Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The road less traveled part 2

It was General DeChastelaine who was attending a parade over in Europe that got pissed off by not being able to count the belt buckles on his soldiers. To be fair, these were pot bellied pasty faced highly experienced radar watchers, not flat bellied steel eyed French soldiers serving out their conscripted tour before going into University, but they looked bloody arful and by extension, made him look bad, no doubt his fellow NATO generals were giggling behind his back. And these same slack bellied geeks were still beating the pants off every other nation in military exercise after military exercise because, well, experience counts. We had just had force reduction after force reduction, and there was zero deadwood left to trim! A decade of getting rid of the lower scoring 25% of the force had resulted in a large number of very experienced, very competent, highly trained old guys who didn't really do PT any more, thank you. But we could fix those radar units and aircraft better and faster than anybody else.
The usual physical fitness test was yearly, and it involved running a mile and half in under 12 minutes. That was about it. Yup. Since we only did the tests once a year, it was unsurprising that people were keeling over from the sudden stress.
So enter the BMI tests. That means "Body Mass Index", and they test 5 rolls of fat all around your body, add your height, and take the square root of the added up total to come up with the BMI. Honestly I don't think I could come up with anything better....but it is a truism that BMI is not applicable when a group of athletes is being tested. The error is that General DeC. wanted to make us all into athletes. Ten years later, the results are in. The BMI system is pretty much discredited since not ALL of the techies being subjected to compulsory PT were slack asses....many of them WERE athletes. If running 5 miles a day makes me an athlete, then I flatter myself that I was one. And I never once passed my BMI.

The compulsory PT was kind of neat....the usual suspects would show up, run around the gym for awhile, wait for the bored supervisor to go into his office, and they would duck out the door to have a smoke. At one point, I was the only one running in a gym which had about fourteen people only a few moments before. They thought they were unobserved...ha!. I just ran. And ran. And ran. Then I would hit the gym, lift weights for a couple of hours, then shower, chow down, and show up for a full days work. The slack asses of course were slack asses on their jobs, and they got cycled out in the normal course of events in any case. Though I do have to admit to learning a valuable lesson from those slackers....the guy who never does anything never does anything wrong! Its hard to get rid of a guy who never does anything wrong!

I got my first BMI test in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, and when my promotion came through, my Warrant Officer had to have a letter from my physician that I was losing weight. And was likely to continue to lose weight. His phone call that morning was priceless since he called me really early, told me not to eat breakfast, nor drink any coffee. That if possible I was to have a really good sxxx because they would be weighing me that morning. The weight was the lowest I had ever had, and they gave me my rather overdue promotion to Master Corporal....a rank equivalent to tech sergeant, and in my opinion a very big deal. In civilian life, that would be considered foreman, or straw boss.

Upon the closing down of Summerside Base, I was transferred to Ottawa, where I seemed to hit it off badly with every single supervisor, and this led to the incident I outlined in the first part. And by request, here is the rest of the story. Its not pretty. And there are no winners. There may be lessons though, so it is worth writing it all down.

I will make a statement that seems very strange, but I have plenty of reason to back it up...and that is it seems the only real way a newly minted Sergeant or for that matter, a Master Corporal can get ahead is to prove that they are ruthless enough to destroy some body's career. The rungs of their ladder of success is made up of the careers of people they have destroyed on the way up. Somebody likened it to the "Eye of Sauron" which you avoid at all costs, and then when it focuses on you, you feel like an ant in the focus of a burning glass. The BMI program just gave these people another weapon they can use for their nefarious purposes. Oh, I am sure that this doesn't REALLY happen...but it is a solid bet that if you treat every situation that comes up as an eye of Sauron situation, you will be okay. Rather like defensive know...where will I drive to if that guy coming up the road suddenly swerves into my path, that sort of thing. In this case, I found it helpful to write down every single order in my notebook and my response to it because I had discovered the hard way that the guy giving the order really WAS out to get me!
And the spin they can put on it! I had a Sergeant come up to me one time and tell me "You know you have to electrically ground the airplanes." I was in the process of doing just that, even to holding a grounding cable in my hand, and it was such an odd thing that I made a note of it. Some three months later, that same sergeant was referring to her notes and among other things, stated "On the 23rd of June, had to be told to ground the airplanes". Another time, she said "You know, you need 6 people on a tow crew." I looked out at my crew, counted a full six plus one extra I had just called up to help manoeuvre this big plane around some equipment. Again, I made a note of it and the names of the crew, and sure enough, it came out later "Master Corporal needed to be told the correct number of people to tow an aircraft safely". I had to refer to my notes to be able to refute those absurd statements, but without my notebook, I would have been sunk!
And its a darned good thing that I photocopied that notebook. I had to turn it over a dozen times, never to be seen again! As was the medical report that said my BMI was just fine for the athlete I clearly was. That report was supposed to be on my record, but every year when I was called in to review my record, I had to re-insert a copy of that deferment because it had somehow gone missing!
That summer, every single Master Corporal ended up on charge, heels together, hat under the arm. Not a court martial, but a lesser drum head trial called a "summary trial". Including me. And even now, years later, I still contend that another fellow did me in and wasn't man enough to admit it. My notebook was unaccountably silent for the time in question. Just rushing that day, didn't bother to write it all down. avoid the Eye for two years was pretty good!

I can't say I enjoyed those four years, but it was the most intense four years of my life. The game was clearly laid out, and I was playing it pretty well. And from what I can tell from people who are still in, that the game is still being played much the same way, with much the same results. I am still not sure what I did to piss off so many people, but I THINK it was because I was always the loose cannon...the one they barely had control over. I don't have any hatred for those people...they just picked on the wrong guy, and I generally played better than they did....though sooner or later, you come to the proverbial "horse which never bin rode"*. They only have to win have to win every time.
I guess the only thing that kept me going during that time was the old story about the Tsar and the Cossack. Seems the Cossack had been caught stealing the Tsar's horses and the Tsar sentenced him to death. "Wait, your majesty, wait....there is something you should know!" What is that? asked the Tsar. "If you spare my life, your majesty, although I have no treasure to give you, I can do one thing....and that is, I can teach your horse to talk". I see by the look on your face that you don't believe me! Well, you know, we Cossacks have a way with horses, and if you spare me for a year, I can teach your horse to talk!" Truly! Well, the Tsar spared the wiley cossack for a year, and forced him to live in the stables to spend every day teaching his horse how to talk. The stablehand saw him doing that, day after day, and scoffed "You can't teach a horse to talk!" The cossack answered...well maybe...but you see, I have bought myself a year. A lot can happen in a year. I might die, or the Tsar might die. Or maybe, just maybe...the horse will talk."

*(old cowboy quote..."aint never been a horse that never bin rode, aint never bin a rider that never bin throwed")


cv said...

Wow Bill, that is absolutely insane.

STAG said...

I doubted my sanity many times during this time....

However this is nothing special...I am sure that most workplaces have much the same sort of dynamic.

I just learned to handle myself in the pressure cooker. Mostly.

cv said...

I have had many insane jobs, and some that truly tested my sanity. The worst was probably the investment bank.

I hated just about every day there.
Sold everything and nearly bankrupted ourselves to leave, and moved across the country to a place with no job to start over.

Leaving there was the best decision I ever made.

Ovonia Red said...

Wow. Now I know what I was doing wrong in the military. But even though I never started writing everything down (which I apparently ought to have), I to this day have a habit of writing down important things people tell me AND making them sign. (Also of making people sign for paperwork I give them). Military paranoia dies hard, apparently.