Circle U Reminiscing


From Warren:

"YOU are the U in USARSO" ... the hated "self awareness" program of BG Chester Johnson USARSO CO in the late 60's. Johnson's subordinate units spent zillions: CIRCLE U Flowerbeds at Corozal, CIRCLE U in lights at Ft Clayton Main Gate, CIRCLE U Code of Conduct Cards. The general would travel out to Empire Range where units would be qualifying their new men, seemingly just to find and ask junior officers, "I would like to see your Circle U code of conduct cards." Woe be to the poor b*st*rd who did not have them on his person. There was some brave soul who hung a six foot long salad fork in the middle of the U over FT Clayton's main gate... FORK YOU?

From Gerry Fry:

During MG Johnson's tenure as CG USARSO all Army officers were required to carry a large silver tire gauge with their rank emblem (bars, leaf, etc.) attached. They were expensive and cumbersome; could be used almost as a swagger stick. The requirement was that every time an officer spotted an Army vehicle, he was to check the pressure of its tires to be sure it was within Army standards. All clocks in the command also had a circle U pasted in the center to remind us all that we were the You in USARSO. It was a campaign that Johnson brought to the CZ from his command in Korea, as I recall. The campaign prior to that in USARSO had been Zero Defects. Variations on these management theories/techniques have been given any number of names since then, the last before I retired being TQM = Total Quality Management.

SCN was tasked with producing a teaser campaign for two months leading up to the big announcement. Every day at regular intervals our announcers would state: "Circle U is Coming!", "Look for Circle U", It Won't Be Long Now!", etc. We were not told what it was about because General Johnson had slapped a secret clearance on the project. None of it made any sense, but we were directed to increase frequency of the announcements as "U" day approached. The good general had recorded a 20-minute explanation at the STRATCOM audiovisual studio, the tapes to be played back simultaneously at all Army theaters in the Zone for all troops there assembled. But General Johnson didn't like the tape and I got a call from Quarry Heights that he was headed to SCN to record it in our studios. And since it was still classified, I was to be the only person in the studio with him as he recorded the message. When he finished the dissertation (to me nothing but gobbledygook) he turned to me and asked: "Now Mr. Fry, did I make clear what Circle U is all about?" I allowed as how he did, hoping the troops would understand it better than I. After he left the building, I began making copies for all the theaters and was absolutely aghast when I discovered the entire speech was recorded with a rather loud 60-cycle hum in the background, something I could not hear in my headphones while we were recording, but was obviously obtrusive when played back on a speaker. The OIC and I decided not to trouble the general with this matter, but to let the tapes play and hope nobody noticed. Apparently they didn't because we never heard another thing about it. The day after Johnson left the command, I was told all the Army officers celebrated Circle U's demise by burning the dreaded chrome tire gauges in a giant bonfire at Fort Amador.

I also remember the Jewish rabbi Army chaplain at this time wondering about the logo U inside the circle and explaining to me that the same symbol is found on the container of every kosher food. To him it didn't stand for the You in USARSO, but was a sign that the food was OK for him to eat.

From Wayne Worthington:

TIRE GAGES, is that what those things were? I used mine to crack pecans my momma sent me from home (in GA). But I HAD to carry one of those d..mn things... got asked once where mine was...by none less than the boss himself, he wasn't so bad, but I did get some ribbing. As I was reminded that day, ALL platoon leaders etc.. had to have one... and those road side stops, surprise inspections... "redlining" vehicles... having to get word back to a CO for some piddlin' little defect ... fifteen men in a deuce and a half sitting in the hot sun for two hours until another one could be sent... yep, loved Chester Johnson, loved him a lot... made a lot of people lose respect for the army.... I just wonder how much of the 67-68-69 budget was blown on his pet projects ....

All who were required to carry the dreaded silver stick lined up on the Bridge of the Americas and as his plane flew over Amador on the way out, they tossed them into the canal. Some diver will find these "precious gems" one day and wonder what the hell he has.

From my personal point of view, MG Johnson was not one of our shining lights as a GO. This dim bulb decided that motor stables (equipment maintenance checks) was one of the most important activities in a leaders day and to emphasize this, he spent a lot of unit moneys buying each green tabber, regardless of grade or how many pieces of equipment he was responsible for, a chrome-plated tire guage with USARSO crest. Each troop leader was to have the guage clipped to his uniform whereever he went as a symbol of the importance of maintenance whether he used the guage or even knew how to or not. It became a real joke until some folks decided to challenge the use of unit funds for such nonsense. I don't know how that inquiry turned out.

From Bill Ormsbee:

Sounds like a good example of authority misusing classified labels for nonsense. Not the first instance of such that I have encountered or heard about. I remember the Circle U sign painted on the sidewalk in front of the Army Information Office (Building 45) at Fort Amador. I also remember some of the snickering when I asked what it was all about when I first saw it in 1975. After hearing the story behind it I was also told -- facetiously ? -- that it was put there as a reminder to the Information folks as they entered and exited the office not to forget the "message" in their stories they wrote. I allowed it could have been an urban legend by the time I heard it. Just a tidbit, General (retired) Barry McCaffrey was Johnson's aide-de-camp at Amador, sandwiched between two tours in Vietnam.