Vet of the Month: Jim Setzer

Jim Setzer was born and raised in northwestern New Jersey and enlisted in the Army in January 1969. After completing basic training at Fort Dix and advanced training at Fort Monmouth, he was qualified in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of Cryptographic Equipment Repairman and sent to a security post near Bad Aibling, Germany, arriving Halloween night 1969. The specific mission of the unit was a classified operation of the U.S. Army Security Agency, a military forerunner of the National Security Agency, with origins dating to the First World War.

The post was in a charming rural area and housed on a campus that had been an airbase for the German Luftwaffe prior to the start of WWII. The accommodations were comfortable, the airstrip was grass, and the old hangars built from concrete.

The nature of the tasks assigned to Jim’s unit need to remain fairly cryptic, even after an extensive debriefing that occurred when he returned home and was discharged in April 1972. The NATO allies in Europe at that time conducted monthly alerts aimed at force readiness as well as coordinating an annual massive exercise called REFORGER, which demonstrated the ability of those forces to race to the eastern borders of the Soviet Bloc. In addition to those exercises, known to all who served the military in Europe, the daily operations of Jim’s unit were constant reminders of the dangers and realities of the Cold War. Jim did share that the unit’s unofficial motto was “In God we trust, everyone else we monitor.”

Jim is a student of WWII and attributes the intensity of American intelligence gathering during his service years to what he calls the “Pearl Harbor Syndrome.” Caught without sufficient reliable information in 1942, American military intelligence was determined that it would never again be in a similar fix.

Jim’s tour of duty allowed only one Christmas visit (in 1971), but afforded the chance to visit Innsbruck, Austria, and some of the Alpine ski areas nearby. Near the end of his assignment, Jim also had the chance to live in private accommodations near Augsburg, Germany, and fondly remembers the delights of home-cooking, hospitality, and local brews provided by his German hosts. He remembers that the adjustment to American beers upon his return took some time and still seeks out authentic German cuisine when he can.

Jim did not make use of the GI Bill after his service, but turned his training and experience into a couple of satisfying careers in civilian life. He confided some bitterness about the cold reception of returning veterans in the 1970s and has been an active volunteer and officer in veterans’ organizations and causes for over 30 years.

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