Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Blues Clues

What in the world is setting everybody off lately? One soldier here said he believes it’s the holiday season.

Last week I had to break up a would-be physical confrontation between two grown men, both commissioned officers. I had seen plenty of fights-in-progress during my police encounters. One of the guy’s lips was literarily quivering—an involuntary physiological reaction that I’m sure would have been followed up by a punch. Hence, I tried to be the peacemaker, even though he out-ranked me. The day before that, a private slugged a sergeant. Thankfully, they took his weapon and ammo away. Another private who was there told me he thought the sergeant deserved it because of his cruel mouth and abuse of authority. He called the private’s wife a bad name before the Ultimate Fighting Championship began.

This morning there was all kinds of grumpiness and flustered attitudes. A couple of NCOs started ranting and raving. Perhaps they needed to vent; it would have been better somewhere other than right near me, though. Did I ever mention that I enjoy the quiet peacefulness of morning time?

The big boss, an introverted guy who does better with gismos and gadgets than he does people, came to me in the midst of all the commotion. He must have been mad at someone or something and decided to let everyone (me and everyone within a mile) know about it. “Fix it!” he demanded. The phrase has become his mantra, and everyone including him knows it. What he fails to see, however, is that when he prefers quibbling demands to explaining himself better or allowing others to speak or negotiate, nothing gets accomplished as well as it could be—it just adds more confusion.

When the two NCOs began speaking louder and louder a high-strung, loquacious field grade officer got defensive and decided to add his two cents. Instead of putting out the fire, he stoked it even higher. I just kept on working. An ipod would have been nice.

So what is it? The food? The IED attacks earlier this week? The op-tempo? The Christmas packages and holiday decorations here and there? No, none of those—not per se. But here’s a clue:

We’ve been under constant stress and nearly torturous work loads for six months or so. The first several months were terrible. In retrospect, I heard one very senior officer say today that if he would have had his 20-year retirement letter, he would have told that rotten colonel who ‘trained’ us (think ‘boot camp’ times a prison sentence…in Algeria!) to go pound sand…or something a little more explicitly colorful.

Once we made it here to the desert and before, the command climate wasn’t necessarily all that terrific. Let’s face it: there are some people who are easier to work with in any organization, to include the Army, and others who are, well, better fit for submarine duty. Sorry Navy, but you can have them!

So, what’s the clue? you say. I’m getting to that.

The contention, power trips, snapping, backbiting, and cruel remarks have stayed constant. The lack of cooperation, compliments, kindness or praise has weakened morale. Not to mention the egos, obvious nonsensical command decisions (i.e. when EVERYONE but the boss thinks things ought to be run differently), and lack of even a little time off, let alone ONE single day off…

Well, you get the idea. Imagine literally living a few feet from your office and living with your boss and co-workers ALL YEAR?! I guess we all need a break. Fortunately, the Army allows for trips home occasionally.

In sum, I don’t think it’s the holiday blues.

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