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June 18, 2007
Once more into the breachBy Greyhawk
Okay, how long have I been gone? These days I glance at my watch as often to see what weekday it is, or what day of the month as I do for the actual time.
There are two ways to roll into Iraq. The first is the most common from the past few years - you arrive, and work side by side with the person you're relieving for a few days, learn the system and all things that matter, and then he leaves and you've got it. This process is called RIP/TOA - Relieve in Place/Transfer of Authority.
But the surge is something new. There is no one to relieve; you build something from nothing, you determine how you're going to do business. You figure out where everything is and how to get anything done. You try to create your part of the system to be as simple as possible, and wonder - as everyone else does - why the hell everyone else but you is determined to make it as hard as possible to get anything done.
Within the first two or three days you realize that "we'll get that to you in two or three days" is a bullshit answer to any request you might be foolish enough too make, and is the same answer you'll get four days later. You learn that "The only guy who can authorize that is out doing _____" is code for "you're never going to get that done unless you do it yourself, even though you aren't authorized". And you do it yourself. And though you'll hear stories about "last time" you'll find no tangible evidence that this unit has ever been away from home before.
But somehow, when it comes time to write a weekly progress report, you'll find that last week's problems have somehow been solved (or rendered moot), and even though you've got a longer list of shortfalls this Friday you actually are making progress. And by week three you'll actually know how to make things work, even though you may wonder if it's because the system is becoming sane or because you are simply becoming one with an insane system.
And then it's week four, and chaos is routine, but deadlines have been met. And things are working, even though you had to stop everything for two days and learn a new system for inventorying all the shit you inventoried before shipping it over - and then inventory it again using the new system here.
And then inventory it again for someone else.
And not only are things working, but backup systems are working too - those had to be ops checked even earlier than you'd planned. And backups to backups are good to go too.
Her: When will you have time to write something?
Him: Two to three days - things should start to slow down...
Near the end of a 16-hour day. A PLAN has been made - the work of many. The work of many, working many hours. Then one guy makes A BAD DECISION without checking first with any of the many. The plan is about to unhinge, and with a simple glance at his output, I can see the future, and the future is bad. But it can be fixed. He awaits my praise for his efforts.
He knew better, he knew the system, or if he didn't it is long past time where he should have. This is not training, this is not practice, this is not home. Ninety percent of his damage is undone within hours, I'm there to make sure of it. No blood, no foul - this time. He gets one more chance.
Back to the tent, alarm set for 10:30, figured 6 hours sleep would be good enough. I set my own hours here - just work when I need to. But someone else had another plan, and a series of loud explosions woke me up about 8 AM. Not close enough to make me worry, but close enough to wake me up. Still don't know exactly what they were. Might have been our guys blowing up captured stuff - too many booms for it to be bad guys (I hope). So I showered (the day before the showers weren't working), shaved, brushed my teeth and came into work. It was too late for chow hall breakfast - if the bastards had struck an hour earlier I could at least have had food.
But what I did have was a rare brief period with nothing to do. So out of curiosity I checked something of which for the past weeks my time constraints have left me blissfully unaware - what sort of news America was getting from Iraq?
The answer? None.
Which was a pretty effective way to ensure no one in America would learn that a few days after that, we officially finished the "surge" part of the surge - and moved on to implementing strategy.
Unfuck yourself, Harry.
Posted by Greyhawk / June 18, 2007 10:55 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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