This is my favorite tech support story, at least from my own personal life, because it’s not that often God gives us a perfect little gift like this, all tied up in a bow.
I might very well have told this story on the blog at some point over the years, but with as many posts as I’ve done, honestly, if it’s in the archives, screw it, I ain’t going looking for it. If this sounds familiar, well, sorry!
Sit back and relax for a very short story. Oh, stop laughing at me. It’s gonna be short!
Now, this is no shit. Back when I was in the Marines, during my first four years, I was an Aviation Radio Technician. All that fancy title means is I got to work on Marine Corps Air Bases attached to communications and control squadrons, units that provide mobile radio and radar control facilities for fixed wing fighter aircraft.
Mobile, as in we’d throw all our crap on trucks, tranport the trucks by boat or plane, roll out to the field somewhere, drive around, and when we found a likely looking spot we’d stop the trucks, run out the generators, extend the remote masts and aerials and radar antennas, cable up all the closed-up huts on the backs of the 5 ton trucks and dragon wagons into a network, and then establish our map grid and align our systems so we could direct airborne flights of fighters, usually F-18 hornets and AV-8B harriers, to their targets.
The long and the short of it is, I was the guy responsible for making sure the radio part of the communication and control net was operational. If something, anything, went wrong I had to fix it, and I mean right now, because when the officer-type person in a hut ain’t able to talk to the officer-type person in the put put jet fighter = not good for enlisted-type radio tech.
Now, the officer-type peeps in the main control hut wanted control. They fancied themselves Top Guns that could be up there flying, if they weren’t doing the far more important task of directing flights from the ground.
The ancient radios we used, while frequency-hopping and having crypto links and all that stuff, had remote control arrays so the officers could change frequencies manually right there in the hut. But the officers didn’t like that… the little control box may have been in the hut, but they didn’t trust that magic cable to actually change the frequency on the radio over in the radio hut. It confused them. Strange things might happen.
So, the officers decided they needed a radio, an actual radio, in their hut. Being officers, you don’t have to justify what you want to do, and you don’t have to make sense, you just have to outrank the person you’re telling to do something. Voila!
There were no physical mounts for the radio, so it got set in there on a box, but they wanted a $125,000 radio sitting in their hut, they by God get a $125,000 radio sitting on a box in their hut.
The radio weighed about 75 pounds, and generated quite a bit of heat internally, so the top was mostly aluminum framing mesh vent squares. I just looked the radios up on the internet to check weight, they were AN/GRC-171 A(V)2 versions, which these days you could probably get for about $50 at a used surplus store for all I know.
They’d stick a headset and toggle switch to the front of the radio, and flip the dials for changing frequencies right there. Damn, they loved playing with the frequency dials.
There was absolutely no reason for sticking a radio in there, other than for them to feel like mad scientists or something. The remote boxes worked great.
So, there we are, we’re out in bumf&*^ wherever (it’s still classified, sue me), I’m in my commo box on top of a truck, with the AC keeping me chillin’ reading a comic book or something, waiting for my commo shift to be over, so I could head out for my shift as perimeter security, which was actually fun, because then I didn’t have to deal with phone calls from idiots on the damn comm net over bullshit.
Keep in mind, I’m in a comm hut on the back of a 5 ton truck, totally enclosed, chilling out. All the main UHF hardcore radios are in there with me, and controlled by me, all 9 of them, except for the one in the control hut. I’m looking at all of them, and monitoring their activity, and listening into flight chatter randomly to verify we’re all good to go.
These radios, at the time, cost around $125,000 each, did I happen to mention that? Anyway, they weren’t the fanciest things around, but I sure as hell didn’t want anything to go wrong on my watch. Thanks to modular design and good training, if anything did go wrong, I had spares and quick swap capabilities and, if a bullet went through a wiring harness, well, there’s always solder and duct tape. I was determined that if something were to happen, we’d be cool.
Having a spare radio I, um, happened to find laying around somewhere ready to patch in, just in case, didn’t hurt anything, of course. What, it’s not on the TOE? Really? Damn, I missed that. I wonder how that thing got there?
So right, I’m sitting there, and a call comes over the comm net for me. It’s the flight officer of the day, calling for me. My callsign was Echo Five Bravo on the net.
Yes, I still remember my callsign. Again, sue me.
Anyway, officer-dude calls over the net, “We’ve lost comm on radio 10, need back up asap.”
Just as an FYI, when using comm, you never say the word “repeat” if you didn’t hear what the other guy said the first time. You say “Say again your last”, because in arty circles in the Marines “repeat” means “liked your last shot, fire another round, thanks.” Umm, you don’t say repeat. I’m just saying. I used to find myself on vent in WoW saying, “Could you say again your last, over”, mouth on automatic pilot while the brain failed at tanking.
Oh wait, I was telling a short story here. Well, hey diddle diddle, guess what? Radio ten is in the control hut. All of it. The only part not in the comm hut was the antenna mast, and I’d run a cable snaked through a ventilation duct to get it hooked up. There’s no way for me to monitor what is happening with radio 10 from where I am.
Now, I could go over to the control hut and check it out, but before I went to those extreme measures, I decided to use my professional experience.
I thought about what I knew concerning the officer in question who was reporting the problem, and I considered what kinds of issues this officer had reported in the past.
There were several potential failure conditions that seemed possible to me, but I finally settled on the most likely one considering the time of day, the fact that there was just a flight controller changeover, and that the officer had entered the hut only a little bit prior to calling.
I then picked up the mike and called back on the net, “Echo Five Bravo, roger that, is the OH EN SLASH OH EFF EFF switch in the OH EN position, over.”
There was a long ten count of silence.
Then a quick burst of static, followed by, ” Ah, roger, cancel that trouble call, over.”
A few minutes later, I hear a clatter of boots coming up the metal ladder to my hut, the door is cranked open, and backlit by the sun shining through the cammy netting is revealed the beaming face of my best bud, Staff Sergeant Robert Watson, esteemed radar tech and all around great guy, who SHOULD at that very moment be sitting at his post on his ass in his own radar hut listening for a trouble call on the comm net, ad working on his D&D character for our game that night.
Yes, we played in the jungle. We played everywhere. Johnny Cash wrote our themesong, “I’ve played everwhere, man, I’ve played everywhere”, and we used to talk about having gamer jackets made up with those city/state/country badges on the sleeves showing where in the world we’d run RPG games. We’d a had long, full sleeves. Damn, I wish we’d of done that, that woulda been fun. Funny how silly that kinda stuff seems these days, like, who cares where we played RPGs? But we thought it was very cool to have played RPGs above the Arctic circle.
So, SSgt Bobert looks at me through the doorway, and with a huge shit eating grin on his face, says, “Are you shitting me? You did NOT.”
“Is the ON/OFF switch in the ON position? Really? Really?!?”
I just looked at him, and replied, “Hey, I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.”