Thursday, April 30, 2009

Then and Now: Contractors and Training

One of the big differences between the end-of-Viet Nam Army and today is Contractors. In the early 70s, soldiers scooped creamed chip beef on toast in the the Chow Hall serving line. That same soldier got up every day at 2 am to start cooking our high-calorie breakfast. Soldiers drove buses, dug field latrines, hauled ammo and did most other tasks, important and menial, in our every day lives.

Now contractors do many of these jobs. The intent, I suppose, is to allow the soldiers to concentrate on training, and to have more soldiers be warriors and fewer be cooks, clerks and drivers.

Which sounds good, but as someone who has been both a consultant and a corporate manager, I can tell you the world is a different place when you are paid by the hour (contractor)and when you are on salary (soldier). Soldier time is a fixed cost. If we wait three hours, the budget does not change. Contractors get paid overtime if things run late. Everyone in every part of government is worried about costs, so soldiers now know that training begins and ends when depending on the bus schedule.

In the 70s Army if we went to a training area and screwed up something, the soldiers who drove the buses waited till we were done re-running the course for a couple of hours. On our recent convoy training the big former infantryman who conducted our training said if we did not complete the exercise to his satisfaction we would do it again till we got it right. We (and he) all knew he was full of crap. No matter how badly we did, the buses were scheduled to arrive at 2pm on the last day of training. (Actually, we did very well so he got to leave early.) And his shift ended at noon that day. So the contractor was not paid past noon and the civilian drivers would have to be paid extra if they waited for us (NOT vice versa). So he could bluster, but at noon on the last day, he was gone. The buses arrived at 4pm, which was OK because a few hundred soldiers waiting out in the desert is OK--no additional cost when soldiers wait for the bus.

Fighting the War on Terror, One Latte at a Time


OUR STARBUCKS LOOKS LIKE THIS ONE--EXCEPT FOR THE SAND WALLS IN FRONT OF IT AND BLAST BARRIERS ON THE SIDES AND REAR

Now that we are back on base, at least for now, I am back at my favorite place in this sand-covered, blast-wall enclosed corner of the Kuwait desert: Starbucks!! Yes, there is a Starbucks here. More importantly, it is within site of our tent and it is one of the designated Hot Spots that dot the base. We buy Internet service for $12 per week from a local guy who also sells cell phones. But the access card is no gaurantee of service, so the wireless nomads like me move around the base looking for a good signal. Starbucks is one of the best and therefore very crowded nearly 24/7. I get up at 4am to come here and call home on Skype when there is enough bandwidth. At 4am, the place is at least half full. By 6am the 70-odd chairs are full and the good floor spots near the power outlets are filling up.

It really looks like Starbucks too, pine furniture, proper color scheme, snacks next to the register. The drink menu is in English and Arabic which is different than my local Starbucks. The prices are 20% higher than US Starbucks so a Venti latte is $5.

The other difference from the Starbucks at Stone Mill Plaza in Lancaster PA is that all the patrons carry automatic weapons. Whether we are wearing ACU camouflage or PT uniform, we bring our weapons everywhere so almost every table and chair has a rifle or machine gun underneath it. After a couple of days, I got used to M4s and M16s. One day a group of SAW gunners came in to use the internet. I don't know why, but it seemed slightly stranger to see M249 machine guns under tables and chairs than the usual automatic rifles.

Also, Starbucks in Lancaster operates without 6-foot thick sand walls in front and 5-foot high concrete barriers in the back.

A VERY POPULAR FASHION ACCESORY AT OUR STARBUCKS

So for the time being I am fighting the War on Terror, One Latte at a time.