Driving a Personnel Carrier
“My Gutsy Story®” by Barbara Charlene Barker
I try to remember how I got so old. At each birthday I feel as if I am taking another step down the road to perdition. Some youthful diversion is needed.
Every Monday and Tuesday I volunteer at the police department and drive a police car around the city to check on homes of vacationers. But anyone can do that. Originally, I wanted to jump out of an airplane, but my doctor said no, I have a crushed vertebra.
My son, Scott came up with a good idea. He wanted to go to Bovington in England to ride in a tank and drive a personnel carrier. We both live in California, Scott lives in San Diego, and I live in Garden Grove. That would be quite a trip to become better acquainted with war machines. I said yes immediately. The event was being held at the Tank Museum. An application arrived; I wondered if they would accept me. I’m seventy-nine and I have diabetes. I did not volunteer the fact that six years ago, I broke my hip and my elbow.
On May 9, 2014, we flew out of Los Angeles, (LAX) to Heathrow Airport, near London. We then took a train to Wool, a town close to the Tank Museum. The day began with breakfast and distribution of black jumpsuits with the Tank Museum logo on the back. That was a good beginning; I like jumpsuits. Three teams of seven were formed; I was on the red team and the only woman there. A minder was assigned to each team. A minder is a classy name for babysitter. The minder provided encouragement, enthusiasm, and guidance.
Our team was assigned to drive the personnel carrier first. A van took us to the driving area on an army base. When we got there, the personnel carrier (FV432) was chugging smoke out of the top mounted pipe. The greenish-black FV432 weighs 25 tons, and can carry 10 soldiers. Its top speed is 12 miles per hour, and it can travel 35 miles on one tank of gas.
(Video From YouTube, not from Barbara Charlene Barker)
My son, Scott, was one of the first drivers and he came back with thumbs up and a smile.
When it was my turn to drive, I was unable to raise my leg high enough to climb on top of the personnel carrier. I thought I had to give up, but the minder said to climb in the back door. Crawling over various objects to get to the driver’s seat, I ruined my Sketchers in the process. The minder explained how to use the gear shift, the stop button, the posts for turning right and left and other forgettable instruments. I had a helmet, a microphone, and headphones. I was ready to get moving.
Right from the start, I had trouble staying in the middle of the road. My minder yelled, “Left! Left! Left!” His tone grew more fervent as I veered towards the ditch. Sweat rolled down my face and arms. I just missed the ditch, but something worse appeared at the bottom of the hill: a river.
“Do we have to go through that?” I asked.
“Of course,” he replied. And so we did. Fortunately the river bed was shallow, and I continued driving over thickets of undergrowth and rain puddles.
My twenty- minute drive seemed like hours, and the minder said, “Good job.” After all, I did manage to stay out of the ditch.
The tanks were next on the agenda. The museum had rolling stairs to assist the climb up the tank. I got to the top of the tank, but I looked down at the distance from the tank turret to the tank seat and I said no. You had to jump down about five feet. I was afraid for my crushed vertebra. But they took several pictures of me standing on the tank.
Next we had a tour of the museum. They have over 500 tanks. My favorite was ‘Little Willie’ a World War I tank with the tread over the top of the turret. One display was a trolley car that was covered with camouflage to look like a tank. I’m not sure if that fooled the enemy or not. By then it was almost 2:00 p.m. and time for tea, goodie bags and awards.
When my name was called for the “best driver” certificate, I thought I’d misheard, and continued filling my plate with scones. Was my hearing getting worse?
The museum docent asked me to come forward and accept my award. I was shocked, especially after my minder told me I didn’t know my right from my left. Since I completed my journey, they said I was eligible for the award.
This adventure has given me a new, youthful outlook at 79 and ¼ years old, and perhaps one day, the local police will let me help them with their newly purchased tank.
I hope to motivate people my age to follow their heart and head straight towards their own “gutsy” adventure.
BARBARA CHARLENE BARKER: As a volunteer, I have been driving a police car around the city for the past ten years . My assignments include checking homes of vacationers, hotel parking lot surveillance, and manufacturing safety. In May, 2014, I was elected to the post of Assembly person for the California Senior Legislature. I serve as vice chair for the Budget Oversight Committee for the Garden Grove School District. After I retired as a teacher and administrator, I worked as a part-time professor for Chapman University (13 years) and UCI ( 7 years.)
SONIA MARSH SAYS: Barbara, you look too young to be 79, and being active seems to be what makes you stay young. You are an inspiration to all of us. keep doing what you love. Perhaps you should join the Peace Corps next.