Saturday, August 26, 2006

Winning friends and influencing people, part one

So, like I spend most of my life doing these days, I take a day and produce several tedious and fairly meaningless reports. This particular report runs to about 5 pages, and all the pertinent information is later extracted and summarized into 2 paragraphs, less than a page all told. The original report is then filed, and never seen again. So why not just write the 2 paragraph summary? Because, if anything ever goes wrong with a decision based on those 2 paragraphs, the original report can be dug out and referenced in any investigation. In keeping with the army love of acronyms, I call this one the CYA report.

But it turns out that I'm frightenly good at it. Yesterday, one of my reports that went to a new, and fairly senior person to review, comes back with a comment written at the top in red ink: "Thanks, you're all over this." One of my peers got back the same kind of report, only with a lot more red ink, and with the phrase "You're all over it" noticeably absent from the top. A sticky note on top politely requested that he try again.

He showed up at my desk and asked if I had to redo anything on my report. When I told him no, he grabbed mine off the desk and started comparing the two. While he didn't say anything, he didn't seem to be terribly happy for me when he saw the comment on the top of mine.

When he got to the middle section, he thrust both reports under my nose and said "I do not get this. These two are exactly alike." I looked and saw that, in the meat of the report, in addition to other comments, the reviewer had complained - in detail and at length - about the improper format that my co-worker had used. The format he used did look familiar, though, and I looked at the pristine, no red ink page in my report and verified that it was exactly the same format my co-worker had used.

So, I had to tell him "Well, you know, when you're all over it, you can afford to make a few mistakes." Somehow, that didn't seem to improve his mood any.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Showing my ass . . .

When someone leaves a team and moves on to bigger and better things, its more or less a tradition that he get some parting gifts - a token of appreciation from the team for his service. That's especially true for someone who has a long tenure on a team, or who's done an excellent job, or both.

Mark, the second team leader for my first team, had done both - he had been on the team for awhile - longer than most captains get to stay - and he had done an incredible job, getting good training pushed through the company and battalion for us, working hard to make the team a great team without a lot of chickenshit, and walking that narrow line between being a good leader and a good friend, which is so hard that most military training manuals recommend that you not even try it.

So, when the team sergeant took up a collection to buy him a few things, we gave willingly to get him something nice. Usually you get a plaque or a statue as a going away present - the Bronze Bruce was a favorite choice. (The "Bronze Bruce" is a replica of the statue of the prototypical SF soldier, wearing a beret and jungle fatigues, with one arm cradling an M-16 and the other stretched out behind him as if to take someones hand and lead them to freedom. The statue used to be used to be across the road from Kennedy Hall, the headquarters of the Special Warfare Center, until it was - literally - relocated in a middle of the night raid and emplaced at USASOC headquarters across Ft. Bragg, soon after USASOC - the United States Army Special Operations Command - was stood up as our parent unit.)

We decided to go for a slightly bigger token, since we wanted to let him know how much we appreciated his leadership and service on the team. So, we got him what every guy on the team would want to get as their going away present - we got him a gun. It was a pretty Colt Model 1911A1 in a green felt-lined wooden display case with a brass plaque thanking him for his time with the team. We also gave him a team picture in one of those plexiglass frames that sit on a desk or shelf and that bend backwards at about 45 degrees so you can better see the picture - and that's where the problem started. Both sides of this particular frame were of clear plexiglass, and the picture slid in between the two layers - from the back, the back of the photographic paper the picture was printed on was visible, but thanks to the frame's clever design, that wasn't a problem - you couldn't really see the back of the photo unless you canted the frame well forward. So, we took a picture of the team, in berets and BDUs, standing in a line smiling and facing the camera and slipped it into the front of the frame facing forward. We also took a picture of the team, trousers dropped and bent over, not facing the camera but still smiling, and slipped it into the back of the frame. The thinking was that it might be weeks before he discovered the second picture, and - with any luck at all - that he wouldn't find it himself, but rather have it pointed out to him by a visitor to his office who sat down across from him at his desk and noticed the back of the picture frame.

That's not how it happened. We had a little going away party for him and invited wives and girlfriends, close friends and family - Mark brought his parents and his wife. After a little eating and drinking, we directed him to the presents set out on the table. He was awed by the gun, but in true good-guy fashion, he directed his remarks to how much he had loved being on the team, and what the presents meant to him. His voice broke a bit and his eyes were misted over as he regaled our guests with how much being on the team had meant to him. At one point, overcome with emotion, he picked up the team picture and held it up above his head and looked up at it. As he continued to talk about the team and how he felt about us, I could see the shock or amusement on the faces of the guests, depending on their personality. Mark's mother gasped, his father chuckled. The longer Mark went on, the more people were looking at the back of the photo holder, and the more they were grinning and giggling. Finally, Mark noticed what was going on, flipped the photo over, and burst out laughing.

I visited him a few years later, and sure enough, he had the photo - both sides - on his desk.

No, really, I am back

Well, I announced my return from retirement because I really, really thought that I would have copious amounts of spare time - I've been back in the army (still a National Guardsman, but watching my civilian career wither on the vine thanks to multiple periods of active duty over the last few years) since February, and I recently moved into doing something that looked like it wouldn't take a huge amount of time - but it turns out that it does takes a huge amount of time to well, so my plans to return to writing regularly are going to be delayed by a few months. I'll post here when and as I can.

And no, whether fortunately or unfortunately, nothing I'm doing right now involves actually doing army stuff like shooting, jumping out of airplanes (except a "Hollywood jump" every three months on a clear day over Rhine-Luzon or Sicily for pay), or blowing things up. If I get time someday, I may be able regale you with stories of wrestling out of control copy machines into submission, long-range sniping at presenters during briefings, set-piece battles over proper formatting of Powerpoint slides, and risking daily injury from paper cuts or printer toner in the eye.

I am going to forward a suggestion to MG Parker (the commander of SWC, otherwise known as the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, otherwise known as the John Wayne School for Wayward Boys, otherwise known as the "green beret" school) that, in the best interests of actually accomplishing our mission, they stop teaching hand to hand combat and survival to make room for typing classes - and don't get me started on how we should be training incoming operators on Powerpoint as a substitute for a decision, email and IM as a substitute for an op order, and Excel as a substitute for a relational database.

And now, I'm going to bed at 9pm to make up for several late nights and a weekend of my life I'll never get back getting some critical reports that absolutely, positively had to be filed away and never seen again by man by the first thing this morning. Even scarier: Next time I post, I will try to address at least one of the pictures of me "in various states of undress", since someone actually emailed and asked. You've been warned.