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.