STANDING in Fulda, Germany, next to the U.S. 11th Armored Cavalry ("Blackhorse") Regiment's old Observation Post Alpha, and looking across the now-dilapidated Iron Curtain between what was not so long ago East and West Germany, the sense of history is overwhelming.
For centuries this area, known as the Fulda Gap, has served as a major invasion route into the heart of Europe, a route blocked since the beginning of the Cold War by soldiers of the American Army. In 1972, fresh from the jungles of Vietnam, came the squadrons of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment to take their turn defending the frontier.
Over time the border patrols had become somewhat routine, especially as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union eased in recent years. But now the troops were really at the ready, for the example of the Persian Gulf war was fresh in their minds.
Members of one of three armored cavalry regiments in the Army, they saw how their compatriots in the 2d and 3d Armored Cavalry Regiments were packed up and moved to the gulf. as part of the Army's XVIII Corps. They knew they could be next.
There was no time for additional training. They had to go into combat with what they already had. If they did not already know how to survive on the battlefield, it was too late to learn.
In the closing days of the Vietnam War, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams talked of replacing the 82d Airborne Division, then and now the Army's rapid reaction force, with an armored cavalry regiment.
The problem with the airborne units, he said, was that although they had great strategic mobility and could be moved rapidly to crisis areas, they had almost no mobility on the ground when they arrived in the crisis area. Worse yet, they lacked sufficient firepower to hold against an attack.
On the other hand, an armored cavalry regiment, being totally mounted, had great ground mobility and enormous firepower as well. The problem was they had no strategic mobility, for they were too heavy to be moved by air.
That dilemma surfaced in the gulf war. The 82d Airborne Division was rushed rapidly to Saudi Arabia last August. But it could do little more than put on a brave front and show the flag, for it could have never survived an Iraqi armored attack. Meanwhile the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment with the firepower sufficient to make a stand was moving slowly by sea. This time our bluff worked. The next time we may not be so fortunate.
It is plain that in the wake of the Persian Gulf war we need to find a way to rapidly bring that power to bear in crisis areas and finally make Abrams' dream a reality.