Merchants of death, featuring hot chicks

Aaah! the AUSA Convention—the place where companies converge in Washington, D.C., to rub shoulders with the generals and policy makers of the Army. New gadgets are showcased, hands are shaken, and deals are made.

Looking out across the floor at the hundreds of booths is quite a sight. Some companies have simple, straightforward setups; some incorporate videos and mockups of their wares; and some have elaborate structures with multiple floors and spinning logos overhead. Attractive young women are peppered throughout, who illicit the attention of the mostly male passersby.

The carpeted, plush motif of the floor and the cordial nature of the business-suited corporate representatives are beguiling. The din and atmosphere could be of any convention, but the huge combat vehicles and weapons arrayed throughout the floor clues the wanderer in that the business conducted here is a bit more severe than peddling toothbrushes.

“Thank you for your service,” says a smiling man, holding out a business card. I’m told this practically at every booth I pass.

Active-duty patrons are to wear their uniforms at this convention. Several higher-ups wear their fancier threads. I and roommate Adrian are in our ACUs.

These merchants know our ranks, probably, only one or two ask if they can send information regarding their products to our unit. Most probably realize we’re just there to ogle at the fancy gadgets and pocket free pens and posters. We’re not the high-rollers, the movers, the flag officers. We won’t have the authority to allocate a few million in tax dollars to buy products. Still, we’re treated well. They know we’ll go back to our units and rave about the new armor or acoustical gunfire sensors.

“Thanks for what you do,” says another, standing by an M109 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer. “We’d like to invite you to an appreciation dinner, following the convention. It’s across the street.”

And we’re bribed with food and giveaways. Several of these parties rage after hours. I assume they serve as a forum for more intimate face time for the specific corporate hosts of the parties and the higher ups themselves.

Amid the catered food, the wine and endless stream of familiar “Didn’t I serve with you at such-and-such?” faces of military retirees, now corporate representatives, there is a lot of business to discuss. As for me and Adrian, we just grab food, nod and make small talk with the businessmen.

“Do you have a top-secret clearance?” one guy asks me.

“No, sir, just secret,” I say.

“Bah! I have four vacancies that need to be filled now! I would have taken you today.” Turns out he was a retired general, now a general manager for a firm.

This is what’s so freaky to me. There is a blurring of business and government. There is cross breeding between industry and the military. One feeds the other in an endless loop of conflict, innovation, invention, production and purchase. From a few of my “Didn’t I serve with you at…” contacts, I get the same reaction:

“The money is great! You should get out.”

I bet it is and, yes, I was planning on it.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of technological progress comes out of war. The individual gear we have now in the Army is much more holistic, protective, and compact than was the stuff we had 10 years ago—thanks to the constant fighting in this infinite War on Terror.

The high-tech bandages and other medical innovations are amazing! All of it is from the chit-chatting between parties at mechanisms like these conventions. It’s hard to poo-poo these sorts of meetings when enjoying the benefits of the innovations that result from them.

Still, I feel unease at the whole thing. War is dirty business. It’s so strange to see all the “toys” of armed conflict. It’s weird to watch all of the networking, casual demonstrations of lethal instruments and casual flirting between the attendees and attractive representatives.

###

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.

5 responses to “Merchants of death, featuring hot chicks”

  1. wilsonian says :

    I appreciate you telling us you’re uneasy.
    It brings me a little comfort in the midst of all the wackiness.

  2. BWJones says :

    Ah the old Military Industrial Complex. A concept that goes back to 1915 or somwhere thereabouts.

  3. Joshua says :

    Yeah it was an interesting thing to see.

    The documentary “Why We Fight” explores the development of the Military Industrial Complex. They credit the term to Eisenhower, given in his farewell speech to the nation during the Cold War.

  4. HG says :

    Thanks for the hint about “Why we fight”. Scary.

  5. FTM29 says :

    Ahhhh. Now you are beginning to understand Grasshopper. I have been on the other side of that fence for over 5 years and yes, it is lucrative. The problem is when they put one of the retired flag officers in charge of the business end and he decides to re-create the Army. The Army is not a money making machine, it is a money spending machine and these guys just do not understand how to A) Sell B) Retain key personnel (No Stop Loss here!) C) Build business out side the fields of expertise. They are very, very limited and when all their buddies retire too they have no more contacts and are of ZERO value anymore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: