Friday, January 25, 2008

In The Zone...

Some days I really love my job. We can moan and complain all we want about the living conditions here, the weather, the absence of most amenities we enjoy back in the states, much less the fact that there “is” an element of danger living here, but every now and then there are those weeks where you realize why you’re here. This week was one of those weeks.

With all the talk about trying new foods, travel woes, and old friends in past blogs, it is easy to forget sometimes to those not here that there is still a war going on. The lion’s share of what I do each and every day you never hear about because…. Well…. It’s boring. At least I think anyway… but also because it’s just not the sort of thing that most people want to hear about. We are a society… scratch that!... a “country” who’s fed up with the War on Terror and while most support those of us who are serving their country, most don’t want to hear the details of what actually goes on in Afghanistan, Iraq and abroad. It was also my choice not to brow-beat the war efforts into any of you reading this but allow me this rare instance to speak a little about what an average day is like for me here when I’m “working.”

I have set hours that I am supposed to be “in the office” so-to-speak, but we all kind of chuckle at that posted schedule because we are always there before, during, and after our posted hours. Case in point, I worked 21 hours yesterday, slept 4 hours, and then worked 19 hours today. (I really should be in bed now!) My days typically begin around 5am with a quick check of email after putting on my uniform, and then the usual cold jaunt across the compound to the chow hall to get breakfast. A quick cappuccino on my way out and off to the Comm Shack I go.

I am considered a “maintenance group” guy and I am the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the other enlisted “maintenance” guys here. Our day began with problems for the “operations” guys in the command post (called the CJOC – Combined Joint Operations Center) and when I went to respond to it, there was a TIC (Troops In Contact – basically our troops were in a firefight) going on in the East. We couldn’t scramble any aircraft out to help them by providing close air support because the systems I support were not working. Sparing you the details, the “fix” was dependent upon another admin from another unit elsewhere on base fixing the server I had no access to. That required me to go to the “Helpdesk” and ask for their assistance.

In my years in this business and especially through my past deployments, I’ve learned that there are those times when you can't be the "nice guy" and have to be a thorn in someone’s side to get the desired results you want – “IF” there is a sufficient emergency to warrant it. This was one such occasion.

I went to the helpdesk, cut in line past four other people – much to their chagrin – and explained my situation to them. The answer I got back was, “You’ll have to wait, they don’t come into work until 11:30.” Heh heh….. What followed was a heated conversation with a fellow Master Sergeant that I’m not particularly proud of, but he quickly got a new sense of urgency and heeded my demands that he get “what’s-his-name” out of bed – NOW! – and get him in here to fix this problem. “Ummm…. Ok …. I’ll send someone to get him…” “No!, YOU will go get him now and then come find me at the ASOC desk in the CJOC!”, I replied. (Ok… so I was a little hot under the collar… but our guys in the field were in a firefight, with no help, and this guy is moaning about having to wake someone up to help???? Come on!!)

Soon, “what’s-his-name” was in…. he fumbled around for 10 minutes and then determined that he didn’t know how to fix the problem. What????!!! He then told me that there is one other person who can fix it but she’s not here either. Well what do you think happened next?... *grin* Any takers? Yep, I made him wake her up as well.

While she was working on that, I went back to do what I could back in the CJOC… and about that time, Scotti had just left to go to bed after yet another double-shift, like he’s been doing for the past week, trying to get a system we have here working that provides a Predator feed (an unmanned aerial vehicle that flies over and provides reconnaissance video to us) back to the CJOC. He had just finally got this system working after fighting night and day for a week, and went to bed exhausted but reassured that he had accomplished what he set out to do. Less than 30 minutes after he left, one of our CH-47 Chinook helicopters crashed landed east of here. We were immediately able to get a video of the downed chopper up on the large screen on the wall so that we could direct efforts to scramble aircraft to protect them, send another Blackhawk and Apache helo’ out to provide support, and send an A-team out as well to provide security as they rescue the 13 people that were on that helo’. Without that predator feed that Scotti got working, none of this would have been possible. And he slept through the whole thing! But he while he slept off the exhaustion of the past week, he helped save the lives of 4 crew members and 9 very grateful passengers.

As the day went on, we had 4 or 5 other “TIC’s” that we responded to, and I had various other computer system “glitches” that always appear as a result of a new team coming in to work. Call it “turnover terror” if you will…. There are only so many things an outgoing unit can tell us in 3-4 days time, so all these “glitches” were ones they had experienced as well but just forgot to tell us, or just didn’t have an answer for. Ugh. I ran around from office to office, compound to compound all day throughout these emergencies to finally come to a point where I was almost done with my double-shift as well. Then we had Italian & German military guys come to the Comm Shack, upset because they destroyed a satellite antenna cable of theirs and we didn’t have a spare one to give them, so we soldered and repaired it for them. Later that night we had a scheduled outage of our satellite to upgrade our bandwidth, however, it was using modems, terminals, GPS clocks and other equipment that we’ve never even “seen” before, much less used. What was supposed to be a 2 hour downtime ended up taking 5 hours, but we accomplished in one attempt what the preceding unit couldn’t figure out in three previous attempts over the course of the entire year they were here in Afghanistan! A couple days ago we made national news because of a TIC we maintained that lasted for over 21 hours with no lives lost. Today we simultaneously controlled aircraft for 5 TIC’s, one of which lasted for over 20 hours.

Anyway, I am not saying all of this to put a feather in our cap. I am just really proud of the guys here and the job they have been doing and continue to do. It’s the sort of thing that reminds you why you chose the military and why you love what you do. We’ve had little time to get spun up on what the outgoing unit left for us, but despite that fact, I can comfortably say “we are in the zone!”

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BigD said...

No comments?? Wow, I for one was very impressed with your day. The hours you put in are actually amazing. As a nurse, I put in some long shifts, but, you got me beat for sure. I appreciate your efforts to try and describe your "work" day. I know it is hard to translate what you do to us civilian types, but, so far you are doing a great job. I guess it is similar with any field, unless you are in the trenches it is hard to grasp the nuts and bolts, the pacing, and the emotional and physical demands of the job. You should be proud of what you are doing, and I am glad to see that even after three tours you are hanging tough, because you know the importance of what your are doing. I currently read two milblogs of soldiers in are my first OEF blogger. Reading milblogs has taken the place of what limited reading I used to do. I learn so much from you guys...about military in general and more importantly about what is going on in these war zones, from the actual boots on the ground. From what I can figure out from all the initials you are a Master Sgt. in the Navy?? I have been mostly sticking with the! Over the past two years, I have adopted soldiers through this organization called Adopt-A-Platoon, sending letters and care packages. They randomly send you someone, my first soldier was a Captain stationed at Camp Taji, he was in the National Guard (former regular Army) He was attached to the Red Bulls. My second soldier was Sgt. R. He was at COP Callahan. He was with the HHC 2-325th 82nd Airborne. He was on his third tour also, but, he was only 22 years old! I am happy to say that they are both safe at home now. The other soldier blogs I read are both Strykers - the first is a Specialist in the 4SBCT/2nd Infantry Division. He is about to come home soon after a 15 month tour. The second is a Lt. (Cav Scout 2SBCT/25th IND) He is only 5 months into his tour. I have recently adopted a nurse (1st Lt. M) who is with the 86th CSH out of Baghdad. I guess I am just trying to do what little I can to educate myself, and try and make a difference to just a few of our soldiers who are so far away from home. I am not sure you will even see this, but, that is ok. Thank you for doing such a great job...somebody's has to understand all that IT stuff, cuz I know it ain't gonna be me. Take good care of you.

BigD said...

I think I just figured out your in the Air Force? Explain the USNSE if you have a moment. Thanks for the clarification.