This post is a bit out-of-order with the rest since my last post only just had me arriving in Dubai, but it had to be shared close to the event depicted. On Saturday, the District Commander visited our area of operations. He and a few others flew in to attend Camp Stone's Change of Command the next day. Colonel Quarles himself is only about three weeks away from surrendering command of the District as the District disappears.
From the time I first began to hear of the work of the office I heard good things. Consistently outperforming expectations, beating deadlines, and delivering good products for our customers. Part skill, part good management, part luck, my arrival in one of the (relatively speaking) safest place to be in Afghanistan was more of the same. Perhaps more of the latter, but more of the same. I have inherited a great team, a great office, and people who are get the job done.
The more I heard about the office, the more I began to get fear that once I got on board I could be the apple that upsets the cart. It took getting here to finally end some of those fears. This is where Serendipity, my constant traveling companion and pilot, again began to rear her gorgeous head.
One of my biggest fears, even before hearing anything about the security, working conditions, or success of the Herat Area Office, was in working closely with an officer. Yes, those that know my thinking know that one of the reasons I wanted to come was the chance to again be a part of the camaraderie that is working with (and in) the military. While I served 6 years and probably wouldn't have been able to stay medically much longer, had I been able to I would have hit retirement eligibility 18 months ago. More than likely I would have been able to remedy my one failed attempt at Officer Candidate School acceptance which itself was a remedy to having turned down both the low-hanging fruit of newly announce Senatorial Candidate vice Representative Trent Lott's invitation to "call my secretary Monday morning, we're always looking for candidates for West Point" and my intensive effort but just as dismissed Army ROTC Scholarship, Said scholarship turned down with the reasoning of "I'll never be in the military." Also, since a peer that was the same rank as I when I got out is presently a Command Sergeant Major, so if I hadn't joined the Dark Side, I would have been pretty high in the pecking order of the Working Side of the Army. Not to mention of course that I would have slightly fewer years than those I am serving here with now, like 5 years less than the previously mentioned Colonel.
Having said all that, the idea of working with an officer is inherently frightening. Horror story after horror store abound in the Federal Civil Service world about a gung-ho Major looking out for himself wrecking the lengthy career of a civilian to advance his own career. However, my first conversation with fellow Alabaman Lieutenant Colonel Stogner washed aside all of those concerns with undue haste. His very first sentence eased my mind that he had his area of concern and I had mine. His job is to keep me fat and happy (my description, not his). His bubble of the mission is to provide a security bubble around my bubble of the mission allowing me to concentrate on the engineering and contract aspects and not worrying about being attacked. The issue of wearing flame-retardant uniforms beneath my individual body armor and a Kevlar helmet instead of a hard hat not withstanding.
After that, things got downright chummy as I discovered that I share many similar traits with the previous job holder meaning that the two of us will form an easy extension of the effective team in place before I arrived. Though one other thing set me back a bit, he told me that he works for me.
Now, I've had jobs where I had people older than me, people who outranked me, people who were ready to retire, and people who ended up retiring just because I made them work. So on the surface, his statement was not something that was unheard of in my career. Yet the concept of an O-5 being on my staff was a bit off-putting. My job level is considered equivalent of an O-4 or O-5 and with the experience I have both in leadership and engineering from before my employment with the Corps I lean towards the O-5 equivalency. Maybe it's just pride, but I can back it up with justification so just go with me here. It also helps that while I was hired at one level, Resident Engineer, I am replacing an Area Engineer getting that title until such time as the District stands down because there are two Resident Engineers on my staff.
That evening, my first in Herat, I walked around the compounds. Both the compound with the majority of our living quarters that also houses our day room, gymnasium building, volleyball court, observation tower and parking lot for our up-armored SUV security teams, and the main office compound where we have three "office" buildings, a secondary stand alone conference room, pavilion with terra-cotta tiles for a floor (where some work out with the weights, others enjoy the outdoor eating area, but I just show up for the weekly cigar smoking club), our security bunker, more vehicles available for transporting around the post, and the recently added (deadlined) MRAP Vehicles. Short story long, I felt a sense of being in charge of a great responsibility.
Back to Saturday, remember Saturday? This is a post about Saturday. We planned a barbecue for some soon to depart teammates. I say we, it was a done deal before I arrived. The Colonel's arrival was lagniappe. For two days I made jokes about how I needed his visit to not interfere with the barbecue. Just before his arrival he emailed (along with several others) a taunting trash talking note which quoted Sun Tzu about a planned Spades match. I took the opportunity to win the battle before I took the field (the point of his quote) and commented that the email appeared to concern my desire for his visit to not foul up our event.
My trash talk ended up getting me involved in the card game, which I of course further provoked but there was a matter of work before play still. There was a site visit planned for some buildings on the adjacent camp we have built for the Afghanistan Army with some issues. As we walked the buildings explaining to the Boss what was left to do and how to get it done he commented that we appeared to be in shape to accomplish the tasks before our sister area office in Helmand. Still in trash-talk mode I replied, "It's the Herat Standard, Sir." With a quick glance at me, the Colonel stopped, bent down to set what he had in his hands on the floor, assumed the front lean and rest position, and began not only knocking them out, but counting, "One, Sir! Two, Sir!"
I have now had an O-6 giving me corrective push ups. Put quite simply: I. Have. Arrived.