Sunday, July 24, 2011

Plus ça change...

The Public Affairs shop is now staffed by two Lieutenants who look nothing alike but whom everyone, including their subordinates, confuses. Aside from the shared traits of Caucasianness and a thin, athletic build, they don't have much in common, but since they're (apparently) identical and inseparable, I've taken to thinking of them as the Public Affairs Wondertwins.

The Public Affairs Officer is Lieutenant Backcountry, a blond Air Force officer ("Air Power!") who subscribes to Bow Hunter magazine and pines for the woods of southern Illinois; his Information Ops (the military equivalent of a propaganda officer) counterpart is Lieutenant Slick, a rakish and brash Navy officer from Texas, with tattooed biceps ("INTEGRITY" and "LOYALTY"), bizarrely excellent posture and a penchant for undersized t-shirts. Backcountry is married; Slick has taken up the mantle of PRT Ladies' Man.

(We had a high-ranking USAID officer visit last week, and I prepped the PRT in advance that she controls a huge budget, and that if we wooed her appropriately, it could net additional funds for the Province. "Well," said XO. "If there's any wooing to be done, we'll need to get Lieutenant Slick on board").

The final member of the Office is Senior Airman BONZAI!!!, who fills the role of Combat Camera and who is desperate -- desperate -- to be catapulted into active combat so she can take pictures. In advance of recent combat operations in an unstable district northeast of the city -- an event that basically made me want to hide under my bed -- she begged to be loaned to the maneuver unit so she could tag along to war. She's a champion.

Anyhow, Slick gets called BackCountry and BackCountry gets called Slick, and it infuriates the both of them. I don't find it hard to keep them apart -- their names are written on their clothing -- but everyone else screws it up all the time. Noting the fury it inspires, I (engaged in a conversation with Backcountry during which I declared him dead to me), conscientiously called him Slick, just to watch the fireworks. Slick, having none of it, reached down to gravel at his feet, picked up the crumpled carcass of a long-discarded water bottle and hurled it at me, likely expecting me to catch it or duck. But I, out of either a misguided sense of bravado or an utter lack of reflexes, held my position unblinkingly and was subsequently clubbed just above the right eye. BONZAI!!! documented the blood gushing out of my face ("Do I look rugged?" I asked) while Slick sheepishly searched for band-aids and a baby wipe to clean me up a bit.

Which is to say: the new team is awesome.

Apparently Friendly Fire disqualifies you for the Purple Heart.

I had been dreading the departure of Killjoy and Company, but nine months on the ground in Afghanistan had long since driven out any sense of optimism they'd had upon arrival, and the base -- somewhat unbeknownst to me -- was redolent with their long-accrued lethargy. They continued to drive away on programs but everyone was tired, worn out from the grind of it all. The new team, by contrast, hit the ground brimming with an unbridled enthusiasm, and it's good to have them here.

USAID was horrified when I told her that the new team seemed to have reenergized things; "you're a traitor," she hissed.

(USAID later sent me a flurry of text messages expressing discontent that she remained nicknameless and demanding that I refer to her as "Princess," which is what I call her -- preceded by a long and sarcastic "awwwwww" -- when I feel she's being whiny. The first time she brought it up, I immediately responded, "Awwwwww, Princess, are you upset that you don't have a nickname?" I don't know why it never occurred to me previously to use it).

The new team is awesome, but the adjustment period has nonetheless been somewhat protracted; the corporate culture of the new team puts a heavy emphasis on internal paperwork, and things that used to be effortless have now become onerous. Operations, previously led by the laid-back and unflappable Captain Tomcat, has been taken over by Major ByTheBook, a straight-laced and severe Army officer who runs Ops with an iron fist, brooks no foolishness in official settings, and studs his speech with a constant stream of unexpected hooahs.

("He hooah'ed me in the bathroom," Lieutenant BackCountry said. "Wait, that sounds horrible -- that's not what I meant").

Team Civilian gave the new PRT a "capabilities brief" to try to get them up to speed what we do and what value we can add to the PRT, and Major ByTheBook has asked if we needed the military to set up the room in any way beforehand. "Actually, yeah," I said. "If we could get some streamers or like a balloon arch or something, that would be great. Oh, and maybe some Christmas lights -- and actually, if there's any way everything could get hooked up to The Clapper, that would be…" ByTheBook stared at me icily, unblinking. "I, uh, I'm kidding," I said. "No, uh, thanks though, we don't, uh, need anything for the room."

"Wow," said Dr. Death, the new PRT's physician, catching my eye from across the table, "That went poorly!"

(Dr. Death replaced Commander Quixote as the PRT's Doc. He named himself, having ordered camouflage "Dr. Death" name tapes to supplement the bland, navy-issued name tapes that use his actual name).

The mission schedule, previously referred to by the plain English term "calendar," has now become an "operations matrix," and the upkeep and maintenance thereof is the cause of considerable consternation. Getting a mission off base, which previously required swinging by Ops and asking if it was possible, now requires filling out a Movement Request Form and waiting for official approval, a process that takes between twenty four and forty eight hours. "I haven't done this much paperwork since the last time I had to fill out an insurance claim," I whispered during the first Operations Sync meeting to Senior Chief Yarnspin, the new team's gregarious, story-telling Senior Enlisted Advisor; "I feel like I'm at the DMV."

Changes to scheduled missions are not taken lightly. Princess ducked into my office in advance of going to ops, whom she had to inform of a change in destinations for a complex mission that had already seen several changes. "Do you think I need to wear my helmet?" she asked.

But the initial culture shock notwithstanding, I have overall found the new team pleasant and easy to work with. Killjoy has been replaced with Commander Bangbang, who adores guns and speaks in loving and reverent tones of the crew-served weapons mounted on top of our vehicles. "The Mark-19?" he said of the belt-fed grenade launcher on top of our truck one day. "It makes it rain metal. It's awesome." I make fun of him for having the eating habits of a fourth grader: he hoards candy, abhors vegetables and thoroughly enjoys a good chicken nugget.

I am genuinely sad to be leaving.


Dakota said...

I was expecting fallout from this post from the old team, and SURE ENOUGH, I got an email from Commander Killjoy a scant four hours after posting.

"I just caught up on your blog," he wrote. "It seems your ability to adapt your affections for those around you rivals that of a hungry dog or a well seasoned member of the professional love industry. I will be sure to positively reinforce [Princess]'s commitment to the "old team." There is something to be said for loyalty and commitment."

Dakota said...

The new team is awesome, but yes, that email did indeed make me miss the old team fiercely. Briefly, at least.

Donna said...

This is funny on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin. I just keep re-reading it for laughs.

Here's hoping Killjoy can't revoke your warrior of the month award. I still miss him, even if you don't. "Professional love industry" - please tell me he has a blog somewhere, too? If not, tell him he needs to start a spinoff.

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