Remembering the ‘Moose Wrestlers’

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    After serving three years and four months in the Army in the early 1960s, I hadn’t planned on wearing a uniform again after my discharge. I had a decent job working at an IBM factory in upstate New York and there weren’t any Army Reserve or National Guard units in the area that interested me. So I stayed on inactive reserve status for the rest of my six-year commitment.

ED-Lange-DCX-PO-45    MILITARY MEMORIES —Mike and Ronda Lange in 1990.

    A few years after moving to Maine, however, I signed up for a one-year enlistment in the Army Reserves to see how I liked it. I wound up staying for 22 more years.
    I spent most of my tour of duty with the 76th Division Training Command in Augusta including the last three years as the company’s first sergeant.
    While I enjoyed annual training camps in Fort Dix, Fort Benning, Indiantown Gap and Fort Devens, one of the most memorable two weeks was at Fort Jackson, S.C. in 1992.
    We ran rifle and machine gun ranges in basic training units and also taught courses on hand grenades and Claymore mines.
    Although many first sergeants stayed close to their office, I spent a lot of time in the field, getting feedback on our performance from the active duty soldiers.
    While some reserve units were derided as “weekend warriors,” the 76th Division was well-respected. One senior NCO told me that he’d gladly give my company the keys to the range equipment shack and leave for the day, if he could get away with it.
    One range supervisor, however, introduced us to the basic trainees in an unforgettable manner. “These guys are from Maine, so you better behave yourself,” he said. “They’re a bunch of moose wrestlers.”
    Naturally, we had a good laugh about it. I was working for the Morning Sentinel at the time and dashed off a story about the camp and our mission.
    Sure enough, the story was headlined: Maine ‘Moose Wrestlers’ train in S. Carolina.
    As it turned out, the Fort Jackson camp was one of the last ones we participated in as a unit. The 76th Division was downsized and our company was transferred — on paper — to Edison, N.J. as part of the 80th Training Division.
    I was lucky since I had enough time in service to retire. Many weren’t as fortunate and had to scramble to find other units to accept them.
    Watching the unit disintegrate was like losing part of my family. Except for an 18-month assignment at the drill sergeant academy at Fort Devens, the Augusta unit was my “home away from home.”
    I finally had to hang up my uniform in 1994, but I still keep in touch with many of my Army buddies. Sadly, I’ve also attended eight or 10 funerals since the unit broke up. At the last one in Chelsea, we looked around the room and wondered who would be next.
    Eventually, we’ll all be answering to the Commander in Chief Upstairs.
    But as another Veterans’ Day approaches, memories of the “Moose Wrestlers” live on.
    Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer. His opinions are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.

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