HOHENFELS, Germany-"We didn't have the good cold weather gear that we have today and didn't get it until 1956- can you imagine how cold it gets riding around in a jeep in the dead of winter with regular old boots on?" said the well-seasoned veteran. "We had the top down and the antenna was hitting the trees and the snow would come down on the back of your neck. It was terrible!"
For then Pvt. Ronald Estep when he arrived to what was then referred to as the Hohenfels Training Area in 1951, it was the beginning of many memories he would have of the place.
"I loved it from the first day, even though it was raining here the day God made the world and has rained every day I was here since," said Estep.
Estep reflected that the liquid gold or rain was something he always remembered when training. After his first tour in Hohenfels, he was stationed at Camp McCauley in Hörsching, Austria, where he would eventually meet his wife. However, he said he was never really far from Hohenfels.
"We would come up here for training all the time. We would have soldiers come here and do testing and shooting. We used to do tanks and small arms weapons," Estep said.
After multiple duty stations in Germany and a tour in Vietnam, Pvt. Estep rose through the ranks and would eventually become Col. Estep and the commander at Hohenfels Training Area. When he returned 30 years later, he reflected that the base itself had not changed much between his time here as a private and later as a colonel.
"The base was about the same when I came back to command it in 1980, but it was a different world back then. It was a few years before the reunification of Germany and the base itself had evolved from just a U.S. usage to a more international usage with NATO" said Estep.
Estep reckons that while he was the commander from 1980-1983, that there were 100,000 soldiers coming through Hohenfels for training each year not including the basic leader's course (formally known as BNCOC Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course) training. He adds that there were still tanks doing live fire exercises back then. Despite the cold in 1951, his favorite memory of Hohenfels in the 1980's was when he lived up on the hill at base quarters.
"My wife was Austrian and when we were living in the commander's quarter up on the hill, she had put a deer feeder in our yard. Her and her mother would sit and watch the deer come out of the woods and use the feeder -- it was absolutely beautiful" reminisced Estep.
After serving in the Army for 32 years and six months, Estep retired to Tampa, Fla. His wife had passed earlier in the year and Estep returned to visit the places that brought him so much joy with his eldest of three daughters.
"Hohenfels was a great Army secret then and it still is" said Estep after touring the base and talking with the current commander Col. Joseph Hilbert. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it…".