Faster procurement: The Army Way

Flashback to the early 1980s, when this pilot fish is a U.S. Army lieutenant responsible for training soldiers in electronic countermeasures -- in simple terms, jamming enemy radio signals.

"Our mission was to teach various Army personnel how to use some very high-powered HF and VHF radio jammers that ran off 400Hz power," says fish. "Our 'facilities' consisted of several old buildings that were located just down a short hill from the senior non-commissioned officers' family housing area."

Unfortunately, those jammers run off a pair of World-War-Two-era devices that convert regular 60Hz electricity to 400Hz. And the converters -- which have been endlessly repaired over the decades -- have just failed again, with a new class of dozens of students set to arrive in a few weeks.

Fish makes a beeline to the master sergeant in charge of purchasing to get a repair order in ASAP. But he stops fish right away, and smugly explains he knows all about the two converters, and they can no longer be repaired.

Then we'll have to buy new ones, fish says -- upon which the supply sergeant explains that to get all the necessary approvals, the pricey converters would need to have been ordered four years before. I wasn't even in the army four years ago, fish says. "Not my problem, sir," supply sergeant smirks.

"Fine," fish says. "Class is canceled."

Sergeant's face freezes. He begins yammering at fish about all the logistical planning that has gone into setting up the class, from paperwork to flying trainees in from around the world. Fish just holds up his hand and walks out.

Shortly after fish gets back to his office, the supply sergeant calls: The commander has issued orders to "do whatever is necessary" to make the class happens.

Fish's own staff quickly arranges with a local Air Force Reserve unit to borrow a huge trailer-mounted 400Hz generator. The generator soon arrives with its fuel truck, and both are parked as far from the training building as possible.

Which puts the giant generator just a few hundred feet from the senior NCO family housing area -- including the quarters of the supply sergeant.

"We had to check out the equipment every morning before class -- and now that also meant ensuring the generator would start and warm up before huge loads were put on it," fish says. "We were out every morning cranking up this behemoth shortly after 5 a.m. The noise was deafening. We had to wear hearing protection whenever we stepped out of the buildings.

"Fortunately, this didn't last too long because, by some miracle, two brand-new converters were delivered and installed less than three weeks later!"

Make a little noise in Sharky's direction. Send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll get a stylish Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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