Tales from the Cold War

Tales from the Cold War

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The invasion of Ukraine is focusing attention on Europe, with the start of the largest armed conflict in the region since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. Army is redeploying forces to the area to help support NATO defenses, but the numbers are small compared to those of the Cold War era, when almost 300,000 soldiers defended the West from Soviet aggression.

Colonel Michael D. Mahler, US Army retired, was one of those soldiers. A former commander of the 3rd Armored Division’s cavalry squadron, he is the author of Tales from the Cold War: The U.S. Army in West Germany, 1960–1975, a new title in the AUSA Book Program. His memoir reveals the challenges of raising a family and leading troops in a potential war zone.

The AUSA Book Program sat down with Colonel Mahler to discuss those years:


AUSA: What initially inspired you to join the Army?

Mahler: As a youngster growing up during WWII, I closely followed the war on maps and the famous generals who led the various campaigns, so it was almost a natural progression that I ended up wanting to attend the US Military Academy. That was supported by my family, who had close ties to a number of Military Academy graduates from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as to WWII veterans who were part of our extended family.


AUSA: How was everyday life different for American soldiers serving in Germany during the Cold War compared to today?

Mahler: While never actually at war, the very real threat of it and our proximity to that threat hovered over us and created an intense sense of urgency. The posts were mostly small and isolated in the rural German countryside—initially, there wasn’t even American TV--so there was a tightness to the community. By today’s standards, we lived in a bare bones environment with few distractions and were more focused on each other.


AUSA: How many of your fellow troopers expected the Cold War to go hot?

Mahler: I doubt that our mostly draftee troopers thought much about it, but among the company and field grade officers and noncommissioned officers, the threat of it going hot was always there, particularly when the Berlin Wall went up. We never could be quite sure that an alert was just practice.


AUSA: What lessons from those years should be remembered by today’s Army?

Mahler: Training is all encompassing and almost every activity on the daily schedule is a training opportunity. Such training requires the involvement of the whole chain of command if it is to be effective, which leads to the familiarity with soldiers' strengths, weaknesses, problems, and concerns that is so necessary to effective leadership.


AUSA: The book is filled with great anecdotes that show the lighter side of your experiences. Would you share a favorite?

Mahler: I guess bringing the Bundesbahn (German Railroad) to a halt throughout Bavaria for several hours as a result of my junior officer zeal to accomplish a mission. That was right up there with my boss (Lt. Gen. Arthur Collins, the deputy commander in chief at the time) telling our young warrant officer pilots to set our helicopter down in a soccer field because he had lost faith in their ability to navigate among the southern German Alps.


To order a copy of Tales from the Cold War, please visit www.ausa.org/books.