By John Reese, USAG Garmisch Public AffairsNovember 7, 2008
GARMISCH, Germany - A honeymoon is one of those events couples remember for the rest of their lives. But being stranded with a broken axel and sleeping two freezing October nights in their Volkswagen instead of a newlywed suite, drinking water instead of champagne, and dining on canned goods warmed with a Meal, Ready-to-Eat heater instead of room service isn't what Spc. Benjamin Baker and his bride Nadine had planned.
The couple met more than three years ago while being serenaded at a karaoke club and gradually developed their relationship. Baker recently reenlisted and asked Nadine to be his bride. They tied the knot and set off to explore Bavaria.
Baker - a native of Kansas City, Mo., serving with the 302nd Headquarters & Headquarters Support Company, Military Intelligence in Wiesbaden - was behind the wheel when their trip turned ugly.
"We were touring the mountains ... when the car just broke down," he said. "I couldn't drive it any more. I knew it was the transmission, but I just didn't know exactly what was wrong with it."
Fortunately, the couple carried a cell phone and even had some camping-type supplies.
"I called my parents and they helped us out from Mainz (Germany)," said Nadine. "They sent us money."
Which was sorely needed. The tow truck bill itself came to 495 euros, roughly $640.
The resourceful Soldier had stocked the car with blankets, sleeping bags, canned food, an entrenching tool and water "just in case."
"I came prepared," said Baker. "We had some heaters from MREs."
The temperature at night hovered just above freezing.
"The engine started, thank God, and we could still keep warm," said Baker. "We slept in the car for two nights."
Eventually the couple arrived here at the Artillery Kaserne's Auto Craft Shop hours before it was scheduled to open here.
"We were in Subway, and I was talking with the guy behind the counter, telling him what had happened. He offered us some free cookies," recalled Baker.
And right then Jessica Roberson from the U.S. Army Garrison Garmisch Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation section walked in and overheard the conversation. Roberson, who works in Outdoor Recreation, said she might be able to help them find a place to stay, as the newlyweds were able to get a small cabin on the Armed Forces Recreation Center campground at a low cost.
Roberson went a step further suggesting that the Bakers try the garrison's new Army Community Service Center.
"I said I don't mind raking leafs - I thought maybe I'd be doing some service or something," said the young Soldier. "We met (ACS Director) Doris Tyler, and she said she'd be able to help us with an Army Emergency Relief loan. I'd forgotten about AER. I'd already used it once to fly back to the States when my grandfather passed away."
AER loans are issued on a case-by-case basis, said Tyler.
"We provided an AER zero interest loan to help him with his car repairs. AER is Soldiers helping Soldiers," said Tyler. "When we called his unit to explain what happened, his commander said 'he is a good Soldier and I trust him.'"
Loans are issued on a case by case basis. While Tyler went to work cutting a check, the Bakers returned to their car, which was parked outside of the garrison Auto Crafts Shop. They didn't have to wait for long. Manager Bob Laird arrived early to work that day; his shop normally doesn't open until 2 p.m.
Benjamin explained to Laird about the breakdown and how they were from out of town.
"Where do you work'" Laird asked.
"The motor pool," replied the specialist.
"What are you," Laired quizzed, "the operations clerk'"
"No," replied Benjamin. "I work on cars, too."
An instant bond was formed between Laird, a retired Army mechanic, and Baker, a 63J (Quartermaster Chemical Equipment Repair.)
"Then let's push it on in," said Laird, opening the shop early.
Together they rolled the car into the bay, jacked it up and began the diagnosis. Baker told Laird about how the car was making a noise, and that he thought the transmission was toast. Laird fired-up the engine and listened. The long-time mechanic quickly gathered that the problem wasn't inside the transmission. He put the car in gear to check the axels and saw that only one side of the front wheel drive was spinning.
"The good news was that the problem wasn't in his transmission; the bad news was that the spindle on the constant velocity joint was broken," said Laird.
The Auto Craft Shop has a mixed collection of older equipment handed-down from other garrisons, and somehow Laird has kept the aging hydraulic lifts operating safely and often solves problems for travelers like the Bakers.
By then it was almost 2 p.m., the deadline to order the parts from a nearby supplier for pickup the following morning. They removed the faulty CV joint and Laird's assistant Bobby Vick drove it into Garmisch just in time to place the order.
When the auto parts store opened at 9 a.m. the next morning, they retrieved the part and added a thick coating of axel grease, only to discover that despite bringing the exact part needed to the store, the replacement CV was the wrong size, adding an extra day of delay.
"We joke around here in the crafts shop," said Laird, wiping grease off of his hands before calling the parts store again. "We have fun, joke and we get you on the road again - that's our motto. We can't fix everybody's problem, but we try."
The Bakers took it in stride, staying an extra night in their honeymoon cabin. The next day the correct part was installed for their return to Wiesbaden, but first they stopped by ACS to thank Tyler, who gave them two little bottles of champagne to celebrate their nuptials after they safely returned home.