In the news…go **** yourself, sir

*clack-idy clack-idy clack-idy*

I had my head canted, reading the news on my monitor while my fingers mashed the keys like a miniature “whack-a-mole” game. Stay down, damn you!

Transcribing summaries of the day’s news, I had come in early to finish the PowerPoint slides we would use for the commander’s daily update briefing.

I had two lives in Iraq while in this unit:

***One: To serve as a “Public Affairs Specialist / Writer” (aka journalist) for my unit, coordinating media visits, writing press releases and any stories the command approved. This involved traveling, taking pictures, interviewing, going on convoys — all the stuff I singed up for.

***Two: To serve as a PowerPoint lackey and attendee of the myriad of briefings, updates, and meetings that go along with any staff officer position (save for the fact that my section had no staff officer, thus I, the lowly sergeant, had to suffice). This involved being locked away on the camp, never seeing the light of day, and enduring hundreds of hours of charts, politics and ass-kissing — all the stuff I didn’t sign up for.

So, scanning through the day’s headlines, immersed in life number two, I was always prey to visitors to the office.

“Well well, nice to see you at work,” a visiting captain said — worked at…hell, I have no idea where the guy worked. Not personnel, not intelligence, not commo, somewhere else.

“Yeah, couldn’t stay away,” I half countered, continuing to push keys.

Any time I wasn’t in the office — as in when I was careening through the skies over Baghdad or getting some sleep from an all-night road trip through the bombed-out streets — most people assumed I was blowing off work. They remembered me from meetings, but, like most people apart from themselves, they had no idea what I did, assuming it was only half as challenging as their own work and, thus, hardly important.

You see, there was always this game of “who’s got the biggest whatever” around my unit. Something is either “varsity” or “junior varsity” — the statement “That’s so JV” is a common insult. And it’s not about stuff like who can run the fastest or shoot the straightest, it’s more along the lines of memorandum writing, fragmentary order drafting, training completion rates and “chartmanship” of PowerPoint. Uugh!

When I’m out on interviews or just visiting with troops, I ask some of the combat arms soldiers (troops like infantry and tankers — the traditional fighting Army) why the game of one-upmanship around units like mine is such a big deal. “Combat Envy” is what they usually come up with.

Combat Envy, that is, at war but not at war, stuck shuffling paperwork and never in danger. Technology has allowed a lot of decision making to be made from bunkers far, far from the “front.” There’s no need for seniors to be out in the war anymore, it’s all remote controlled, networked and streamed to the younger troops charging into battle.

So, there has to be something that keeps the older cats in the fight. Sure, they make decisions that affect the lives of thousands and are, in essence, “in” the fight; but you know what I mean. There has to be a hardcore mentality to go with the “hardcore” stats and charts, I suppose.

Anyway, long tangent to show the context for the underpinning of disdain toward anyone perhaps not keeping current with his PowerPoint chartmanship.

“So what’s in the news, P, A, O?” The captain paused after each letter. PAO, public affairs office, was my usual moniker.

“You don’t know, sir? You’re in the news. You’re a part of history.”

“Where do you get the news anyway?” he asked. That was a strange question. I looked up. Was he — did he think I made news up? No. His face seemed honestly curious.

“We usually just scan through CNN, BBC, Fox and all that stuff. Pretty standard stuff, really.”

“Wish I could just read the news all day,” he said before stepping out.

Yeah, it’s a pretty plush gig. If you discount the missions, the convoys, the whole ‘war’ thing, all-night ops, acting as gunner, racking out on top of tanker trucks or under vehicles…all I do is just come on in, fire up CNN, spend 30 minutes on PowerPoint and that’s it.

I’ll be sure to salute him twice next time I see him.

###

About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

12 responses to “In the news…go **** yourself, sir”

  1. finch says :

    the funny part is – he probably DOES spend a good portion of his day reading crap [news] online…that and instant messaging folks back home…phwew – take a break sir! ha! good stuff…

  2. beka says :

    first off, holy crap our little salmons is becoming all famous!! (please refer to my comment made at the end of “Coming of age” for my thoughts on this)

    second, please do use all fingers to salute the man who just got those two little bars to connect so you don’t get busted down. “sgt. salmons” has such a nice ring to it.

  3. Radio Free Babylon says :

    Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

    I respectfully submit the name of a soldier currently serving in Iraq for consideration for battlefield promotion: Josh Salmons.

    His chartsmanship and news gathering capabilities have earned him the respect of his superiors as well as a growing fan-base around the world.

    He is currently an E5. The Army would be much better served if this gentleman became an officer. I suggest he bypass the butter bar and 1st LT nonsense and be promoted to Captain.

    The “New Army” needs new leaders. Sgt. Salmons has demonstrated that leadership .

    Thank you for your attention to this matter.

    Sincerely,
    A Citizen

  4. salmons says :

    Ha! Yeah, too bad they don’t do battlefield promotions like that anymore, right? Would be nice.

    I do have an almost complete packet in to become an officer in the Air Force. I was trying to get a conditional release from the Army to pursue that, but no dice. I think I’ll just get on out after all this business.

  5. beka says :

    maybe you can come home early on an insanity plea. more military service? wait, right, forgot…the airforce plans their actions around tee times. never mind.

  6. Mary Lou says :

    Always happened to me that way too, I would work my ass off for 11 hours, and just as I sat down to take a break a big-wig walked through and said Boy I wish I could get a job like yours. Yeah…You wish!

  7. flythemig29 says :

    Welcome to the Fraternal Brotherhood of PowerPoint Rangers! You won’t get a CIB but you just might be diagnosed with that rare malady, typing.

  8. salmons says :

    Mary: Yeah, they seemed to have an uncanny ability to sense when workers are idle.

    Fly: Hooah! Maybe I’ll get a PAB (PowerPoint Action Badge). That’d be sweet…a little laptop with a wreath around it.

  9. Chris Erdman says :

    Salmons, I’ve posted a link on my own blog to yours…remarkable writing, yours.

    I’ve also noticed a similarity in your reading list to some of my own (not listed on my blog). Mars Hill/Nooma stuff, Richard Rohr, McLaren whom I was with just last week.

    I wonder how and in what ways you find Rohr sustaining you in the midst of your current mission.

  10. Tony Myles says :

    Whoah… hang in there, brother.

  11. salmons says :

    Chris: Mos def. I keep Rohr’s admonitions about awareness close at heart. He helps me find the divine, even here.

    My bro, Santino (one of the uber peeps) writes and directs the Nooma films. Rob is a friend of mine. I’m hoping to link-up with those cats again once I am through with the service.

  12. Russell says :

    Thanks a lot. Now because of your blog I have a feeling I will be spending a lot more time on the interent reading your stuff. You have some interesting blogs that I have a feeling I will be reading all of them. Stay safe while you are over there.

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