s not enough room in my apartment for a washer (and the landlady’s afraid I’ll break hers).  I have to set aside time and quarters, and go to the laundromat at Hainerberg.  THAT takes priority over flanges.  When my laundry was done the interest that I had in taking this €1 piece of plastic crap to the Flange Specialist Store was just about at the same level as wanting to drop a bowling ball on my right big toe (i.e., not high on my list), so on my 10 minute drive home, I drove by the store (only about 1/2 hour out of the way from the house), and found it dark.

It’s funny, sometimes, when you just just do something without a particular goal in mind, and it seems to exactly fit in with something that wasn’t intended (is that kismet?).  Earlier, when we got back from lunch (my colleague-translator and I), I decided to buy some Euros, a couple of hundred – I don’t like being without cash.

It just so happens that right down the road from the closed Flange Specialist Store were 2 super hardware stores, and here I was without a working shower at the house, and Euros handily in my pocket.  I walked in and came upon a rather retro fixed “Rain” shower head. Of course, it’s a system – I can’t just screw it on to the end of a hose. I picked one – and since it actually came with a wand as well – no….   This one I thoroughly looked at – knew from experience what to avoid – found one that appeared suitable, and bought it.  €100 cheaper than the first one.

After opening the box , I noticed quickly that I was not looking at an Ikea installation.  The kit contained a top and bottom fixture, 2 hoses, the showerhead, a wand, and a small box of parts. Inside the box contained 2 screws and wall anchors, and a couple of round mounting brackets to fasten the fixture to the wall.  That’s it. I almost didn’t need the manual (which was in every language except english).  I took the old assembly down, drained it, removed the old anchors, filled those holes in and took a break until this morning.

I had also measured where I wanted to drill the holes last night for the 2 anchors that I would install, and since I woke up coincidently an hour early I decided to go ahead and mount the new system.  Absolute simplicity, except that right out of bed, I reached in to the parts box and out jumped a little tiny threaded plug (size is listed as m5 if you’re interested).

Threaded plug 1/16 - 3/4

Did it land on the ground, maybe get caught in the bathroom carpet?  Oh, hell no – it made a bee-line for the bathroom sink – right down the drain.  I watched it in my stupor – I know exactly where it went.  So, I went to my toolbox, got out my telescopic magnet that I have for just these kind of situations (and since it was still in its packaging I think I can say that I’ve never actually had one of these situations), and poked it down the drain – twice – thrise – frice.  The magnet stuck to every damn thing in the drain except the thing that I was fishing for.  Then I started wondering if I really needed it at all – all it did was lock the top part of the fixture to the bottom.  Then I started to wake up – I found a screw the same size and thread pattern and from that derived the “M5” size.  I knew the hardware store would have those but I didn’t want to buy just one – neither did I have any use for more than just one.  What to do?  I knew – from experience – that plug was in the sink trap, but mine didn’t have a drain plug, and I wasn’t looking forward to removing the pipe – with my luck I’d wreck a gasket and swamp the bathroom (what we call Pipering things up).  Running out of options – and needing a shower – I risked it.  Unscrew this, unscrew that, that curvy part of the drain almost fell off into my hands.  I dumped the contents into a can, and there that little bugger was – that little, threaded, COPPER, piece of, um, metal.  Surprising that nothing else was in the trap – other than sludge.  Plus it all went back together as easy as I took it apart.  No leaks. Good seal.  Wow!  10 minutes later the entire shower assembly was mounted to the wall.  Tested it – flawless – lined up perfectly on the wall – barely see the marks from the old holes.

Then the alarm went off – it was all a dream.  No – a little cleanup and I’m still ahead of schedule (that was only the first alarm).

I should have a zinger here for the end but …

Posted in Military Community Interests

Shotgun Blast Across The Wiesbaden Bow

Wow, Boy, that’s some range that thar shotgun gots…  Dumba## – that was just a mixed metaphor.

Like I mentioned, back in November 2010 (  I would also be ranting about my local community.  I think today’s the day.

The Wiesbaden Military Community is growing.  There is all kinds of construction happening around both the Airfield and Hainerberg Housing Areas.  Some time ago the 1st Armored Division moved out and now the V Corps is moving in (  I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets when I mention that a massive housing complex and parking garage is being added alongside the airfield, or that massive renovation and construction is happening at Hainerberg (

Our community is getting more and more crowded.  We’ll continue to have an influx of folks being moved here from Heidelberg, and we’ll become ever more cramped.   There are delays getting on post due to additional traffic and/or bottlenecks at the security checkpoints.  Once on post, parking has already become largely non-existent.  People park where they shouldn’t because there’s no room to park where they should.  They park on the shoulders of roads, or all day in one hour or less parking slots.

I’ve got three methods of fixing our parking problems, and one of these goes back to my days in the Army…

1.  Don’t the Company Commanders and First Sergeants have control over who gets to drive a car (Privately Owned Vehicle in military jargon)?  In my day you were not authorized to get your driver’s license until you were a Command sponsored Specialist (E4) or higher.  Command sponsorship required an extension of the soldier’s tour of duty.  Usually, you got command-sponsored when you got married, assuming that you wanted your spouse to come over.  I don’t think I ever saw a PFC or lower with a car in my day.  Another thing – we marchedin formation.  Sometimes it was as a complete company, and other times it was squad-sized.  If there were more than 3 people going somewhere one would lead and the rest would be marching in formation.  Cadence was sometimes used, sometimes not.  Whatever happened to that?  Now, as I look around, I see soldiers driving 2 blocks to their destinations.  They drive to the Dining Facility, and to the Gym.  My answer number 1:  if you live in the barracks (which is still an accurate term, in spite of the move toward more private “dorm” style accommodations), are not command-sponsored, and below the rank of Sergeant (E-5), you should not be authorized to have a POV.  If you need to go off-post there’s a shuttle that’s usually almost empty that will take you to Mainz Kastel and the PX, taxis and civilian buses that will take you anywhere else.

2.  Install pay parking gates in all parking lots.  Just like downtown garages, make exemptions for those authorized to park there (i.e. for work), and charge the rest by hour, week, month, whatever.  Give the profits to MWR.

3.  Enforce parking regulations.  Ticket violators, and make the tickets mean something.  It does no MP any benefit to write up a ticket that a violator knows HAS NO TEETH in it.  Conduct tow-aways for abandoned and untagged vehicles.  Units can provide all sorts of dis-incentives to keep soldiers in line, including punishment to the soldier for something that their spouses may have done.  If a soldier, or spouse of a soldier, performs an illegal activity then their command should take appropriate action, and that should include minor infractions like this.  Civilian employers should also be able to provide corrective action to their employees.  The bottom line is that parking violations are illegal, like burglary, and violators should be caught and prosecuted. And, while we’re on the topic of MP enforcement, there’s entirely too many drivers performing illegal maneuvers.  I watch any number of cars daily make turns against our one direction only parking lot, and in fact, nearly got run over by a moron who not only disregarded the “Do Not Enter” signs but also wasn’t paying attention to pedestrians.  Too busy chatting on the phone.  Another favorite is drivers using the restricted roads ( – look at images 250 & 251) as their personal thoroughfare.  There’s one right along the airfield that’s a classic – probably used 100 times a day.  One MP parked on the road with ticket book in hand could bring that to a (literal) screeching halt.

So, those are my 3 solutions: restrict POV operation for those in the barracks, charge people to park, and enforce the already established laws and regulations.  All of these methods can be put into place – it’s unnecessary to choose which to enforce.  The only one that actually costs anything would be the establishment of paid parking, and that would pay for itself in very short order.

Now, just so you don’t think that I’m only on the soapbox for parking, here’s another thing:  Cigarettes now cost about $45  a carton at the PX (22.5¢ a cigarette, and these are TAX-FREE for sale outside of the US).  I quit smoking in 1998, when Marlboros “only” cost $18 a carton (9¢ a cigarette).  I was smoking between a 1-1/2 to 2 packs a day, depending on how much time I sat in front of the computer, so let’s call it 35 cigarettes a day (35 x 9¢ = $3.15).  In a month the cost rose to (30 x $3.15 =  $94.50).  In a year it would cost (365 x $3.15 =$1149.75).  Using the same calculations for today, at 22.5¢ a cigarette (35 cigs x 22.5¢ = $7.88 per day), (30 x $7.875 = $236.25 per month), and (365 x $7.875 = $2874.38 per year).   Now, I’m only comparing the habit that I had in 1998 to the habit I might otherwise have in 2012, but I can’t – who knows – I may have died by now.  You may argue that everybody smokes less today because it’s more difficult to smoke.  There are fewer places, and more people like me who actually get up in your face and tell you to obey the rules about where you’re allowed to smoke. Also, since it is more expensive, a few may be more conscious of the INVESTMENT needed to “grab a smoke.”

So, what does this financial rant have to do with Wiesbaden? Well, in spite of an EXECUTIVE ORDER signed by President Bill Clinton (, there’s an outfit in Wiesbaden that has NEVER been in compliance. In fact, I would wager that there’s one at just about every military region.  In Wiesbaden the place is called “The Cappuccino Casino,” and it’s in the Hainerberg Shopping Center.  Essentially, it’s a common bar with an adjoining room full of smelly, smoke-coated slot machines.  There’s also a separate room a couple of doors away for non-smokers.  Please note that should the non-smokers desire something to drink that they have to go outside and down a couple of doors to get to the bar.

After the Executive Order was released the Army updated its Regulation on Health Promotion, and in turn, all local commands updated their policies on smoking.  Cessation courses and anti-smoking campaigns became prevalent, and smoking, which was common in my day, slowly began to be looked at, at least publicly,  with disdain.  In private, though, the The Cappuccino Casino held out, and continues to hold out to this day.  AR600-63 ( specifies where non-smoking facilities may be employed, and cites DODI 1010.15 ( as a source of HOW non-smoking facilities are to operate.  To break it all down, authorized smoking areas cannot be in area where people may be affected by second hand smoke that don’t wish it.  Even with the current exhaust system, since the room in question is also filled with slot machines, non-smokers should also be able to freely enter to use the machines.  They are discouraged because of the excessive amount of smoke constantly in the room, and the lingering smell that pervades even after the smokers are gone.

Cappuccino Casino has previously argued that smoking and gambling are connected to each other – nothing more than an opinion that does not bear scrutiny.  It might be argued that if people stopped paying $3,000 a year for tobacco that they could have more gambling money.  My fix is simple.  Clean up the “Smoking Room,” bring it into compliance with the Exec Order & the Army Regs by making the entire building smoke-free, and produce a smoking area somewhere outside, 50 feet away from the entrance/exit.  Could even put picnic tables there and send an employee outside to sell drinks.  The slots in both rooms could become available to everyone, and I can just about guarantee that the Cappuccino Casino wouldn’t lose a dime. This would require MWR, ARMP, and the local command to “grow a pair” and force the compliance issue, but that doesn’t seem unreasonable. Certainly better than closing it down for non-compliance or compliance renovation for a habit that’s just a dead-end anyway.

And, the last thing I have to say about this, is, if the Army is so all-fired concerned about the health of the soldiers, then why are cigarettes and other tobacco products still sold by AAFES/DECA, and at very nearly the same price that their stateside counterparts sell, in spite of the fact that 30% or more of the cost of those products are in the form of taxes, and those sold by AAFES/DECA are TAX-FREE?  Can you say “Follow The Money?  I knew you could.

Lastly, and I may have already covered this in another post, eating establishments on the Airfield suck.  What do we have?  Here’s a list – and if you locals know of a place that I didn’t list let me know…

1.  Lil’ Italy – a tiny, overpriced mostly Italian restaurant in the Catering Center.

2.  Subway – Food Court

3.  American Eatery – Food Court (til 10:00),  4.  Sahin’s Doener – Food Court (after 10:30)

5.  Anthony’s Pizza – Food Court (people only visit Anthony’s out of desperation)

6.  Dining Facility – recently VERY sub-standard, but probably still the busiest facility for meals on-post.

7.  German Cantina

8.  AAFES Shopette

9.  Mobile Imbiss in front of the Shopette

10.  Cinnabon – Food Court – certainly nothing there for lunch

There are literally hundreds of soldiers and hundreds of civilians on this post.  Granted, many choose to bring their lunches or go off-post, but for those left, the pickings are pretty slim.  And, it’s going to get worse – the lines will lengthen as the population grows.  Besides the Dining Facility (DFAC), Subway is the busiest.  People would rather wait 10-thick in line there rather than go to Anthony’s, which, generally, doesn’t have any lines.  Both AAFES and the Military Community’s leadership really need to take a look at the problem and come up with a solution.  There’s a building right next to the cantina – used to be a bratwurst stand for the German workers to use while they were building our bazillion dollar gym.  Been closed since the gym opened.  Hey guys!  Use it!  Make it a “Frank’s Franks” or lease it out.  Replace Anthony’s with, I don’t know, something edible, and give us a burger joint, and I’m not talking about Burger King or McDonalds – I mean like a cafeteria, like what AAFES used to have.

I’ve been here for a long time.  I’ve watched the Army become more and more technologically superior that we can now just about conduct wars by remote control.  It won’t be long before DARPA contracts George Lucas to provide the know-how to construct a “Droid Army,” completely eliminating the need of losing any more soldiers in battle.  So, with all this techo-talent, why can’t the DoD develop a decent eating establishment?  Why do we depend on fast-food at a time when we acknowledge that 99% of all fast food is unhealthy?  Yes, some is less bad than others, but even Subway sells more fat than lean.  Salad?  Healthy, right?  Add cheese, croutons, and dressing, and you might as well be eating a Big Mac.  The difference between your typical fast food franchise and a cafeteria is that a fast food joint is made for quick turnaround.  Cafeterias, like restaurants, aren’t in a hurry to get rid of you.  Since we all prefer fat and salt, despite what our guilty consciences tell us, then open some places that we can ENJOY, instead of just eat and go.  Give us a restaurant or a cafeteria.


Since this blast is on home turf I think it’s necessary to say that these issues are strictly my opinion.  I am not here to stir up dissension, or step on the toes of any figures in the community.  I could have addressed this in a more regional forum, but since I do have a blog, and I use it to share my thoughts, then this is as good as any.  I can’t say how many people might agree with me, and it doesn’t matter anyway.   It would be nice to see a few of these changes but I don’t expect to see anything as a result of this blog.

On the other hand, if someone ELSE was thinking along the same lines that COULD be in a position to do something, READ this blog, and realized that He/She wasn’t alone, THEN this article was completely worthwhile.

Cheers to all of you who serve, and to those who serve those who serve.

Posted in Military Community Interests

AAFES? What the hell’s an AAFES?

In my first blog I mentioned that I’m a part of the military community.  I have been for over 35 years.  During that time, especially overseas, our retail outlets, food, and fuel supply have been controlled by AAFES (Army Air Force Exchange Service).  About 10 years ago I was getting particularly annoyed by some practices that I felt were unfair due to the monopoly that AAFES had within the military community, and I published an editorial to The Stars & Stripes newspaper to complain.  It was such a scathing exposé that I can’t even remember what the subject was.  So, let’s go back.  Way back – to a simpler time.

Until 1970 all of the exchanges were regional, and the operations were humble.  The services that they provided were motivated by the need of the military community.  There was no tax, and generally speaking, there was no profit margin – they earned enough to maintain operating costs – and most of the remainder went back to the troops in the form of  Morale, Support, and Welfare programs (which provided services such as cinemas that carried brand new 6 month old (and older) movies in all of their 16mm glory, and “Bookmarks,” which were the book stores back then).  AAFES gained control of retail operations in the Continental United States (CONUS) in 1970 (, and then all hell broke for lunch.  The spread that would ultimately enable it to become the 8th largest retailer in the United States began, catering to a very select customer base (or, as some might claim, a “captured audience”) – the military. It grew and grew, like The Blob (, consuming everything in its path:  exchanges, bookstores, laundry/dry cleaning establishments, food and alcohol outlets, theaters, military clothing, and gas stations.  Probably other facilities as well, but, well, you get the point.

One of the interesting things about AAFES is that it was – and still is – controlled by the DoD (Department of Defense), and is handled very much like a Board of Directors handles any Corporation, although Board Members may well be military, and the CEO is probably a Brigadier General, and the Board reports to the Pentagon, Congress, and the Commander-in-Chief (aka President of the United Staes).  Anybody who’s ever witnessed the extreme efficiency of the US Government in action can just imagine the top-notch efficiency that AAFES is afforded.

A bit of perspective is necessary.  In 1974, at the military commissary in Germany, I paid $1.25 a carton (20 packs/200 cigarettes) for Marlboros. these were tax-exempt for use outside of the US.  Germans were paying 4 times that on the local economy.  Alcohol was about as cheap, also tax-exempt, and the black market was very real for those products and many others.  A rationing system was provided to limit the amount that soldiers could buy, and the MP’s were usually vigilant of such illegal activities.  If you were “in the field” and were eating “C” rations, part of the contents in those rations was a 4 pack of cigarettes, and since it always seemed that there were more Pall-Malls than anything else in those packages we would make deals with non-smoking soldiers to give up their Salems or Marlboros.  “Smoke ’em if you got ’em” was a normal order given in formation when we were doing the typical Hurry-Up and Wait routine that the Army was well-known for.  We smoked in the offices, in the (work) shops, and in the barracks.  The First Sergeant, as like as not, could be seen “field-stripping” his cigarette ( just before calling the Company to “Attention.”  We also, generally, had a two beer limit for lunch, meaning that on post you were limited to only buying two beers at a time.  I knew many a soldier, when asked, would swear that he only had “2 beersh <hic>.”   Gasoline, as I recall, but didn’t buy it back then as I wasn’t driving, was around $.40 a gallon (or 40¢ a gallon if you can remember the “cent” symbol).

So, times have changed.  We’ve become a much more “responsible” military community.  Cigarettes now cost as much in the military, if not more, than they do at the US grocery stores.  Same with alcohol.  Gasoline has always been about the same as the US average, although now we pay well above that – about $.30 more on the gallon than the average.  (as of 22 Nov 2010, the national average is $2.86 – $2.94 per gallon of regular unleaded.  We’re paying $3.30, more than a dime higher than the most expensive in the US  Cigarettes are pushing $40 a carton, and the difference between what the Americans pay and what the Germans pay for them is no longer so great, maybe 20% – 25%.  Alcohol has also come a long way to bridge that gap.  Why is that?  What have we done that’s caused this surge of the military economy to no longer provide these cheap, if hazardous, products for the military to use?  I’ll tell you wahat happened.  AAFES happened.

On one hand,  AAFES proclaims that people shouldn’t smoke, therefore they set the price so high as to make it unattractive to buy cigarettes.  Same with alcohol, same with gasoline.  Wait – aren’t these still tax-free?  Are you telling me that tax-free cigarettes, or tax-free alcohol, or tax-free gasoline costs as much – or more – than the same products in the states that are taxed “through the nose?”  What’s the reasoning behind it, I wonder…  Oh, I see, blame it on the DoD (  Obviously, the DoD is in the pricing business, and all because of the attempt to “deglamourize” alcohol and tobacco.  Oh, I get it – so instead of just deciding to stop selling the biggest causes of cancer and car wrecks, jack the price up to where they’re only attractive to addicts, not to “normal” people like you and me.  And, since addicts will pay any price to maintain their addiction, AAFES and the DoD can continue to jack up the price as far as they wish.  I have another suggestion: stop selling tobacco and alcohol.   Let the consumer buy them elsewhere.  AAFES and the DoD made a decision similar to this years ago when they decided which adult magazines were ok, and which were filthy smut (, so I’m sure  they can make a similar decision today.

I apologize if I seem to be all over the map in this blog.  Sometimes my thoughts come flying in at me so fast that the best I can do is swat what I can onto the screen (to extend a metaphor a little farther than necessary).  The bottom line is that the US military, their families, and the civilians who support them are largely dependent on the monopoly that AAFES has become, and the practices that they follow – no longer concerned about the of the customer but of the bottom line, just like every other corporate megastore.  What can the military customer do about it?  Not a hell of a lot, except complain.  Would Walmart be an improvement?  Does AAFES need to go back to their roots?  You tell me.