Feds and the Cold War

Senior Correspondent Mike Causey is on vacation. This is part of a series of guest columns written by Federal Report readers.

Federal civil servants do all sorts of things. From park rangers and smoke jumpers to claims representatives at Social Security to all the things they do at the CIA and NSA. I could say “and everything in between,” but even that would leave a big slice of feds out.

One thing that many feds did was fight the Cold War. The final push that won that Cold War was mostly waged by civilians. In recognition of this, the Defense Department created an award for all the civilians who served with Defense during the Cold War, regardless of what you did or where you did it. You simply had to request it. I did not, even though I actually “waged” the Cold War.

I went to Europe in the mid-1980s with DoD. My family came along. The organization was building Pershing Missile facilities — building new and upgrading existing maintenance and training facilities for armored, mechanized and rotary wing units.


We upgraded barracks, schools, commissaries, etc. They needed it. Some of the barracks still had Third Reich emblems carved into the stone walls of the buildings. We also upgraded hospitals. The 97th Army Hospital building was a former Luftwaffe hospital in Frankfurt. It was supposed to have renovations. But there were many detours and surprises along the way. At one point, when they needed to go through a wall, they discovered that instead of using wooden lath as backer for the plaster wall, they had resorted to using dried Marsh reeds. When everything was all done, it would have been much cheaper to knock the building down — and build a new one.

Another thing that civilians of the U.S. Forces did was to keep the lines of communications open.

Some of you may be old enough to remember the Berlin Airlift. I don’t mean when it occurred, but you remember when they covered it in high school. I suspect it is barely a footnote in high school history today. I was born in Germany just a few months before it began, and it ended well before I arrived in the 48 states, so anyone with a personal memory should be retired by now for some time. Based on the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements, Berlin was to be divided into four parts, and the Western Powers were to have access through the Soviet Zone of Germany. The Soviets decided to close all land access and barge traffic to Berlin. The plan was to starve them out. Under the direction of Gen. Lucius Clay, the Western Powers airlifted everything that the people in Berlin needed. That included grain, food, gasoline and coal.

There weren’t many federal civil servants there, but a very big part of that effort was done by civilians: Local national employees. There were three air corridors: one in the north, roughly between Berlin and Hamburg; one in the middle, roughly between Frankfurt and Berlin; and one due south of Berlin. Previously, air traffic had been light, and planes went both ways. During the airlift, the sky was full of planes; some planes made more than one trip a day. Someone came up with the idea that there would be one way traffic. The central route would go to Berlin and the other to would be the return. It worked so well that after 11 months, the Soviets gave up.

The Soviets tried to do that again during the Kennedy administration. A military convoy was heading to Berlin from West Germany. It was stopped. Things got tense. The lieutenant in charge of the convoy was placed in contact with the White House. At one point the lieutenant once again left the phone to deal with the Soviets, but this time he did not get back on the phone. The White House was in the dark for many hours. Finally, the convoy arrived in West Berlin. It seems the Soviets gave what seemed to be a window of opportunity to get the convoy going and the lieutenant took it. He did not have time to inform the White House what was going on. The individual act of that lieutenant was more important that day than the President’s.

As civilian members of the “U.S. Forces,” (official agreement terms) we helped keep the line of communication open by traveling to Berlin and exercising the U. S. Forces’ right to visit the “Soviet Zone” of Berlin. I am proud to say, my family and I contributed to that small part of winning the Cold War.
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