Defex. Defense Exercises. Evacuation Procedures. Always on the ready for an imminent war.
I grew up in Germany for the most part. I was an Army Brat. The community I grew up in was one of tolerance, we did not see racial or class differences. We were American citizens living in another country, and we embraced the diversity of another culture.
We also had in common the realization that we lived on foreign soil in a country that had been the core of World War II. Though we were a little over 4000 miles away from East Berlin and the wall that separated us from communism, there were threats from other countries.
All Dependents were assigned seven computer punch cards that contained our names, birthdate, blood type, religion, medical issues, and which military member we belonged to. As we practiced leaving the country in the event of a war, with each destination we reached, we were supposed to drop off a card so we could be tracked until we got stateside. I can remember hearing the sirens go off at O dark thirty, indicating we were to grab our suitcases and head out to the street to get on a bus. We practiced this evacuation two times a year for most of my childhood. There’s an irony to always having a suitcase packed and ready to go. That mentality still sticks with me today.
In hindsight, it’s actually a ludicrous concept. It’s unlikely any of us would have made it out. Truth is though, it gave us a sense of security. This exercise was a part of our everyday lives and I don’t think any of us really gave it much thought. I definitely feel that growing up as an Army Brat and understanding at a young age the possibility of war being at our front doors, made us quite prepared for such possibilities when we became adults.
I have an imprint in my mind of sitting on the bus, staring out at the empty streets, running my fingers along the holes in the card and wondering if the possibility of not making it out was real.