Notes from the Toolshed

During my 2007 deployment to Iraq I became convinced there was something in the water which transformed everyone at a higher command level into an utter window licker. It is a strange phenomenon in the Marine Corps where those who work in a Combat Operations Center (COC) completely lose their minds. Of course, those of us who have worked in a COC of one kind or another know higher and adjacent are completely mad or clueless and elements reporting to us are incompetent and running around like wild Indians.

From our perspective at the company level, dealing with higher levels was always such a joy.  They wanted two scoops everything we had and gave us a great big bowl of grief in return. We had laptops which operated in slow motion, a VOIP phone capable of reaching no one we wanted to talk to, electronic warfare devices which blocked our own comm, drivers who operated mine rollers like bumper cars, and a growing sump hole threatened to leisurely devour our entire OP.

Here’s a brilliant example of the mindset of someone working in the COC. One of our Corpsmen once called in a MEDEVAC. For the sake of brevity, Corpsmen normally identified the type of patient by telling everyone within hearing the patient was either urgent, priority, or routine over the radio. These three words were supposed to help us all figure out how messed up a patient was and what type of care would be required. This info was passed not only over the radio but also over the computer. Naturally the Senior Watch Officer back at Battalion picked up the VOIP phone, called our company COC and asked questions about how seriously the patient was hurt. What part of urgent didn’t he get?  Didn’t he understand we just told him everything we knew? We weren’t actually out there with the squad. Somehow he must have of thought we were dragging all our COC gear with us on patrol and were holding out vital information just to spite him.

One time we reported receiving indirect fire (IDF) from a mortar on our OP. The radio operator at the battalion COC came back with: “Regiment wants to know how you know you were taking IDF.” Once again, Marines had to physically restrain me from screaming into the handset.  My CO would not allow me to report the major indicator was the consistency of the crap in our shorts being the same as every other time we took IDF.

Then there was the time the Senior Watch Officer was pissed at our reporting and called our OP demanding to speak to the Company Commander. It didn’t help when I answered: “Sir, we reported him outside the wire to meet with Sheik So-And-So and the Battalion Commander two hours ago. You’re the battalion COC, how do you not know where he is?”

Another brilliant question: “Do you know when you are going to have GSWAN up and running?” I have no memory what the letters GSWAN stood for but it was something which allowed all kinds of other electronic equipment to function. This was particularly amusing since we had no idea what caused it to go down in the first place and our tech guy was feverishly trying to figure out why we couldn’t use Outlook, MercChat, TacChat, etc. My initial response to inform them we’d e-mail the answer as soon as we knew. This was voted down by the CO.

It was questions like those which only confirmed the person asking sported a secretary’s ass, grown large on DFAC dining and did nothing but sit behind a keyboard launching situation reports.  And you just KNEW they had been issued a brand new M4 right out of the box while your Marines were firing A4s which had long since turned silver and had more combat time than the Jarhead operating it.

Another interesting occurrence was whenever our patrols made some kind of contact (the shooty kind). Instead of reading our contact report everyone and their mother called us on the radio, VOIP phone, MercChat, e-mail, and by smoke signal asking what was going on.  Asking questions they already have the answers to was a favorite tactic of higher designed to make us hate them. If the Marine Corps didn’t keep you pissed off you’d never have enough hate in you to kill when the time came. It’s the only logical theory and I’m sticking to it. 

My absolute favorite was when the Watch Officer would ask for details before anything had happened. It was as if higher believed we actually witnessed events unfold right in our COC and kept all the good stuff to ourselves.  Maybe if they asked us one more time if we were declaring a TIC (troops in contact) we might actually break down and declare one just so they would shut up about it.  My preferred approach was to openly tell them we were keeping secrets.

This is why I have always referred to any COC as the Toolshed. It’s where we keep all the tools. Millennia from now, when we are in galactic conflict with the Space Lords of Gorgalon Prime, I suspect this will still be an unresolved issue.

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

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10 comments

  1. Way back in the day, our S4 shop had a plaque over the door which read:
    “The objective of peace time training is to so infuriate the troops that they welcome the advent of war.”

    It seems higher took the “train as you fight” concept to awesome new levels.

    – Grimmy

  2. America’s SgtMaj:

    And then the COC monster showed up…

    But, I do imagine that there is/was a garrison type replacement for the COC dance. Like, maybe, Btn, Reg, Div HQ’s and their staff weenies?

    – Grimmy

  3. Oops!

    S4 was supposed to be S3. S4’s only involvement in training was to make sure that the stuff we needed to be issued to actually do the training was held in stock on their shelves instead incase someone decided to stop by for an inspection.

    Can’t be getting gear all worn and dirty by actually using it, donchu know!

    – Grimmy

    PS. All non tech shop personnel should have to spend at least half their contract obligation in the infantry. The creation of, what amounts to, professional bureaucracies within the Corps is going to be the death of the institution.

    – Grimmy

  4. This sounds all too familiar. At Mojave Garter Snake in 2010 I got in a bit of trouble for refusing to break my sniper hide to turn in a range card to the COC. They had labeled photos taken from our pos and emailed to them, but the brilliant young MSgt said he NEEDED a “real range” card. I replied that he was out of luck because I was fresh out of carrier pigeons. When he insisted, I asked him to standby to copy. November, Oscar, Poppa, Echo followed by a loud and sarcastic NOPE! I remember having a talk with Maj Torres and explaining to him that I didn’t have time for inept people regardless of their rank. I guess I learned a little something from you along the way!

  5. ASM,
    I had to make up acronyms to finally get our clowns in Baghdad to leave my team alone and do our job. For the first months, my team was working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. I was told to call back everyday and give a Sit Rep.
    But when I called on Sundays, nobody ever answered the phone. Come Monday, I’d give two Sit Reps…. and just put up with it.

    When we were about to leave after a year, I had one of the POGUES ask me what some of the Acronyms stood for.
    Like: “LCWRM” Leaving Camp With Real Men.

  6. Grimmy, my favorite is when the supply ninjas refuse to issue gear because they are getting low on something. I always asked them what good was unused equipment doing on a shelf?

    CI-Roller, LCWRM is now in the lexicon. Good thing no one was fighting a war on Sundays.

    Brady, I feel your pain. When FAST was deploying to reinforce the embassy in Yemen there was much debate by MARCENT staff officers about what kind of gear FAST actually required. My favorite was: “Why do the 240G need tripods? They already have bipods.” Gee sir, controlled machine gun fire within a city limits would be nice.

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