The M422CA1E1 Nuclear Artillery Round and the Reality of an 18 Year Old Nuke Tech

by , under Cold War, nuclear weapons, Uncategorized

The M422CA1 and it’s variant, the M422CA1E1 were the mainstay of United States nuclear artillery throughout Europe and South Korea from the beginning of the Cold War until their removal in 1991. Also known as the Old 8″, the M422 was deployed by the United States in Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey as part of NATO’s containment strategy against the Warsaw Pact, and in South Korea as part of the SEATO deterrent against North Korea, China and the Soviet Union.

M422 Nuclear Artillery Round (source:Wikipedia)

One of four nuclear weapon systems deployed by the United States Army in Europe until 1992, the M422 was the easiest to maintain, and many warrant officers and NCOs in the 55G MOS had years of experience maintaining both the weapon system and it’s training counterpart, the M423.

I just turned 18 years old when I finished basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, and was sent to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama in October 1989 to begin AIT as a nuclear weapons specialist. After 13 weeks of classroom and hands-on training, I was then deployed to the 64th Ordnance Company, Fischbach, West Germany in January of 1990. Once there, I was assigned to the M&A (maintenance and assembly) platoon. We had four squads in the platoon divided into three sections; calibration, missile systems and artillery systems. I was put in the artillery systems squad. Our responsibilities included maintenance of the M422 and another nuclear artillery shell, the M454 (155mm).

At 18 years old, I was still rather immature and prone to partying and drinking a majority of time at the 64th. I was not alone in my indulgence, and many other young soldiers drank alcohol to kill the boredom we faced at being stationed at an isolated nuke depot. It started to wear on me; during the day maintaining nukes, at night drinking until late, rinse and repeat. I found solace in reading, being an avid reader since I was a child.

My reality in 1990 was beginning to change as we started Operation Silent Echo. We began to go TDY more often, first to Hahn AFB, then to Rammstein AFB, and the TDY’s became longer; instead of a one week deployment when we went TDY to artillery units to maintain their trainers, we began deploying for weeks at a time, dismantling nuclear warheads at the air force bases, for eventual shipment to the U.S. This was after we removed all of our systems from Fischbach. This continuous movement had me slow down with alcohol, changing an almost daily binge into a weekly, then bi-weekly occurrence. I traded my boredom for something more responsible, as I felt myself contributing to something larger than a selfish attraction to self-indulgence.

Of all the nuclear weapon systems that we maintained, the M422 was my favorite. It was the first real nuclear warhead that I worked on. Strange to have a love affair like that, but at 18 years old, single and no family…what else could I love?