Thursday, July 17, 2008

D-203: Sea Stories, Flashback

“Please tell me you might become a columnist when you get out. I've never thought of myself as a web geek, and I was quite convinced that I would go my whole life without actually reading a blog on a regular basis (it just seems like I ought to have something better to do with my life), but you're damn good at this crap and now I'm a regular. Of course, if you got out of the Navy and weren't in Iraq, on the Ike or dealing with hinges, I could see you quickly running out of material. On second thought, you'll have to take a job that you hate, surround yourself with retards, and then write it on the side. The story about the trucks in the garage and the shit flavored flashlight had me laughing out loud. Stay safe out there.”

Above is an e-mail I received today from an old squadron-mate; he offered some encouragement but also brought up an interesting point. What I may have in story-telling ability, I likely lack in imagination, and without standing witness to some of the most breathtaking acts of retardation that man is capable of, I stand to run out of material rather quickly; a point that is poignantly driven home on days like today, when nobody has needlessly smashed up a HMMWV and I did not interact with any Iraqi Police (or put any of their soiled objects in my mouth) – I have nothing good to write about.

However, the “hinges” referred to in my friends’ message is actually a very specific hinge (hinge is unflattering lingo for a Lieutenant-Commander Department Head, who are generally hated by all), whose name I have removed for the sake of anonymity. So rather than leave you all empty-handed, I am going to attempt to conjure up a story from my last deployment. A heart-breaking tale of a talented young Lieutenant who is forced to work for a man so unmatched in stupidity, that I wouldn’t trust him to drive a HMMWV into a garage, let alone head the Operations Department of sea-going squadron of naval aircraft… in a war.

Hinge, as we’ll call him for the sake of the narrative, was an extremely bizarre man of average height, about 90-100 lbs, who was given to making “motivational” speeches which usually consisted of absurd metaphors to tennis or skiing. In fact, he loved tennis so much, that he painted his “vintage,” tricked-out Volkswagen Beetle to look like a tennis ball. In fairness, it was a tennis ball with flames coming off it, perhaps to give the impression that hinge is “bringing the heat” (in fact, that may be something he actually said). As if owning a VW Bug that you considered either “vintage” or “tricked-out” isn’t a big enough embarrassment; paint the thing to look like something that a mentally challenged, tennis-loving third-grader might draw in his notebook.

He was the sort of 90 pound man, that mistook his protruding rib cage for rippling muscle, and made a habit of challenging people to ridiculous competitions that could never possibly take place such as “one-on-one soccer,” and would be very noticeably butt-hurt if he was beaten in a game of Foosball or Ping-Pong, but would later fail to recall such a defeat ever took place. In short, he was the world’s biggest douchebag; and likely he still is.

My first day in the squadron fell on the first day of Airwing Fallon, an exercise in Nevada that is one of the last major sacraments in human misery before deploying. Hinge took it upon himself to get us all “pumped up” for the trials ahead, and what would pump us up more than some inspiring words from the fearless OPSO? Well, he delivered the goods:

“It’s like we were on the bunny slope, but that was way back, and it seems like that was a long time ago. And we’ve learned… like, a lot. Then we went forward, moved on, to bigger hills, and we did great! But this, this is the Black Diamond, that’s like the hardest hill on the mountain for those of you non-skiers… we’re getting ready to go down the black diamond and we’re pumped, you know, we’re all pumped up to go down, but we have to remember. We have to remember how to use our poles, and how to stop, and how to land those jumps, if you’re like me and you like the jumps, we have to remember that stuff, the stuff we learned waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back, back on the bunny slopes!”

That was a few years back, but I swear to god that this speech is practically verbatim; it was as hard to write as it was to listen to that first time.

Fast forward a few months, and we are in our third month of deployment. We haven’t had a port in a couple of months, we have been flying the same tedious, brain-melting 5.5 hour flight into Afghanistan for 60 consecutive days, we have eaten a Spam sandwich on stale bread on every single one of those flights, and tempers are short; especially for the SDO. The SDO is the Squadron Duty Officer, doomed to stand behind a desk for somewhere between 18 and 24 hours, being harassed by everyone from CAG to the Maintenance Master Chief, and even sometimes, unforgivably by fellow JOs. He fields a constant barrage of questions that would require psychic power to possibly have an answer to.

CAG: “Where is the Skipper?”

SDO: (How the fuck should I know?) I’ll find out sir.

AirBoss: “What is up with 602?”

SDO: (You’re the one with the fucking radio.) I’ll find out sir.

XO: “Why is the Ready Room such a mess?”

SDO: (Are you referring to that one empty soda can?) I’ll clean up sir.

JO: “This coffee sucks!”

SDO: (Get Fucked!) Get Fucked!

The SDO is also the personal secretary for every hinge, the phone-answerer, message taker, maintenance tracker, and finally, report maker. There is one specific report, known as the Air Ops Summary that needs to be turned in to CAG OPS upon the completion of the days’ flight schedule. It is an extremely simple document that would be a challenge to fuck up, even for a retarded monkey. Sadly, I know one such retarded monkey; worse yet, he is the one who needs to sign this document before I can go to bed.

Inexplicably, one day Hinge walks up to me at the SDO desk, and tells me that if any portion of a flight is at night, then we will count that entire flight as “night hours.” He attempts to show me what qualifies as “night,” as if I am somehow unfamiliar with the concept of day and night. I hate this man.

I politely informed him that what he was proposing was, quote; “the dumbest thing I have ever heard.” Day hours and night hours are clearly delineated on the yellow-sheet, and will be entered as such in the pilots’ log books, so why would we report them any other way?

Well, he was clearly hurt at having his authority challenged, and snapped back at me “because that’s the way CAG OPS wants it.” I offered him the correct explanation; if a flight lands at night, it is a night “sortie,” but the pilots’ day and night hours are still clearly separate. He wasn’t interested, and I wasn’t interested in standing there and looking at his dumb face any longer, so I said “Fine, it’s wrong, but you’re the fucking OPSO, so if you want it fucked up, I’ll turn it in fucked up.” His facial expression told me that he did not particularly appreciate my tone. Fuck him.

Fast forward four days. I have somehow managed to pull SDO twice in one week, I just finished a brutal day, and I am in quite possibly the worst mood I have ever been in (no exaggeration). The flight schedule is finally complete, now just one more thing before I can escape this hell and go to my rack, I need to turn in an Air Ops Summary. I fill the page out according to the new “fucked up” policy that Hinge emplaced just four days ago. He comes in to sign it, looks it over, turns to me and in his “fatherly leader” tone, says:

“Hey, look, if the flight is at night, it’s a night sortie, but you still have to separate the day and night hours.

I look at him for a minute, I am trying to tell if he is fucking with me; he is not. I am dumb-founded. I should just let it go…

“Are you fucking kidding me? I told you that FOUR DAYS AGO! And you told me to do it like this!” I screamed.

“I never said that.”

(I hate you, I want you to die) “Fine, I’ll change it back. “ It takes literally, 4 seconds, to correct it. The document is on an excel spread sheet. The mathematical function in question: addition.

“Are you sure you added that right?” He has a puzzled expression on his face; he is more chimp-like than ever.

“Yes, it’s an excel spread sheet, look at the formula bar, excel is not wrong.” It is clear he is not impressed by fancy, unfamiliar words like “excel” and “formula bar.” I have no idea how to react, I have reasoned, I have gotten angry, I must either give stoic, short, correct responses, or kill this man, all other options have been exhausted.

He picks up the stack of yellow-sheets, turns one of them over, and begins doing the arithmetic in pencil. I stand in silence, even as he turns the page over and back multiple times, apparently unable to remember for even one second what number he had read off the other side. He performs the math, which consists of four single digit numbers out to one decimal point – ADDED TOGETHER!”

Naturally, he gets the answer wrong. In fact, while watching him add, I immediately identified the number he forgets to carry – an essential step in the addition process.

Between my excel spreadsheet, and his illegible chicken scratch in pencil, which do you suppose Hinge thought was correct? I bet you guessed it.

“Are you sure, that’s right? Can you add it again?”

“I can’t add it again, all the numbers are right there (pointing to the formula bar), they are all correct, the only way to add them again would be to change one of them to a wrong number.”

He gives me a confused look and tilts his head slightly to one side as if to say; “what do you mean? You can always do something again.”

I point to his paper, “you forgot to carry this 1, try it again.”

He stares at the page for 10 seconds or so, laughs in a way that makes me want to grab his throat, and says, “Oops, you’re right. Okay, so you’re clear on the day/night thing now.”

I go to bed and cry myself to sleep, wondering how the decisions I made in my life led me to a place where I work for a man this stupid.

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