11-10-20 Veterans Day McGee.jpeg

When the Vietnam War wound down in the mid-70s, the United States military still had concerns around the globe. Not the least of those was the shaky peace with the heavily armed Soviet Union.

During those days, Jackie McGee of Athens was in the U.S. Army in Germany, playing a strategic role in the Pershing Missile program. The Pershing was the primary nuclear-capable theater-level weapon of the Army during the period.

"My first 17 years, I was in nuclear weapons," McGee said. "We were always on alert at those missile sites, but I enjoyed it."

Practice drills could be tense because they weren't told it wasn't the real thing.

"We never knew if it was a real countdown or not," McGee said. "You responded and counted down to T-2." 

If the count had reached T-1 that would have been followed by the loud, rushing noise of a missile being launched.

"But we never heard that, thank God," McGee said.

McGee served from 1973 to 1995. His highest rank was Sgt. First Class, which is considered a senior non-commissioned officer.

McGee said much of the Army's equipment was old and outdated when he went into the service. 

"We were driving trucks made in the '50s," McGee said.

President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and began to make serious upgrades.

Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to the Intermediate Nuclear Weapons Treaty, the Pershing was taken out of operation.

"By 90, I was in the last battalion of Pershing and was in charge of retrograding, making it go away." McGee said. "I had been on the team that fielded the Pershing 2 back in the early '80s."

After that was accomplished, McGee left Germany for South Korea, another place where tension is always high.

"We don't have a peace treaty there, just a cease fire," McGee said. "The terms of the armistice are violated constantly."

The North Koreans would make things uncomfortable for the South from time to time.

"I think they do it as a diversion to keep their own people from what's really happening," McGee said.

McGee believes he made the right choice in spending two decades in the military service.

"It's the smartest thing I ever did," McGee said. "If I had it to do over, I wouldn't hesitate. I thank God I made that decision."

Service in one of the military branches is a valuable experience for a young person. They learn how to cooperate with people and respond to their leaders.

"The training is more mental than physical," McGee said.

Training camp was tough. Out of the 220 in his training camp most didn't complete it.

"You learn how to handle mental pressure," McGee said. "If that mean sergeant screaming at you bothers you, imaging an artillery round going by."

He said race didn't play a factor among the soldiers he served with.

"There was one color and that was olive drab," McGee said. 

Today, McGee sees his fellow military veterans as his brothers.

"Whether it's Navy, Coast Guard, Marines or Air Force, there's a kinship," McGee said.

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