A former paratrooper who went handcuffed from federal prison directly into the Army is trying to unionize the 82d Airborne Division here.
He also is trying to get back into the Army under an American Civil Liberties Union suit which alleges that, in kicking him out, the secretary of the Army and the 82d Airborne commander, both of whom happen to be black, broke Reconstruction Era laws designed to protect blacks from the Ku Klux Klan.
To make the situation even more bizarre, here at Bragg where the greeting between paratroopers is "All the way," 82d Airborne officers admit that their actions have helped the very unionizing they oppose.
The Armys unintended assist for unionizing the military around here came from making 25-year-old Thomas L. Doran Jr. something of a celebrity by discharging him for reasons which sound right out of the novel "Catch 22."
"He was in the Army but he really wasn't" said one 82d Airborne Division lawyer in explaining why Doran had to be discharged. "He was wearing the Army uniform but he wasn't really in the Army" because his enlistment was illegal.
"That doesn't wash," Doran countered in an interview, claiming the Army kicked him out because of his efforts to promote a union within the military. American Civil Liberties Union lawyers agreed and filed suit against the Army last week.
Among the laws the ACLU charges the Army broke is a federal statute enacted in 1861 and revised in 1871 by the Reconstruction Congress which forbids two or more persons to "conspire or go in disguise" to deny anyone "equal protection of the laws."
Division officers here said there was nothing illegal about Doran leaving federal prison in Petersburg, Va., in handcuffs in 1971 to be sworn into the Army. He had been imprisoned for refusing induction but agreed to join the Army after seven months in jail.
What was illegal, according to 82d Airborne officers here, was the Army accepting Doran for a second hitch after he had been honorably discharged from his first two-year tour. Through what officers acknowledged was "a bureaucratic screwup," Doran's honorable discharge did not indicate that he was ineligible for re-enlistment.
The reason that Doran was declared ineligible, officers here said, was that he did not pass muster for re-enlistment when the government conducted a security check on him during his first tour of Army service. The material uncovered in the security check has not been disclosed by the Army.
An Army recruiter took a look at Doran's honorable discharge and happily signed him up for a three-year hitch on March 20, 1975. Doran rejoined the 82nd Airborne here as an artillery surveyor and received ratings of "excellent" in conduct and performance from his Army superiors. He was promoted to a specialist five and slated for another promotion when he was suddenly discharged.
Doran said it was on this second tour of duty that he started exploring the idea of a union for low-ranking soldiers. He concluded, he said, that only a union could deal effectively with "the hassle" in today's Army.
"I'm not talking about taking a strike vote in the foxhole." Doran said. "I'm talking about getting a little self-respect for Joe Tentpeg and the women in the Army who are being hassled. They've got to be able to feel that I've got a little bit of power no matter how much the boss has got."
Doran and his small squad of allies contend that the grievance procedures and chain of command options are not adequate for people in the lower ranks.
Doran said that he and others started discussing the benefits of unionization in livingroom gatherings around Bragg; at meetings with other servicemen in Washington last summer, and at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFL-CIO) convention in Las Vegas last September.
The AFCF is currently polling its 280,000 members on whether they want to try to establish union locals within the military. The ballots will be tallied this summer.
Officers at Bragg said they sense no wide spread desire among the troops for unions. But Doran said he and his allies promoting unionization have found lots of support among people in the service, especially women, and among retired military servicemen who fear their retirement and other benefits are going to be reduced.
Asked how a union, would have made his life as a paratrooper better at Bragg, Doran said a union's leverage would have deterred sergeants from ordering troops to pick up cigarette butts at 4 in the morning, from hassling women and kept officers from conducting do-nothing training exercises.
Doran claimed his artillery unit would go out in the woods for three days and fire rounds only four hours the whole time.
"What do you do the rest of the time out in the woods?" he was asked.
"Wait for what?"
Doran said the union would be more like a legal aid society, not an organization that would question orders or interfere with combat operations.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) is the leading advocate in Congress of passing a bill to outlow unions within the military, asserting that the threat is real and growing. His bill to outlaw military unions has 37 senators as co-sponsors.
Defense Secretary Harold Brown, in appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, cautioned against overreacting to the threat of unionization and said the Pentagon currently has enough rules to deal with the possibility.
Maj. Charles Murray, judge advocateof the 82d Airborne, and Maj. Terry Throckmorton, division spokesman, stressed in interviews here in discharging Doran the division's leadership was not reacting to the paratrooper's unionizing efforts at all.
Instead, Murray and Throckmorton said, they were simply following Army rules that could not be waived in the face of the findings in the government's security check. "Serendipity," Murray said in searching for a word to describe the whole affair.