A Chinese pickup truck

Apropos of nothing, here's a Chinese pickup truck

A few weeks ago, one of the guys from the commo shop at the camp command cell asked me: “what exactly does the brigade headquarters do?” I paused for a moment, then answered, “well, mostly we make work for the battalions.” It was a flippant answer but largely true; from top to bottom in the Army, the job of a given echelon is to tell the echelon below it what to do. It also encapsulates the attitude of any given echelon towards its superior one: “fuckin’ guys at battalion,” “fuckin’ guys at brigade,” “fuckin’ guys at division,” and so on.

Not everything we do at our level, though, is designed to make work for subordinates. Another large percentage of our job is devoted to what I’ve previously named “organizational fratricide,” in a seeming effort to make our jobs as difficult as possible. An example:

Every morning, we have the “shift change update brief,” or SCUB, where each major staff section updates the commander and the staff about the vital signs and operational highlights of the brigade for the day. (Note that in addition to the SCUB, there’s the SUB and the CUB. There might be a FLUB and a BUB and a GRUB out there somewhere, but I’m not sure.) This brief is only about ten minutes, and my little slice of it is to describe the overall communications status of the brigade. Part of this is reporting the number of radios and other commo equipment installed in vehicles.

Apparently, these numbers are derived from incredibly complex quadratic equations, because the numbers seem to be different every damn day and they’re subject to endless scrutiny and discussion. It seems simple enough to me: we need N radios, there are X radios installed in Y trucks, with Z extras on hand and W of them are broken. Simple, right? Wrong!

Who determines the “required” number? (The unit does. No it doesn’t! The S6 does. No it doesn’t! Operations does. …) Should we include a 15% “fudge factor” or not? How many are really “on-hand”? Do we report spares? (A shrewd battalion might not, to prevent those “fuckin’ guys at brigade” from pilfering their stocks.) These two battalions have the same mission – why are their numbers different? How do you know the unit is reporting the right numbers? They say this many are “installed” but are they really? Do the commo shop’s numbers match the number of trucks reported by the logistics shop?

I have been asked all of these questions and more during our morning fun-fests, questions that I’m ill-equipped to answer. My initial philosophy was to report the numbers that the units reported to us, but of course that was the wrong answer. They don’t know what they’re talking about! Those numbers are wrong! It became like some kind of tactical Sudoku – trying to massage the reports into a number that was acceptable to all parties. I think we finally have it ironed out (with little help from me – I tried to stay out of the way and avoid as much friendly fire as possible), but I could be wrong. The whole thing could change next week and the arguments could begin anew.

To paraphrase Meat Loaf, “there ain’t no MRAP hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”