The Army Wastes Nothing.
From the desk of the Soul Stealing Ginger
October 15, 2016
The eighties were tough years for nineteen year old me. I was feeling dissatisfaction with the direction of many things in my young life. I hadn’t dropped out of college, but I had dropped all of my non-computer core classes. My dead end bartending job kept me from getting enough sleep to do well at my dead end desktop publishing job. My attempted ‘normal adult romantic life’ with which I tried to replace my ‘happy-go-carefree romantic life’ with was an utter train wreck.
The military was always in my plans. As the son of a career soldier, with long family histories of soldiering through both of my parents, I was a budding latter-day Lieutenant Dan. My intention was to finish college and strike for a commission in Officer Candidate School. All my young life, I had resolved that one day, I would travel to the far-flung corners of the world, blow up interesting and ancient places and kill culturally unique people.
But the best laid plans often do not survive first contact with late teen angst. I was at the nadir of my adult life, almost two years out of high school and I was was just spinning my wheels and getting very little traction.
One day, while working the dead end bartending job on the lunch shift, the Army recruiter from the strip mall across the street came in to buy a prospect lunch, but the prospect never showed. The recruiter ended up sitting at my bar, sipping draft beer and chatting me up. A few weeks later, he had me in his office, a few weeks after that, I had taken the ASVAB test, a few weeks later I had a MEPS physical, all under the guise of “just seeing what I might be qualified for”.
It turns out that them MEPS physical showed up some color blindness on the Ishihara test — those are the ones with numbers made from colored bubbles surrounded by other colored bubbles. I did pass the Farnsworth Lantern test, which identifies me as one who can tell the red light from the green light and the red wire from the green wire, but no matter, they didn’t tell me that that would open up all of the jobs to me. Thanks to my color-blindness, the recruiter gave me very limited options. But I enlisted anyway and ended up in a mechanized infantry battalion.
Dad had always told my older brother and I, “Kids, whatever you do, join the Air Force, stay out of the goddamn mother-fucking Infantry!”, coming from a veteran of some of the toughest infantry battles of the Korean war — Chosin Reservoir, Hwachon Reservoir, a few others —, one would think I would listen. Oh, but listen I did not. As everyone over the age of thirty knows, parents are incredibly clueless about life and stuff, somehow, no matter the parents age, they remain clueless until about the offsprings thirtieth birthday, or thereabouts.
When I arrived at my first duty station, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry, in Schweinfurt, West Germany, my transportation baggage consisted of a few boxes of books, some civilian clothes, and my then-state-of-the-art Apple ][gs personal computer. This was delivered by the army-contracted movers to my barracks a few weeks after I reported. The company First Sergeant asked me what was in the boxes, when I said “It’s my computer Top”, the cogs and wheels in his head began turning at a rapid pace.
You see, dear reader, the Army had just issued Zenith laptops, three to every company, as well as to the battalion staff sections, and it seems that nobody knew how to use them. Each military community, or MIL-COM, had a unix server that company commanders and staff officers were supposed to dial-in to for news and updates and other things. Almost nobody did, because almost nobody knew how.
First Sergeant Middleton was not one to waste resources, and very quickly, in addition to my normal duties, I received what is called an additional duty. This is something that one must also accomplish in addition to ones regular job, like Equal Opportunity NCO, or Key Control NCO, or Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention NCO. I, though I was but a lowly private, was dubbed the Automated Data Processing NCO.
What this meant, in practical matters, was that once a day, I would go to the company orderly room, log on to the accounts of the four line companies, the anti-armor company, the four staff officers and the battalion commander. I would print any emails they had received, and go around and place them in the appropriate persons in-box, which at the time, was still, literally, a box on their desk.
These parties would then either hand write a response, or just scribble a few notes on the printed copy and return it to the orderly room. The next day, I would collect their replies and, when I logged on, I would type and submit their replies to the emails from the previous day.
In this way, I became, and perhaps am the only one in existence, a human email server program.