Monday, June 12, 2006

Never Piss Off An Ex Jarhead

The title of this article is a quote from a previously mentioned article by Steve Sisson. It reminded me of the only time I ever did.

I was working as a field engineer for a tiny little division of the Eaton Corporation. Eaton is widely diversified, making products that range from Cutler-Hammer electrical equipment one one end, Rockwell heavy truck transmissions in the middle and Golf Pride golf club grips on the other extreme.

The division I worked for was based in Salt Lake City, with manufacturing facilities in Bountiful, Utah. Named Eaton-Kenway, we built and installed automated material handling systems. Industrial robots, basically, that moved materials from one location to another, most often a finished product into a storage location awaiting movement to a shipping station.

We worked all over the world, with a typical project spanning 18 months to two years. Once I was assigned to a project in Joliet, IL. A Caterpillar Tractor factory. Our system was to move materials through the machine shop area. It would take rough castings from the foundry and move them through various milling and lathe stations until they emerged out the other end as finished valves, transmissions, or other such mechanized equipment.

Typically, I would get our equipment roughly set up, and then watch it as it went through various "exercises" that I would program into their tiny little electronic brains. When I noticed an anomaly, I would make a programming change, and watch it run some more.

I had been in Joliet for only a few days, working under a Resident Project Manager named Denver Carter, that I had never met before. One day I was watching my machines run through their exercises when Denver came by the area. "This area needs to be cleaned up" Denver said to me. "Yes, it does, I suppose" I replied. I assumed that Denver, as Project Manager would assign a day labor employee to come over and sweep the area, and gave it no further thought. A little while later, Mr. Carter came through again and said something to the effect of "I see the area has not been swept up yet". Again my response was along the lines of "Nope, nobody has swept it up yet".

Now I ain't the brightest bulb on the tree. All this time I was expecting him to assign a laborer (we had many on staff) to come over to this area and clean it up a bit.

Looking back on the situation, I can see where it would look to anyone who did not know exactly what I was doing that I was simply standing around and not doing much. But I was watching the machines run, and simultaneously checking and altering the program's code in order to make the system work as it should.

On Denver's next trip past my area it was apparent he had already had enough of this hinting crap. He told me, in no uncertain words, that I need to find a broom and sweep up the area. My response to him was, "Denver, If I was so stupid that I had to be told what to do, and when to do it, I would have joined the Marines."

A short time later I was on the phone with my boss in Salt Lake City who suggested that I might be happier if he re-assigned me to a project in Cincinnati.

The point of this story is that I could have made the same point with Mr. Carter by using the Army, Navy, or Coast Guard as my point of reference, but no. I had to choose the Marines. The one branch of our military that Lt. Colonel Denver Carter had recently retired from.

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