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Racconti di Guerra

The Exercise, Part 1: “Why there? There’s portajohns right over there.”

Un altro racconto di guerra; questa volta l’utente BlueComms scrive:

I've been wanting to tell this story since it happened, and I think enough time has passed. As much as I want to, I won't be able to post a lot of the details from this exercise. Some of it's classified, some of it's to protect the identities of myself/others, and a lot of it is because I'm still in and I'd rather not be the reason for a briefing on the proper use of social media in relation to the military.

When I entered the military, I had visions of jumping out of planes and HALOing down to fix a SEAL's radio, and then getting to call in air strikes while shotgunning beers with my new SEAL friends. As most of you know, the degree of fantasy in that thought is laughable. What I've ended up spending the majority of my time doing was pretty much the opposite: fielding phone calls from customers who pushed the wrong button and now they're talking to the AGE guys instead of the Crew Chiefs. While the office/ technician life has it's perks, I jumped on my first opportunity to go TDY for a simulated “the world got nuked and we're all fucked” exercise. This exercise sounded really cool on paper, and would be a nice change of pace. And if I'm being honest, my long-abandoned dreams of firing two 240's down onto Osama's compound while freefalling were ever-so-slightly reignited.

The exercise included all of the predeployment stuff, to include sitting in a room for hours getting briefed on everything from the exercise to how to remain a resilient warfighter using these 10 easy resiliency techniques. After the briefings, bag drags, being issued gear, bag dragging that and turning it back in, and getting our equipment palletized, checked, failed, torn down, repalletized, checked, and okayed, we were off. At this point, we had been up since 0200, and were feeling it. After all, this is the Air Force, aren't we supposed to get a spa break and massage after 9 hours of duty?

We got to the location and got to work. I can't say where it was, but it had some preexisting infrastructure that we needed to work with, as well as a nice, gated area I'd be working in for the majority of the exercise. At some point in the planning phase, the phrase “they're comm, they can figure it out” must have come up since my team and I were doing some things that were on the very edge of what could possibly be considered to be our job (which, by the way, is radio technician). By the time we had gotten the first line equipment set up and we'd accomplished our other tasks, it was dark out (this is a good point to mention that this was pretty far north in the US in the middle of winter, so the sun sets at about 4 PM). Things has started to wind down, the non-essential personnel were bedding down, and we were trying to figure out if we were going to go to shift work or not.

At this point, we had decided that the stuff was up and running, so if something went down the operators would just send a runner to grab one of us if something went down. Everyone was cool with that plan, and we checked in with the operators to make sure that was cool. As we were leaving, however, one of the operators uttered the dreaded phrase of “hang on a second”.

As it turns out, we had overlooked one tiny thing: for some reason or another, there was a classified safe in each of the two connexes that were set up in the gated area. One was for the operators, one was for some other folks who had not yet arrived. The operators had brought the minimum amount of people, so they couldn't spare anyone… meaning that someone would have to stay and watch the other safe with a poor Captain who has been grabbed for the duty as well. Seeing how tired and disheartened everyone else looked, I volunteered to stay the night. With my fate sealed, I marched over to the other connex. These connexes were special; they had sides that folded out so they could be used as a workspace, and they included lighting and HVAC, something we'd desperately need considering that it was now single digits outside. As soon as I walked in, I noticed that it was cold, and I asked the Captain who was already doing officer things (paperwork or something) if he was from Alaska or if he just liked it cold. He promptly informed me that the HVAC was broken. With a sigh, I went outside and applied my refined troubleshooting skills (perform a squatting motion; alternate between sighing and swearing; proceed to apply sharp, direct force [commonly referred to as “punching”]; reevaluate; repeat until degraded system returns to proper function), and miraculously the system kicked on and was blowing nice, boiling air in no less than 30 minutes. By this point, it was close to 7 or 8 PM.

For the next twelve or so hours, hardly anything happened. Captain was busy doing officer stuff, but after I noticed his Medical skill badge, he was kind enough to field a few of my questions (Captain, if you're reading this, I'm sorry, I was really tired and I promise I'm not that stupid all the time). Looking back, I'm glad the Captain was there, because I would have fallen asleep within ten minutes. Every time I started to nod off, I'd head outside for a smoke break/ shot at the portajohns/ nice bone-chilling courtesy of the wind.

Now, for the part you've been reading for. As the night went on and I was finding myself slipping deeper into exhaustion, the trips to the portajohn became more infrequent, as I didn't want to walk the fifty feet or whatever it was and deal with taking my gloves off and all that. Finally, I couldn't hold it anymore. Sadly, I was in that “fuck this, fuck that, fuck everything” train of thought, so as I felt the icy chill of the wind on my face I thought to myself “I'm not gonna walk to that stupid goddamned portajohn, I'm gonna make steam near the HVAC system, it's probably warm”. 'Round the corner and down the crate, to the HVAC unit I went.

Just as I'm finishing up steaming, I hear an unfamiliar voice: “hey, whose there?”. There were maybe ten people who should be in that area, and the one I don't know is the one who has the power to take a few stripes. My heart sinks.

I stumble into the light. There in front of me stands our vice wing commander, who has come to do full-bird stuff with the ops guys. “Uh, sir, I'm Airman u/bluecomms, I'm from the so-and-so shop”

Much to my surprise, he took an inquisitive tone. “What were you doing?”

I was tempted to lie. I really was. It would have been so easy to say “I was working on the equipment back there” or something. But I'm not a liar. “I was uh, relieving myself”.

“Oh boy. Okay… uh… why? Why there? There's portajohns right over there.”

“Well, sir, it's real cold out. I'm from the southern US. I thought it would be warmer by the HVAC unit. And, most importantly, the items in this connex are controlled/classified, and I've been instructed that it's two-person. I figured that it'd be better to be able to listen through the vents on the side of the connex than use the portajohn and basically leave my post.”

He stood in thought for a bit. “Well, uh… your head's in the right place. But just… just use the portajohns from now on, okay?”

“Yes sir. I apologize. It won't happen again.”

He left, and as soon as the door to the other connex closed, I heard laughing. Relieved, I headed back inside and finished out my shift.

We ended up doing a lot of really cool stuff that exercise. I got to work pretty closely with the Vice Commander and he turned out to be an awesome guy who did a really good job. And he never brought our first encounter up.

I'll see if I can remember more and put it into some more installments for you guys.