Adventure Training: winning friends, saving taxes
In 1956, my second cousin, Admiral Tommy Hamilton, stopped by the Volvo plant in Goteborg, Sweden, to pick up a new car. By chance, he bumped into Countess Madeline Hamilton – a former Life Magazine writer and photographer -- who, at the time, was director of public relations for Volvo. That is what began a shirttail relative connection.
It seems that during the 30 Years War, the Swedish King hired two regiments of Scots to come fight on the side of the Protestants. Hamiltons commanded both regiments. But, by war’s end, the King was dead, the treasury was flat broke and the Hamiltons had to be paid in farmland and noble titles. Today, about 400 Hamiltons still live in Sweden.
In 1972, when he learned I would be returning to Europe, Cousin Tommy urged us to go see “Cousin” Madeline and her brother, Lieutenant Colonel Count John Hamilton, who was commanding a Swedish armored cavalry regiment. Between writing, photography and troop command, Cousin Tommy felt we would all have a lot in common. He was correct.
The Vietnam War was on going at the time and a number of our draft-dodgers had taken refuge in Sweden. “Cousin” John said he didn’t think much of American youth because they took drugs and were thieves. I said Sweden was seeing the dregs of American youth and that the draft-dodgers were not typical Americans. I also countered by saying that many Americans thought that Swedish women were promiscuous.
This brought on a wager. So, I said I would send a squad of my men to Sweden on an Adventure Training exercise and Cousin John could judge the behavior of my young Americans for himself. John agreed on the spot to greet my troops and transport them in Swedish Army lorries up to middle Sweden so they could canoe down river to John’s country estate outside Kristianstad. There, John would host them for a weekend and send them back to Germany.
Meanwhile, I was transferred to Fulda, West Germany, to command an armored cavalry squadron. Once settled in Fulda, John and I resumed our wager.
The most critical military occupational specialty in my squadron was avionics technician. Private firms offered big salaries for these highly trained specialists to leave the Army and work for them. This was costing the Army mega-bucks.
So I called in our avionics specialists and asked them how they would like to participate in an Adventure Training exercise in Sweden. Twelve bachelors volunteered immediately. Somehow, I forgot to tell Cousin John that my troops were handpicked from the smartest enlisted men in my squadron.
They flew by helicopter to Kiel and boarded the overnight ferry to Malmo. Cousin John’s trucks met them as promised. The entire exercise went off like clockwork. But instead of having to camp out, my troops were taken into private homes almost every night. When they reached Kristianstad, John took them to his country estate where they had a royal time.
The helicopters returned some smiling troops to Fulda. After I debriefed them, I called Cousin John. “What do you think of American youth now?” I asked. “They are all splendid chaps,” said Cousin John. “I apologize for what I said about American youth.”
“That’s good to hear,” I replied. “But, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you about Swedish women.” He was not amused.
All 12 of those avionics specialists reenlisted for their own positions, saving the Army hundreds of thousands of dollars in training costs. But I knew the Heroes (?) of Heidelberg would never have permitted such an exercise, so higher headquarters was never told. In fact, I had to get the troops to agree to use some of their annual leave to cover their absence. But, we showed them on the Morning Report as being on Adventure Training, which they were. On their safe return, I burned their leave papers.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn, served as a military officer for 20 years.
©2001. William Hamilton.