Postcards from Tradocia

Gears of War

After two weeks together, the company is just starting to wear in. Like the parts of a machine, groups of people need time to break in before operating at full efficiency; each person and group has different threads and teeth and splines and ratios and hardnesses, all of which must be reconciled if the group is to work together. Some are composed of materials too hard, or have broken parts, or are too worn down, and thus will never align with others, reducing the effectiveness of the whole.

In the Army, assembling a team is often like putting an engine together using spare parts picked randomly from a mixed bin while blindfolded. You don’t always get to choose your people, so you just take a look and hope you got good ones. The idea of the military system is that, ideally, everyone is as close to a baseline spec as possible, so that you’ll be putting your engine together with parts from a single blueprint, instead of some from a Nissan V6 and others from a Cummins turbo diesel and others from a leaf-blower. This works about as well as can be expected, but it doesn’t account for differences in personality, which seem to account for most of team problems.

Team S6 is coming along well, since by blind luck (remember, blindfolded parts-picking) we ended up with a compatible team. Our integration with the rest of the staff, though, is not going so well. Already we’re falling into the old computer guy trap of responding to immediate requests as they come in, rather than prioritizing and directing traffic, which is turning our operation into a dog’s breakfast of scribbled notes, hastily-made spreadsheets (fucking spreadsheets!) and terse e-mails. Hopefully, this will just be a temporary phase during annual training, so that when we arrive at the mobilization site, we can reboot our operation in a more structured mode.

We’re also suffering from the “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” problem, being rank heavy. We have a captain, a warrant officer, an E-7 (soon E-8), an E-6 (soon E-7), another E-6, and two E-5s. Sergeants and officers all, we’re all used to giving orders and getting things done, which makes for a lot of crossed paths.

My dad always says that alcohol is a “social lubricant,” and we applied some of that last night, since the first sergeant surprisingly “lit the lamp,” as they say, and allowed us to drink – two drink maximum! We drank while playing a couple of rousing games of Three-Dragon Ante, and while Borg barfed during the night (he blamed it on the canned oysters), we enjoyed ourselves, breaking in the team and looking ahead to the next year together.


  1. cindy hoppe

    What a celebrity! This is the link to the StarTribune interview with Alex after the National Guard deployment ceremony. Perhaps they asked someone to point out the most well-spoken soldier in the Red Bulls. (My Dad and I were just discussing yesterday how in bad weather news reports reporters are always able to find someone that has no grasp of the English language.) Good luck Alex.

  2. The Pontiff

    My grandma sent me the link as well and said “Isn’t this your friend Barnes that you deployed with?” I was not surprised at all to see you being quoted in the old west side fishwrap (aka Strib), but I did smile to myself. Classic really, and quite suiting that they should happen upon you for the commentary. Coincidentally, MAJ Auge wrote a Letter of Recommendation for my Aviation Selection Board back in December. She was my OIC back when I was on ADSW prior to our deployment, but back then it was 1LT Auge. Good stuff.

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