14 March 2010

The Shapes of Things to Come

Archer and I have big plans, if only we could each figure out what we want to be when we grow up. Both of us are do-it-yourselfers, although he's probably got more tools and toys than I do. He's a mover and a maker, and just bought a bunch of high-tech fabrication tools that allegedly fell off someone's truck. Hopefully, they'll still be there in his garage, patiently waiting for him to get home from the deployment. Hopefully, his more-than-tolerant spouse will be, too.

When he's in uniform, Archer is a member of the 334th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB)--the unit that includes the transportation, maintenance, medical, and other functions the brigade requires to fight and keep fighting. It's not always the sexiest, most-glamorous mission, but it's good and challenging work. Archer often quotes some dead white general as saying, "Amateurs talk strategy, but professionals talk logistics."

If he doesn't already have one, Archer probably needs to get a Master of Business Administration (MBA), with a minor in Making Science-Fiction Fact. He reads a lot of organizational change-management books, and often talks about emerging trends like 3-D printing and automated agriculture. Archer, for one, welcomes our future farm-robot overlords, while I don't even know what a 3-D printer is. I can barely get mine to work in two dimensions.

I tend more toward the home-remodeling part of the brain trust, although here's where I probably should also own up to attending a few semesters at a local architectural college. While there, I was absolutely amazed by what younger, more-tech-savvy students could do. They thought nothing of virtually flying-through computer models of their designs. Or building structural models using laser-cutters. Or building objects using the school's 3-D printer.

Me? I could use a hammer. And a pencil.

I stopped by the BSB earlier this week, only to find a Transatlantic-cable's worth of Smurf-colored Ethernet cables spewing out of the unit's drop ceilings. This thing looks like a blue anaconda, stretching down out of the ceiling and onto the floor below. Archer and a couple of other soldiers were knocking down walls and pulling computer wiring into an old locker room. It looks like an episode of This Old House. Or a meth lab. "This is the new 'Battle Sustainment Laboratory,'" Archer says proudly, brandishing a 12-volt cordless drill. It's probably pearl-handled, like Patton's.

They're building a hardstand version of what I'm learning to do this week, except with tents and generators and stuff. It's very likely that some of our Red Bull units, particularly those like Archer's battalion and the brigade headquarters, may arrive in Afghanistan to occupy previously built structures. So the BSB commander has decided to learn by doing. "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us," goes one of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes. Knock a few walls, knock a few heads, and thereby change the organization's culture, communications, and capabilities.

Interestingly, Archer and I each find ourselves working in experimental environments, exploring the applications of Churchill's remark in concrete terms.

Change is in the making.

1 comment:

  1. You use a hammer? And a pencil? Wouldn't it be a little more steady and solid if you used a hammer and a nail?

    I like working with my hands and building stuff (that's why I asked about the nail) or doing home repair. But when it comes to wiring stuff like televisions and computers and stuff, it all looks like a system threw up it's own insides.


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