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The Desert Can Play Tricks On An Otherwise Sound Mind

, , , , , , | Working | March 4, 2023

I am a network engineer working on an Air Force base. I am not an NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) or an officer; I am a contractor from an outside company. My assignment is to write new access control lists and do a bunch of other tasks to about 200 network switches to make sure they are in compliance with certain rules. It’s tens of thousands of changes overall, and I have been putting in a lot of (paid) overtime to try and get it done sooner.

It’s early in the day when one of the senior Airmen comes over to talk to me.

Senior Airman: “We have an outage over at [Site], and I’ve been asked to take you there in case any of the changes you made caused it to go down.”

I get the IP address from him and type it into my terminal. It does not come up in my session history, so that means it is the first time I have ever used this IP address. I attempt to access it and the connection fails, showing that the IP address is not found on the network.

Me: “I don’t have a session for that node saved in [Application]. It does not look like I made any changes to it.”

Senior Airman: “They still want you to go with me to check it out.”

So, I pack up my laptop and brave the heat of the Nevada desert in June, and he drives me out to a remote part of the base. This location is used to store missiles, so it is not someplace that even my senior Airman companion can enter unescorted. We have to wait for someone to drive us up and walk us into the affected area.

When I get there, I find that there are a number of small buildings, each with their own computer stations, printers, phones, etc. Only one of those buildings is affected by the outage, and no critical or security systems are down. All it means is that the handful of people there have to walk next door to get on the network or make a phone call. It’s annoying, sure, but not a critical issue.

When the Airman and I get to where the switch is, we immediately see the problem. There are no lights at all from the switch, and it is plugged directly into the wall! You never plug enterprise-class networking equipment directly into power outlets without something to insulate it from power surges.

Senior Airman: “Uh… where’s the uninterruptable power supply?”

I trace the power cables to confirm.

Me: “Why is your switch directly connected to your power outlets?”

The recruit who was left with us has no idea what we are talking about. I try to turn on the light in the area to see better, but it won’t turn on.

Recruit: “We had a power surge last night and that light doesn’t work anymore. Totally fried our printer, too.”

Me: “I think it fried more than that.”

Senior Airman: “That might have been something you guys should have mentioned in your call.”

I unplug the switch’s two power supplies and test the outlets with my laptop.

Me: “Looks like power on this circuit is still good, but your switch is dead.”

Recruit: “Can you fix it?”

Senior Airman: “No, we’re going to have to return it. We’ll see if we can get another one out here… and an UPS to make sure it is protected from power surges.”

So, that is half a day of my time wasted. When I am done for the day and it is late in the evening, I fill out my daily report — a report read by government representatives, a higher-ranking NCO on base, and three of my bosses — and I am so annoyed that I must admit I lose a touch of my usual formality and it contained the following bullet point in the middle.

Report: “I was taken out on site to examine a down switch that was suspected of being disabled due to the changes I have been making to the network. Upon examination, it was discovered that improper installation has allowed a power surge to cause the switch to be downgraded from ‘critical network access device’ to ‘$11,000 paperweight’.”

I get back to my hotel pretty late and go to bed. The next morning, I call into a scheduled phone meeting. The only other participant who has arrived so far is one of my bosses. We exchange pleasantries, and then…

Boss: *Poorly trying to contain his laughter* “So… $11,000 paperweight, huh?”

Does No One Follow The General Orders To The Sentry Anymore?

, , , , , , , | Legal | February 5, 2023

When my father was in the US Air Force in the 1960s, he came down with an infection that required him to be hospitalized. His roommate was a deserter who was serving time in a military prison and consequently had a Military Police officer guarding the door at all times.

One night, my father got up and tried to leave the room.

MP: “Where the f*** do you think you’re going?”

Dad: “Um, the bathroom.”

MP: “The h*** you are, [Prisoner]!”

It turned out that when the shift changed, the new guard didn’t know which patient he was supposed to be watching, so he asked the prisoner. The prisoner pointed to my sleeping father and quickly left the hospital. While my father was easily able to prove his identity, I’m sure the MP had an interesting story to tell his superiors. “But he said he WASN’T my prisoner!”

There’s A Time And Place, And This Ain’t It

, , , , | Working | February 2, 2023

This story happened years ago, not too long after an incident where a gunman attacked people on a military base. The timing is important.

My husband worked on a military base. One day, he texted me that he’d probably be late getting home because the base was on lockdown. Several hours later, he texted me that lockdown was lifted and he was going to grab [Fast Food] on the way home. I was both relieved that he was okay and intrigued because this was something he generally only did after a day when he was just done with everything. Those days usually had a good story to go with them.

He got home not too much later than normal, and eventually, I got the story out of him. Since his building was closest to the front gate, the security guys basically hung out there most of the day, and he got the full story from one of the guys he was friendly with.

Like on all military bases, the gate guards take their jobs extremely seriously. They have a set of questions they ask every single vehicle that comes onto the base, including the large fuel delivery trucks. Unfortunately for everyone on the base that day, this fuel truck driver had a sense of humor.

Guard: “And are there any weapons in the vehicle?”

Fuel Truck Driver: “Well, this whole thing is a bomb!”

And that’s why the base was locked down for FOUR HOURS.

“If In Doubt, Meriadoc, Always Follow Your Nose!”

, , , | Working | January 18, 2023

I am a network engineer hired by a company to be sent to different military bases and upgrade their networks to newer technology. One of the critical nodes I helped configure went offline, so I went with a couple of recruits to bring it back onto the network.

On our way back, we were walking into the building they work out of past the large propane tank the building uses for heat.

Me: “Hey, it smells like gas out here.”

Recruit #1: “I don’t smell anything.”

Me: “I can smell it coming from over here. Should we report it?”

Recruit #2: “Nah, it’ll be fine.”

Me: “I don’t know. It might be an issue.”

My comments landed on deaf ears as the recruits and their staff were eager to leave for the evening and begin their weekend.

The following Monday morning, I got a text from their chief engineer.

Chief: “Don’t bother coming in right now. There is a gas leak and our building is evacuated.”

I was given the all-clear to come in around noon, and I joined the staff back in their office to continue my work.

Me: *Pointing out the back door* “So, that tank out there was leaking?”

Sergeant: “Yep.”

I turn to the recruits from the previous Friday.

Me: “I did say I smelled gas when we were out there on Friday.”

Recruit #1: “Oh, yeah! You did say that!”

Recruit #2: “Yeah, [My Name] was telling us he smelled gas when we were back there.”

Sergeant: “Okay, the new rule is that we all have to obey [My Name]’s nose.”

I haven’t detected any gas leaks since then, but I am keeping an eye out… or, uh… a nose out.

That Problem Is Taken Care Of

, , , , | Working | January 9, 2023

My manager was a monster. He belittled people, made work a hostile environment, and denied anything that would make his employees happy while giving himself every comfort.

I had taken my bereavement leave after my mother’s death (he couldn’t deny that as it was a corporate mandate, even though he wanted to) but he found a way to get his revenge.

Me: “I need to take a half-day to go to my mother’s funeral.”

Manager: “Would it be a big deal if you couldn’t go?”

Me: “Uh… yes! It’s my mother’s funeral!”

Manager: “Well I can’t spare you. You shouldn’t have taken vacation time a few weeks ago, so now we’re too backed up.”

Me: “That wasn’t a vacation, that was bereavement leave! And I haven’t even told you what day I need yet.”

Manager: “Doesn’t matter. Request denied.”

I decided I would go anyway, and was able to find cover thanks to a supportive coworker. This did not go down well with my manager, however, and he wrote me up for it. I took this write-up to Corporate, and along with other complaints, they realized the entire office was about to revolt.

Corporate stepped in, and while he wasn’t fired like we wanted, he was demoted, which was satisfying.

In comes the new manager. He’s a very well-regarded, twenty-year Air Force veteran, a humble guy who knows how to handle people. We have our first awkward team meeting, with the old manager bitterly in attendance.

As the new manager is giving his “nice to meet you” speech, he sees the douchebag glaring around the table trying to intimidate people. He stops talking, pauses for a few seconds, and then says:

New Manager: “You know, when I was in the Air Force, I learned that if you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you.”

He then stared directly at the old manager:

New Manager: “And if you don’t take care of your people, they’ll take care of you.”

The new manager was awesome.