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The Military

How Do Militaries Treat Their Nerds? 426

Posted by kdawson
from the permission-to-sudo-sir dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Cyber Warfare is a hot topic these days. A major reorganization may be looming, but a critical component is a culture where technologists can thrive. Two recent articles address this subject. Lieutenant Colonel Greg Conti and Colonel Buck Surdu recently published an article in the latest DoD IA Newsletter stating that 'The Army, Navy, and Air Force all maintain cyberwarfare components, but these organizations exist as ill-fitting appendages (PDF, pg. 14) that attempt to operate in inhospitable cultures where technical expertise is not recognized, cultivated, or completely understood.' In his TaoSecurity Blog Richard Bejtlich added 'When I left the Air Force in early 2001, I was the 31st of the last 32 eligible company grade officers in the Air Force Information Warfare Center to separate from the Air Force rather than take a new nontechnical assignment.' So, Slashdot, how has the military treated you and your technical friends? What changes are needed?"
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How Do Militaries Treat Their Nerds?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @11:57AM (#27181653)

    Like cannon fodder.

    • by qoncept (599709) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:17PM (#27182021) Homepage
      Initially I was going to just dismiss this, but then it struck me: yeah, they do. The latest Secretary of the Air Force had this dumbass idea that he would try to make the Air Force tougher. It basically consisted of sending horribly, horribly undertrained airmen out with Marines and Army to do things they weren't good at. A good friend of mine took a 2 week crash course before being sent to Afghanistan where he had to beg Marines to show him how to do things like install the IED countermeasures on the Hummer he was issued. Another friend was sent to Camp Victory in Baghdad without a weapon, and when he finally got one, no ammo.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:37PM (#27182325)
        Well duh he was supposed to take the ammo from people he had killed, haven't you ever played an FPS?
      • by Rinikusu (28164) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:31PM (#27183149)

        I called and mentioned this to my dad, an Air Force veteran (vietnam, Panama, Gulf War I) and he just chuckled.

        Basically, he said part of basic training, at least when he was in, was to teach you how to beg, borrow and steal. He can't count the times he was given a "mission" with no tools (for example: Mop this floor, but with no bucket, mop or cleaning agents.. or more nefariously "We need a new $PART for that truck over there, today" with no $PART in stock with a 6 week procurement time.. With some clever bartering with the Canteen and then with the Army base down the road (Air Force has better food), he'd "procure" 6 starters and get the job done.) and part of your "training" was to figure out how to locate, negotiate, or steal what you needed from someone else. They don't hand you everything in a war, some times you gotta figure it out yourself. If your buddy was truly not given any ammo in Camp Victory, a place filled with ammo, and couldn't figure out how to barter for it, well, according to my dad, maybe he's not cut out for military life. Then again, maybe things have changed since then.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mehemiah (971799)
          kind of like an RPG sidequest
          • by mrdoogee (1179081) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:11PM (#27183771)

            "I see you need AMMO. I don't have any AMMO but if you take this REPORT to CAPTAIN WHATSHISFACE he can show you how to get to FORT SOMEWHERE and meet SUPPLY SGT GUY. He can then show you the secret path to AMMO DUMP. I hear he likes TWINKIES. To find TWINKIES you must first find...."

            • by Rinikusu (28164) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:41PM (#27184175)

              Actually, you're not far off.

              Granted, it was post-basic and he was in Korea, and this is my interpretation of his story:

              "We need a starter for that truck and we need that done today."

              Hrm... we have no starters. Well, the Army uses the same truck, I wonder if they have any.

              *phone call verifies they have them*

              Drives over to the canteen
              "I need a side of beef and 2 cases of beer for Col So and So."
              "Col. so and so? Shit, here you go!"
              Drives over to Army base and meets with supply sergeant
              "I need a dozen starters for the truck"
              "Man, I can't do that, let me call the captain."
              Captain: "Man what are you doing on my base asking me for starters? Don't you Air force guys have any? ho ho ho ho"
              "Ha ha ha, you're right. But you know, I've got this side of beef here and 2 cases of beer, when's the last time you guys had a base barbeque?"
              "How many you need?"
              "12"
              "I'll give you 6"
              "Deal!"
              (even though he only needed... 1)

              It's amazing how much you can apply this to the "real world" as well.

        • by Phrogman (80473) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:42PM (#27184193) Homepage

          When I was in the Canadian military it was a common "initiation rite" for new soldiers in a unit to be given ridiculous tasks to see how bright they are or how much attention they paid during training. One popular one at my unit was to send the newbie out to get Diesel Sparkplugs for one of our diesel trucks. Diesel engines do not of course require sparkplugs, but most newbie soldiers wouldn't know this, so off they would go to the unit Supply section only to be told there were none in stock but they could try Base supply - who would immediately know what was up and send them off to a different unit supply in the hopes of begging some etc. With luck this could keep a particularly ignorant soldier busy for half a day before someone pointed out to them that they had been "had". Smart ones would of course catch on immediately and point out that such a thing didn't exist etc.

          What always got me was that some people would fall for items which should have been immediately obviously bogus - like sending someone out to a reel of 100' of Shoreline - as if it was a type of rope etc. However every year along would come some private asking if we had any shoreline...

          I can't say as Canadian forces basic ever had you trying to solve a problem lacking all of the required resources but there were definitely similar tests that required you to solve a problem that appeared to be unsolvable as an attempt to build up cooperation and resourcefulness.

          The one I will always remember was waxing the floors in the barracks during basic. Essentially the floors had to be waxed in preparation for the morning inspection (about 6:30 AM). Since we were often kept busy until 9:30 PM and lights out were at 10 PM (and the instructors came through to ensure that everyone not on Fire Picket was in bed and all the lights were out at 10 PM), there was simply no time to actually strip and wax the floors. The solution: immediately after the Instructors came through the barracks (walking on the floors of course), the Fire Pickets woke everyone up and we all used tape and garbage bags to cover up all the windows in the barracks so that no light would escape. Then everyone got up in their underwear and we rewaxed the floors and cleaned up the shower areas etc, with an array of blankets making a walkway up and down the barracks. Once everything was completed, we all got back into position in our bunk areas, remade our beds (including ironing the sheets and pillow cases so they were perfect), then the fire pickets turned out the lights and we removed the garbage bags and tape and hid them again. We then slept on the beds in reverse (your head went at the foot end and you used the spare blanket that had formed your walkway earlier and your feet went at the head end (it made less of an impact on the ironing). In the morning you got up, got dressed ready for inspection, then replaced the spare blanket carefully at the foot of the bed, picked up the pillows off the floor and put them in place then stood ready for inspection. All in all you got about 5h sleep each night, but the floors were perfectly polished, the bathrooms were clean etc all with zero time apparently devoted to the process. All completely chickenshit stuff, but it built up a spirit of cooperation between soldiers headed for different trades very well. By the end of basic (when they relaxed the standards a bit anyways) we had it down to a science and it could all be done in no time.

          • by queenb**ch (446380) on Friday March 13, 2009 @03:26PM (#27184855) Homepage Journal

            Asking for a bucket of prop wash... asking for batteries for the sound powered phones.... there are a million of them.. but my favorite comes from my racing days... Dragsters use magnetos not distributors and they will spark when they rotate. It is a rather HOT spark too :) So you hand the n00b the magneto with the contacts facing him and tell him to take it and clean it. As soon as he start to walk away, it spins, sparks, and voila... one fried n00b!

            And yes, the hazing does serve a purpose. It teaches you to be alert, aware, and cautious. In the case of having to scavenge for things, what do you think happens on a battlefield??? If you run low on ammo,what do you do? It's a very real survival skill.

            2 cents,

            QueenB.

          • by davolfman (1245316) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:08PM (#27185469)
            Actually I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few came back with glow plugs. After all you couldn't have possibly meant spark plugs, diesels don't have those, but glow plugs don't look all that different, maybe the butterbar just never worked on trucks? At lest that's how I'd think the thought process might go with the mechanically inclined.
          • Zapp Brannigan: The key to victory is discipline, and that means a well-made bed. You will practice until you can make your bed in your sleep.
            Fry: You mean while I'm sleeping in it?
            Zapp Brannigan: You won't have time for sleeping, soldier, not with all the bed-making you'll be doing.

          • by db32 (862117) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @12:37AM (#27190187) Journal
            The BEST I ever heard was from a Navy buddy. They sent some poor bastard out looking for fallopian tubes. He apparently got sent to a dozen places around the ship until finally someone sent him to medical. So he rolls into medical asking for fallopian tubes...turns out one of the docs, a female Major, wasn't terribly amused by this... So the joke ended in them getting ripped apart by a Major and them having to hold their breathes to avoid exploding in laughter.

            I had "cable stretcher" and "prop wash" told to me and had to explain that both of those things actually DID exist.
      • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@NOsPam.Gmail.com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:19PM (#27185593) Homepage Journal

        Initially I was going to just dismiss this, but then it struck me: yeah, they do. The latest Secretary of the Air Force had this dumbass idea that he would try to make the Air Force tougher. It basically consisted of sending horribly, horribly undertrained airmen out with Marines and Army to do things they weren't good at. A good friend of mine took a 2 week crash course before being sent to Afghanistan where he had to beg Marines to show him how to do things like install the IED countermeasures on the Hummer he was issued. Another friend was sent to Camp Victory in Baghdad without a weapon, and when he finally got one, no ammo.

        It had nothing to do with making USAF personnel tougher. It had everything to do with a temporary shortage of ground personnel in the fields because the Army and Marines are fighting a two front war. They need every one they can to be shooting at bad guys. The Navy did this too. Both services were asked to by the SecDef because of troop shortages. The Navy and Air Force "infantrymen" were basically sent TDY to do things like camp security and combat logistics, so the Army and USMC could send every warm body to combat. Its not like the Secratary of the Air Force woke up one morning and went "We're not tough enough. I know! We'll make our own infantry divisions!".

        I think the "picking on geeks" thing here is way overblown, especially considering that both the Navy and USAF are manned largely by technocrats in the enlisted ranks. Maybe if a geek joined the Marines he'd get some heat, but the Air Force? I think someone got their feelings hurt. You joined a military force, not the Boy Scouts.

        There is one caveat here, and that's the officer corps in USAF, which is a fighter pilot culture, and thus tends to go off the macho scale. I can easily see where, say, a comp sci grad in charge of computer networks would be given the nasty eye by his fellow officers. In USAF's officer corps, if you don't turn and burn for a living, you're somewhat less than a man.

    • by Forge (2456)
      The Military needs to decide weather Cyberspace is a potential Battleground or Computer and communications technology is a tool of more conventional military, Like explosives and vehicle technology.

      If the Former then the bulk of these Ciber Warriors should be made part of a single Military unit under a Ciber-warfare General (Alan Cox doesn't qualify because of nationality concerns).

      If it's the latter then the specialists should learn the basics of hand to hand combat and carry sidearms and/or small su
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday March 13, 2009 @11:57AM (#27181657)
    Somebody said "DNS," Vasquez thought they said "INS" and ran away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WilyCoder (736280)

      Crap, now I have to watch that movie this weekend. Oh wait, that's a great movie! Thanks ^_^

      (aware)

  • by Kartoffel (30238) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:04PM (#27181781)

    If the military needs nerds, they can always hire civilian contractors.

    Alternatively, there are certain nerds who enjoy military culture and do fine there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DustyShadow (691635)
      I used to work for a defense contractor and I can say that a lot of nerds work at Air Force Research Labs. Among them though were many contractors. It seemed like a fun place to work because most of the projects were prototypish and had small teams so you could make a lot of important decisions without having to get 15 signatures. I found that a huge problem with working for a defense contractor (and probably even in the military) is that most people end up getting stuck on a large and well funded project
      • by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:26PM (#27183077) Homepage

        Former defense contractor here, too...

        When I dealt with the customer, I tended to deal with middle-upper officers MAJ, LTC, and COL. While not nerds per se, they were among some of the most clueful and intelligent people I have worked with.

        • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:34PM (#27183187)

          Exactly my experience, too. When I was growing up, a career in the military sounded like hell on Earth. These days, having worked directly with them as a civvie, I have a LOT of respect for those who decide to go into the forces.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by El Torico (732160)

          When I dealt with the customer, I tended to deal with middle-upper officers MAJ, LTC, and COL. While not nerds per se, they were among some of the most clueful and intelligent people I have worked with.

          Current defense contractor here, and I agree with you. However, I've also noticed that the DoD Civilians are usually the opposite. Rarely do I get to work for or with DoD Civilians who are mission oriented, diligent, and competent.

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:24PM (#27182121) Homepage

      Alternatively, there are certain nerds who enjoy military culture and do fine there.

      I was about to say much the same thing - most of of the highly technical jobs in the [US] Submarine Service were filled by nerds and geeks of various stripes when I was in (1981-1991) and we did just fine. The currently serving ones I've seem to be doing fine as well.
       
      Slashdot needs to keep in mind that their stereotype of the nerd/geek as a highly strung prima donna is just that, a stereotype. They seem to be prevalent in the Hivemind because most Slashdotters 'came of age' during the unusual conditions of the Dot Com/Bomb era when briefly they (nerds/geeks) were treated as such because of the high and competitive demand, as well as because the Hivemind seems to self select for that kind of personality.

      • by fuzzywig (208937) <default.fuzzNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:41PM (#27182361)
        Not to mention, a lot of nerds (like me) cope better in a highly hierarchical structure like the military. You can look at someone and know how to treat them at a glance (by looking at their rank) and most of your interaction with other people is almost as highly codified as a programming language. Personally, as a cadet, I found military life comfortable, certainly less stressful than school.
      • by Perl-Pusher (555592) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:02PM (#27182715)
        Good post! I spent 20 years in the AF as an electronic warfare technician. I retired in 1999 but I got out exactly what I put into it. I came in a high school graduate. I came out with 3 college degrees, paid for by the Air force. I have lived in or visited about 15 different countries, married and raised 2 kids. I walked directly into a job working as a software engineer for nasa as a contractor making twice the pay even with benefits. Not to mention an additional retirement check every month. If I were still in Michigan I would probably be working for the auto companies or some factory as my father, two uncles and grandfather did. All in all, the Air Force did right by me. This doesn't mean I didn't have to deal with some real a-holes along the way. But really, aren't everywhere?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lurching (1242238)
      They also do it to their civilian employees. When I was assigned to the AF Geophysics Lab in the 1980 time frame, one of our civilians got an award as the top scientist in the USAF. But . . . he couldn't get promoted because he wasn't in a politically popular development program. He left and went to JPL where he helped harden the Voyager probes with what he had been working on for the USAF.
    • by RingDev (879105) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:17PM (#27182939) Homepage Journal

      When I was in the Marine Corps as a 4067 (Computer Programmer), I lived the life of a Marine. I went to the range, I did my field training, I stood watch, I PTed, my life was almost identical to any other other POG on the base.

      That said, as a Corporal in the Marine Corps in 2000, gross salary was about $14,400 a year. We had the barracks to live in, which was effectively a studio apartment with 3 guys crammed into it. The chow hall, which was operated by the lowest bidder, "shoe-leather steak" is not an exaggeration. And Navy Corpsmen for our medical needs, and I had only once seen a Corpsmen bend a needle while it was in someone's arm.

      Compared to grunts and a lot of the menial labor guys, we had it easy in the office. AC, computers, internet access...

      But sitting right along side of us were civilian contractors, often with bill rates about a factor of 10 larger than our pay rates, doing the exact same job.

      We had one guy, an absolute wiz with Unix and Oracle. He got out as a Corporal making his 14.4k a year. The next day after his EAS he started working for the Marine Corps as a contractor, billing $125k/year. He did the exact same job, sat in the exact same seat. He had to do none of the extra military related work, no uniform, no risk of being sent off to war, and his pay-rate had over quintupled.

      So anyway, not a whole lot of incentive for people to stay in the military as a nerd unless they are getting into one of these new programs.

      There is an incentive to the military IMO of having long term personnel in these programs instead of short term contractors though. Trust, control, and tons of screening. You'll never have the level of control over a civilian contractor that you have over an active duty member of the military.

      -Rick

  • Contract. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by qoncept (599709) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:04PM (#27181787) Homepage
    I spent 6 years in the Air Force as a programmer. The only way they can fix that horrible mess is to stop trying and contract out everything they need. It's basically what they are doing now. Of maybe 400 enlisted programmers at my base, I'd guess 10% of them actually had work on a regular basis, and 50% do absolutely nothing their entire time there. And people seem to have trouble grasping it, but when I say nothing, I mean NOTHING. Contractors did all the real work.
    • Re:Contract. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:10PM (#27181905)

      Of maybe 400 enlisted programmers at my base...

      STOP... Bullshit alert.

      If there were 400 enlisted people the CS squadronyour base, that would be more realistic. Of those 400, only a handful might have jobs relating to programming, but most might be things like LAN support or phone guys or misc. admin wonks. But 400 programmers? What 'ch been smoking, dude?

      - Friendly Computer Nerd from McChord AFB

      • by codepunk (167897)

        No shit, I don't remember meeting anyone in the military besides myself that even knew what a compiler was. That even goes
        for data systems guys not a single programmer anywhere to be had.

      • Re:Contract. (Score:4, Informative)

        by qoncept (599709) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:23PM (#27182107) Homepage
        Sorry, there were probably 400 enlisted on my base (ok, annex, Gunter). And software was practically all it's there for. So practically everyone there is a programmer or there to support programmers. Regardless, I bet at least 2 dozen of them will read this because they don't have a single god damn piece of work to do.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Harry Coin (691835)

          He's absolutely right. I was a 3C032 at Gunter Annex for four years, now I'm contractor scum. I've been in and around there for the past ten years. The four years I spent as an enlisted programmer were practically wasted. I did maintenance on an old COBOL program, and it took up about .0001% of my time.

          It was still a good experience. I got training in C, C++, x86 assembly, Ada, COBOL, SQL, Oracle Forms. Once I put civvies on I got Java and J2EE training from my employer.

          Now that I'm a contractor I'm a

    • by Biff Stu (654099) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:12PM (#27181929)

      You fail to realize that if the government were to do the work of the military, that would be communism.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Redrover5545 (795810)
      Hey, don't knock contractors. They helped build the Deathstar, you know.
      • by nametaken (610866)

        They were just trying to feed their kids. Victims of a war they had nothing to do with.

      • by Shakrai (717556)

        Hey, don't knock contractors. They helped build the Deathstar, you know.

        I wonder if the Empire's military contractors work the same way that ours do? One can only imagine how many toilets you'd need on a battle station the size of the Deathstar and how much that would cost at $50,000/ea ;)

    • Re:Contract. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:22PM (#27182095) Homepage Journal
      That sounds like a problem caused by bureaucracy and inefficiency. More efficient allocation of manpower would solve a problem better than throwing overpriced civillian contractors at it.

      Remember your briefings as a recruit at Lackland? Those guys are being paid 30-40 bucks an hour to do a SrA or SSgt's job. And what's up with PMEL becoming civillian-only? It was a great job and enlisted guys never had a problem with it.

      p.s. fuck the OSI.
    • Re:Contract. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:24PM (#27182127)
      The military these days contracts out EVERYTHING, not just IT stuff. I remember going back to one of my old bases a few years ago and realizing that they didn't even have real MP's at the gates anymore. All the gate security was being contracted out to a private firm. How sad is it when the Army is contracting out one of its most essential functions? We're not talking food services or vending services here, we're talking BASIC PERIMETER SECURITY.
      • Re:Contract. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Erwos (553607) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:43PM (#27182407)

        Go there after dark. At the base I visit frequently, they've got rent-a-cops doing gate guard duty during the day (presumably backed by some sort of military rapid-reaction force), but they've got full-out military handling the duties at night.

        • Re:Contract. (Score:5, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:47PM (#27184255) Homepage

          Yep. Right here up the road from me they have DoD rent-a-cops manning the base gates. But there's a shitload of Marines on alert 24/7, Marines regularly sweeping the perimeter, and the Marines and sailors man the inner gates to the important stuff. (Not to mention a shitload of electronic monitoring.) Anytime something is going on that requires real security, like a weapons move, it's Marines in full battle gear, locked and loaded providing the security.
           
          Even if they had military guys on the gates, the gate force is too small to stop any serious assault. Having rent-a-cops on the gates is no big deal, they're expendable tripwires (a honeypot if you will) to alert the real defenses further inside.

      • by Shakrai (717556)

        The military these days contracts out EVERYTHING, not just IT stuff. I remember going back to one of my old bases a few years ago and realizing that they didn't even have real MP's at the gates anymore. All the gate security was being contracted out to a private firm. How sad is it when the Army is contracting out one of its most essential functions?

        Is that because the Army wants to outsource those functions or because they have to outsource those functions? It occurs to me that Congress rarely wants to provide the military with enough of anything (save expensive weapons systems built in the districts of well connected members), particularly "boots on the ground".

        We're not talking food services or vending services here, we're talking BASIC PERIMETER SECURITY.

        A buddy of mine who was in the Navy told me once that for all the talk of "I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons" the easiest way to figure out which bases have nu

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Duradin (1261418)

          Look at it this way:

          If the Army does it, it goes in the Army budget, comes out of the Army budget and goes to someone in the Army.

          If the Army outsources it, it goes in the Army budget comes out of the Army budget and goes to some contractor friend of a congresscritter who wants defense money but doesn't want to be in the Army. If you ignore the Army as the middle man this lets politicians give money to the people they want to give money to, in military sized amounts, without looking like they are giving it

  • Not THAT bad. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheDarAve (513675) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:09PM (#27181871)

    I've had no problems in the Navy and been put on some really choice assignments because of my technical expertise. However, I've also seen some technical experts that got nothing from it and driven out of the service. If you flaunt it like sliced bread has nothing on you, yea, you're going to get treated like a prick. If you just do your thing and not care about the rest, you can do pretty darn good. Unfortunately, at some point you get forced to put down the wrench and pick up the pen, and then its just not fun anymore. Its great if you're just in for the college money, sucks later on if you decide to make a career out of it.

  • Actually, not bad. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thewiz (24994) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:13PM (#27181953)

    I did work as a contractor for the Defense Support Program and was impressed by the way the Air Force ran the program. The IT group I was with was treated with respect by the AF personnel. Unfortunately, it was the contracting company I worked for that insisted on playing politics rather than getting the job done. If only someone could find a way to remove office politics from the workplace (and, yes, I realize that there is irony in asking that office politics be removed from a government-run program).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DrLang21 (900992)

      Unfortunately, it was the contracting company I worked for that insisted on playing politics rather than getting the job done.

      How do you think that company got the contract to begin with? Military contracts can be very lucrative, and I think some companies would screw their mother with a diseased horse to get one.

      • by xaxa (988988)

        some companies would screw their mother with a diseased horse

        Thanks. That's exactly the mental image I wanted on a Friday evening.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:15PM (#27181979)

    The Military (USAF) always treated me
    with great respect. It was the other civilians that would give you a hard time. The military members were all very hard-working and saw that I am too. They repected my expertise and knew about how to be tolerant of my lifestyle even better than civilians (who hated my lifestyle).

    And military weren't trying to funnel contracts to their friends. And they didn't seek to ruin my career when I wouldn't go along with boondoggles. It was the Civilians that did this (some of them).

    And worse, the ones who treated us the worst, were the people who didn't fund us, politicians who were on vendettas to move our offices (these were out of state politicians).

    These were people with no concern other than empire building in their own back yards.

    The Military members were always the best to work with, the hardest working, the most diverse, and the ones who understood and appreciated excellence.

    • It was the other civilians that would give you a hard time. The military members were all very hard-working and saw that I am too. They repected my expertise and knew about how to be tolerant of my lifestyle even better than civilians (who hated my lifestyle).

      For what it's worth, you have my support at least. My brother just got back from Iraq after serving in the Air Force. I don't agree with his choice of profession, but then I don't agree with a lot of people's. Don't mistake disagreement for a lack of support -- he's my brother and I'm the only one allowed to give him any crap for it. ;) I also respect his expertise in his areas of study and experience. As to lifestyle, at least I have never had a problem with a soldier's lifestyle or how they lead their liv

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:16PM (#27181999)

    I'm writing in from the medical side, so I hope that my comments can be useful, too. The military lures medical students and doctors with all sorts of promises such as "You'll be able to practice whatever specialty you want. You can practice medicine where you want. There are lots of research opportunities. You can't be sued for malpractice. You won't have to deal with insurance companies and other civilian paperwork nightmares..." And the list goes on.

    In reality, only a few physicians get to practice the type of medicine they want. You want to be a radiologist? Too bad. Become a general practitioner instead. Docs have no say in where they practice. And the paperwork is worse in the military because (1) we do indeed have to fill out insurance forms and cover-your-ass medical notes, and (2) we have loads of performance evals and fits reps due to our status as officers. We can indeed be sued. The research is slim at major hospitals to non-existent at smaller ones. Thanks to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), Walter Reed and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology are set for closure. And on top of all of that, the pay is much less than the civilian side. I once calculated my long-term difference in income by joining the military and saw that in just five years of active duty, I will rack up a net lifetime loss of over $700,000.

    The end result is that the majority of military physicians leave the armed forces as soon as they are eligible to do so and we're left with a bunch of young docs who are certainly competent at their job, but are largely inexperienced.

    If you want to spend an afternoon reading horror stories, see the Student Doctor Network [studentdoctor.net].

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by furby076 (1461805)
      Pros
      1) You get some kind of education reimbursement/deduction
      2) You get hands on experienced in medicine right out of school
      3) You get leadership training
      4) You get to slap on your resume' that you are an officer
      5) You don't have to pay medical insurance, which is very expensive for a nubtard doctor

      Cons
      1) You don't get to choose your work location. You believed the recruiter who said otherwise? Maybe you shouldn't be a doctor. Better yet, I have some nice fancy property to sell you. Send me $250,
    • Sorry, the US Military is another politicised beaurocracy, as all militaries become between wars and don't talk about Vietnam, Afganistan or Iraq, they are not wars, they were ill-considered military adventures conducted by insulated pols with no down-side to THEM.

      As in real wars, command gets better with practice. While there is no chance of the US loosing, in any real sense, the game will go on, but not least a moment in any nation threatening conflict. Leaders, not ass-lickers, become generals. That is t
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:18PM (#27182043)

    The geeks get hardly any tanks for their had work.

  • Whats a compiler? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by codepunk (167897) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:19PM (#27182049)

    In my ten years of military service I cannot recall a single person besides myself that
    even knew what a compiler was. The data systems guys did know how to run some reports
    and such but had zero knowledge of anything more difficult than that.

    Anything requiring some sort of advanced knowledge was contracted out and for good reason, the
    military structure is not designed to facilitate such personnel. Anyone with such advanced skills
    cannot be retained in the military.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Let me fix that for you.

      Anything requiring some sort of advanced knowledge was contracted out and for good reason, the military structure is not designed to facilitate such personnel. Anyone with such advanced skills cannot be retrained in the military.

  • by jandersen (462034) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:19PM (#27182051)

    I can imagine that the "Sir, yes sir" variant of military discipline could clash somewhat with the geekish type with mountain boots, beach shorts and half the shirt hanging out :-)

    The thing is, there are many kinds of discipline - just because you don't dress sharpish and are servile to officers doesn't mean that you are undisciplined. I would argue that it takes a hell of a lot of discipline to stick with a difficult piece of code all through the night and the next day too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by furby076 (1461805)
      I don't think anyone who signs up for the military is under the illusion they won't have to dress a certain way, have a certain hair-cut, or have to talk to people in a certain way. If they do they are probably r-tards who are not nerds. There are certain expectations when you join the military...and those expectations are all over the world... if you don't know them by the time you are 18 you've had your head buried in a hole.
  • Badly... (Score:5, Informative)

    by f(x) is x (948082) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:20PM (#27182057)

    I was in the Army for about 7 years (including a stint in the Persian Gulf in late 2003). The Army has deep, fundamental problems with how they treat techs.

    I could go on for pages, but I'll just give one quick example. Promotions in the Army are based mostly on the amount of time you've been in your job. There are also "schools" that are for the most part mandatory to be promoted to the ranks of Sergeant and above. Attending one of these military schools, requires that you leave your unit for about a month. So within my job (74B) it was typical that 75% or more of the soldiers knew absolutely nothing technical. The problem was that there might only be 1 or 2 really savvy people in a unit and they couldn't afford to lose them for any point of time. So a friend of mine who ran the mail server for a large base, wasn't able to go to a military school so he got promoted much later than his non-tech savvy counterparts despite the fact he was a really good soldier as well.

    This is a very common practice for the Army. The good techies (like my friend) leave the military instead of reenlisting because they have make 10x as much. Almost all of the high ranking enlisted people used to be infantry or medics or other non-technical fields who switched because they would get promoted faster in this job classification. For the most part they don't know or care about tech.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DarkAce911 (245282)

      The army just needs to expand the warrant office program more and problems like this will go away. Most of the time a warrant officer is the best type of person for these positions.

      • Absolutely. Further, a lot of commissioned officers would be better off as warrant officers as they could concentrate on doing their job. Commissioned officers are generalists and tend to get promoted out of doing the technical stuff once they make Major.
      • Re:Badly... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by drakaan (688386) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:04PM (#27182743) Homepage Journal

        ...Or a SPEC-5, SPEC-6, SPEC-7...

        I think one of the things that the Army, specifically, did wrong was to completely eliminate that secondary path to advancement. If we're talking about highly technical specialties with little to no relationship to direct combat, then the idea to make everyone a capable sergeant doesn't fit so well.

        Main reason I didn't stay in longer than I did was that I wouldn't have had the chance to do actual work in my MOS (33-T) above the rank of E-4.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      infantry or medics or other non-technical fields

      Having served as both an infantryman and a medic, and currently being a "techie" in the more usual sense of the word, I can tell you that characterizing medics as "non-technical" is absurd. Medics are kind of the OG's (Original Geeks) of military culture, and what programmers are currently going through is very similar to what medics have gone through for a very long time.

  • Closet Nerds (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:21PM (#27182075)

    A couple of weeks ago we were having some inane conversation and the topic of our respective work places came up. I work in an IS shop with a relatively young crew of developers (I'm 29, I still consider myself young) and most of us show off our inner nerd on a daily basis. You know the stuff; ringtones from old school games, anime, Star Wars, oddball wallpapers, conversations about stuff that leaves non-nerds scratching their heads. A while back I even heard someone playing StarFox a couple cubicles over on a Friday afternoon. All in all it is a pretty great environment :-D My friend's response was "You're so lucky, you work with nerds out in the open. All I have around here are a bunch of closet ninja nerds!" He went on to say that if you're a nerd in the army it's generally better not to show it. Apparently he catches more crap about his nerdy past-times than he does about anything else. Nothing serious really, just the general razzing you might expect. He re-upped a couple of years ago though, so it can't be all bad.

    • My apologies for replying to my own post. I forgot mention that this conversation was with a friend in the army. Gotta love jumping the submit gun.

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:29PM (#27182195) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps the submitter or nerds in general need to realize one thing. Your technical experience is recognized, that does not mean you get a pass on showing recognition to those who hold a higher rank. Too many times its a "us versus "the man" attitude that causes the grief. It is a wonderfully working system with little need to change, the real change is required of those entering it and realizing that their technical knowledge does not impart superiority over those who out rank them.

    Yeah you will run into arseholes who will dismiss your opinion even if your right but that happens in the real world as well. I think Hollywood has really given geeks a bad idea of what to expect in both extremes.

    • It is a wonderfully working system with little need to change, the real change is required of those entering it and realizing that their technical knowledge does not impart superiority over those who out rank them.

      No, it doesn't. But their technical knowledge won't be communicated to a person of higher rank who doesn't keep the door open to constructive criticism and ideas. The same problems that plague corporate america and any large bureauacracy plague the military: And that is that the people who are on the front-lines, working the problem, don't have an open line of communication along the chain of command. Decisions flow from top to bottom, but information flows from bottom to top -- and that flow of information

  • by kaaona (252061) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:29PM (#27182207)

    As a degreed electrical engineer and Air Force communications *engineering* officer I was expressly confined to assignments within that narrow career field. In a service dominated by flying ("rated") officers that was the kiss of death, career-wise. I was passed over for promotion again and again because I "lacked the breadth of assignments and experience required for advancement". My classmates with history and general studies degrees got the maintenance, operations, and command assignments and promotions I could not.

    Now retired from the Air Force and working as an IT contractor, my skills are very much in demand. My salary is probably double that of my peers that got "definitely promote" ratings in uniform.

    In my estimation there is absolutely no possibility that the military will ever adopt -- let alone embrace -- the computer nerd culture needed to develop any serious IT capability of its own. Its leadership is too narcissistic and firmly rooted in the past to allow it.

    • IT services are not the main mission of the armed forces - flying airplanes, driving ships, and pounding the ground are. It only makes sense that those are the guys who are going to be held in the highest esteem.

      However, I think it's pretty dumb that you have to compete with the fly-boys for promotion. At least in the Navy, support types (supply guys, doctors, engineering duty types, etc) each had their own competitive pools, and if you were, say, a doctor, you could hope to be CO of a Naval hospital or som

  • by bbasgen (165297) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:30PM (#27182215) Homepage

    This raises some interesting points. I've been an advocate of a separate branch for cyber war, but ironically this article has me thinking in a new direction. A former IT boss of mine used to say that in the military they take pride in the notion that if it is round you carry it, and if it is square you roll it. The article indicates this cultural problem, but isn't this a cultural pervasive in the very institution of the military? While different branches have different cultures, surely a non-kinetic warfare branch would truly be the odd one out. The military is capable of scientific rigor, certainly -- the US Army Corps of Engineers is a good example. Yet, we have all kinds of intelligence agencies under the department of defense umbrella where science is the modus operandi -- so why would cyber security go under the military, as opposed to the NSA, for example?

    The military requires some degree of cyber warfare capability in the field, but I'm not sure it makes sense as the nexus of national defense efforts in the field. It further seems axiomatic that cyber security can't be reasonably split into our existing branches. This seems to be the crux of the issue: the military may not be sufficiently distinguishing operational needs from strategic needs. While each branch requires operational components, strategically the military cannot effectively pursue this goal.

    I'm not convinced by the point in the article regarding the NSA. On the contrary, it almost seems like the NSA model is ideal: the military requires operational folks who rotate through the doors of the NSA to get schooled and then go out into the field. Meanwhile, I would think, the NSA is staffed by career civilian professionals who can not only devote the necessary strategic attention to cyber warfare, but can also train the military as necessary. The article seems to address an issue where military staff is used to augment an understaffed NSA. Since apparently military staff is rotated out too frequently, it is not an effective use of resources. From this description, at least, this problem seems minor in comparison to the issues of shoe horning geeks into the military.

    Most heartening, however, is that these folks seem to really get it, at long last:

    Recruiting ethical, trustworthy people is, of course, of paramount importance. In their formative years, many technically talented individuals make critical decisions that influence the direction of their life. In the hacking community, perhaps the most important decision is whether or not to engage in illegal activity. By creating a cyber organization that is elite, complete with role models that junior members would want to emulate, we can recruit individuals before they make irreversible decisions that would eliminate their ability to serve their country.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:31PM (#27182231)

    Let me start with a personal disclosure: This past summer slashdot ran an article about interviewing the Air Force's cyber defense team. We submitted the answers, they submitted the replies, and most people were frustrated at the lack of transparency. But one thing they did say is that they were actively recruiting (one of the big reasons they accepted the interview request). Well, I decided to try and contact them using their website. I e-mailed them and said I was game and got bounced to a government jobs website which happened to be broken and also had none of the jobs for the program listed. After a few more hours of fruitless searching, I gave up. What does it matter how they treat their nerds if the interested ones can't even land face time with someone who knows how to screen them?

    Second, our culture is radically opposed to the military culture. And I'm not talking about dropping bombs and warfare stuff that so-called "liberals" go crazy over. We play violent video games to relax. And there's more people in our community that advocate gun ownership and self-defense than in the general population. In short, while it might not be popular geek culture to be pro-military, it's not a single-digit percentage of us by any means. The flip of this though is that many of us live alternative lifestyles and conventional military thinking is that we're a security risk. If it's not our sexuality, it's our hobbies (LARPing comes to mind as one example), and if not our hobbies, than our eccentric worldviews, morality, religious preferences, etc. The very things that make us valuable -- the ability to think critically, take the initiative, and not be weighed down by conventional thinking is exactly the thing the military (like so many bureauacracies, large corporations, and organizations around the world) seems to weed out.

    Really, by the time anyone makes it through all those hoops -- are they really going to be a significant asset? Can the military honestly say it's retaining enough labor assets to combat what less-restrictive organizations (including criminal and terrorist organizations) will accept, and also what they're willing to pay? Seriously. They're organizing out there -- they are seriously organizing how they aquire networking and system resources, they're doing it in bulk, and those resources can be easily militarized. They're being traded amongst themselves already and while right now the targets have been primarily financial, it's only going to take a few geniuses out there to sit down at a table and put their combined skillset together and start attacking real infrastructure targets.

    "Cyber defense" as it sits today is a total and complete joke. Even with chain of command decisions under five minutes from aquisition to execution, you people are still orders of magnitude too slow. And your entire strategy has been reactive in nature, because you lack the intelligence assets necessary to get on the other side of the curve and begin anticipating and analyzing potential threats before they materialize. Not only that, but the military has long been associated with the protection of physical assets and real people -- they are woefully inequipped to deal with intangible assets and virtual people. This is the new blitzkrieg and attacks can start and end faster than a single person's physical reaction times (on the order of a half second).

    They not only aren't fighting the right war, they don't even have the basic sense to know how to adapt to it, or hire the people and trust them to take them in the direction they need to go. It doesn't matter how they treat their "nerds" -- they've already been hired away by private companies, organized criminals, terrorists, or simply left the field due to lack of legitimate employment. And all the while hundreds of billions in assets sit largely undefended, or defended only as well as a bunch of civilians with a hobby interest in security can do.

  • Adapt and overcome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by n3tcat (664243) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:32PM (#27182247) Homepage

    The military supports tech nerds as much as anyone else. You have to learn how to adapt yourself to what the military wants, rather than waiting for the military to adapt to you.

    I've been actively practicing computer nerdity for a little over 15 years now, and what I've noticed in my last 7 years with the Army is that I can practice whatever I want during my free time, but applying my technical expertise during work hours was often ignored or even actively fought against until I started applying my skills directly to the job.

    For example, I wanted to write code more, and maybe even design my own applications. I wanted to learn how to use microsoft tools with databases and whatnot. This never worked because it required too many changes to the system that was already in place, and it had a negligible gain to anyone besides myself. All I wanted was to learn. Eventually I ditched my idea and instead focused on learning VBA (visual basic for applications) to write macros that would drastically reduce redundancy in our office. For that I got some form of praise. Another example would be in Kuwait, where I used my photoshop skills to do graphics work for our unit. For this I got more recognition.

    It's difficult to be selfish in the military. It's also difficult to work in a civilian job that has no overall purpose except to ship a couple more units of Product X.

  • What Mr. Bejtlich does seem to understand is that the officer corps in the military exists to provide a cadre of managerial generalists. That isn't to imply that managers don't need to learn and understand the work they supervise, but a good officer shouldn't be tied to a specific specialty. A good officer should become reasonably proficient in the skills required for his/her current assignment, while being open to learning an entirely new skill set as required by a subsequent assignment.

    The military DOES

  • Weekend Warriors (Score:3, Interesting)

    by halfloaded (932071) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:41PM (#27182373) Homepage
    I am a reservist. My full time job is a sys admin for a fairly large engineering firm. When I deployed to Iraq last year, I spent my time providing security for a small FOB in Anbar. My job in the Marine Corps is Data. The government sent me to six months (of ultimately unnecessary) training in 29 palms. Yet, when I finally got the chance to deploy, I was a glorified MP. Instead, the Active Duty component and contractors supported the network infrastructure. Even when I pointed out areas they could improve the network, I was told to shut up and do the job I was deployed to do. Upon returning, I tried transferring to a reserve component where my skills as a sys admin could actually be used. I was told, "The training I had received and the investment the Corps made in me was too much to allow me to transfer." The Military could do a lot more at finding qualified reservists and leveraging their professional experience and expertise to help in areas where the military generally has problems finding qualified personnel. My $0.02... For what it's worth... I am proud to wear the uniform. I am proud to have served my country. Yet, I am constantly frustrated by the inefficiencies and lack of common sense. I guess they just needed a body with rifle.
  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#27182385)
    Look at history. Alan Turing was an introverted nerd. He was gay in a society that persecuted gay people. Yet his ability to crack the Nazi enigma encryption system gave the allies huge advantages that saved countless lives on both sides and brought on the inevitable conclusion to that tragic war faster than would have been possible if he had been pushed away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcsqueak (1043736)
      Nerds end wars faster than soldiers? Interesting theory. Another thing to look at is all of the nerds (mathematicians, physicists, electric and mechanical engineers, and all of the people in other areas of expertise) that were needed for the Manhattan Project, which eventually lead to the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan, which most likely ended the war earlier than a direct assault on Japan would have.
  • by PhxBlue (562201) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:49PM (#27182495) Homepage Journal

    So, Slashdot, how has the military treated you and your technical friends? What changes are needed?

    I'm not sure where to begin answering this. Let's look at the recent brouhaha about memory cards and DOD networks to understand why.

    In November, the DOD instructed everyone to stop using devices like flash cards, memory sticks, etc. They didn't go into why until weeks later, and they didn't publicly release the "why" until last month, if I recall correctly. And the "why" turned out to be agent.btz, a virus released five months earlier that antivirus software should have stopped.

    But beyond that, here are the problems the DOD had in allowing the agent.btz problem to get way out of proportion. First, they had people using memory sticks to transfer files from unclassified networks to classified networks, when the proper procedure is to burn a CD -- which is treated as classified the moment the door closes on the secure system's CD-ROM drive.

    Second, they obviously had a massive failure to protect their classified systems against a virus that by that point should have been easily detected and removed ... which raises the question, what sort of antivirus software, if any, is installed on the DOD's secure networks?

    Finally, let's look at the so-called "solution." Ban all USB storage devices from all government networks? Really? Isn't that a bit like hitting a fly with a sledgehammer? The existing procedures on transferring data to classified systems would have worked fine if it were followed and enforced, but if the DOD can't enforce those procedures, how does it expect to enforce even more draconian measures that seek to ban the use of USB storage devices altogether? No, the DOD's decision smacks of overreaction and panic.

    And it's telling that the ban is still in place four months after the fact. What that tells me is that the DOD is not prepared to properly and adequately protect its own networks, much less engage in some lofty concept of "cyber warfare." The DOD is still struggling to define what cyberspace is -- how can they fight in a domain when they don't even know its boundaries?

  • by Sir.Cracked (140212) on Friday March 13, 2009 @12:49PM (#27182503) Homepage

    First, a bit of background. I separated from the Air Force in 2006. When I left I had a CJR (waiting list number to keep my own job) in the 280s. That means just in the quarter I would have re-enlisted, 280 people would have to leave, choose other jobs, or fill spots before I got a spot to keep my own job. I left as a 3c051, Computer communications and operations, with the rank of SrA. I actually had a line number for Staff, which I got on my first try, mostly on the strength of my career knowledge. For those not in the know, advancement up to Senior Airman is automatic, and tied to time in grade, until the NCO (Sergeant) ranks. After that point, it's based on a point system comprised of time in grade, decorations, and your results in a test on general air force knowledge and career knowledge.

    My assumption was, with as little relative time in grade as I had, that taking the tests was merely a day doing something different, and why not. But my scores, primarily on the career knowledge, was so high as to overcome my lack of points for time in rank and decorations.

    So, ignoring any of my own opinions about how good or knowledgeable I am, by the measures that the Air Force has, I was the top of the class. I was also assigned to an Info Warfare Flight, exactly the unit that would be concerned with the things being discussed as priorities then, and today. None of it figured into Rank, or into my skill level, or if they tried to retain me.

    The fact that I could run circles around the Staffs and Techs in my unit, and they knew it and deferred to me on technical matters, was irrelevant to what even my technical skill rating was, let alone pay or rank. By the standard of the air force, they had higher skill levels in technical proficiency than I did. Quite frankly, given that I had computer knowledge coming in, I'm certain I could have passed the 7 level class without any effort. However, it's not even offered till you've had Staff on for long enough to get scheduled for it, so, basically a year, mission requirements allowing. Further, as I was processing out, the unit First Shirt (kind of an HR Sergeant) gave a little speech to the airmen, saying those in overfilled career fields should stay in and retrain to something else, that we were young, therefore it was easy for us to do different things, therefore our experience at what we already were doing was irrelevant. I found it insulting to say the least.

    The bottom line is this. The military is not setup to advance and reward those with technical ability. It is setup to have standard sized cogs. One airman's supposed to be exactly equivalent to another, One Staff equivalent to another staff. And if you're thinking from the mindset that one airman could be blown up, and his or her replacement must be ready to step in, it makes a kind of sense. It also doesn't make sense to promote up the ranks based on tech ability. NCO's are the equivalent of lower and middle management, Senior NCO's middle to upper, and officers filling out upper and executive levels. Just because you're an ace with networks certainly doesn't mean you are ready to lead people.

    So, the system itself isn't designed to handle individuals that have technical ability, but who aren't ready/don't want to command lower level troops. None of this even TOUCHES on the way the military lifestyle itself clashes with the general hacker mentality. About the only draw the military has at all is that they will accept just about anyone, and if you can prove a certain aptitude, you will be allowed to do computer work, no previous provable experience or training required. For some of us who don't do well with traditional education, and don't want to work up through the hell desk ladder, it's got that as a draw. But that will only keep people in for 4 and out, and they then use that experience to go get a real job. And you can't run a realistic computer defense or offense program if your best people leave every 3 years (4 years minus the training), and all that's left and

  • ....has a different meaning than most nerds expect.

    DI: "Alright you nerds! Drop and give me half a pushup!"

  • by darkstar949 (697933) on Friday March 13, 2009 @01:16PM (#27182935)
    Speaking about things as a former USAF Programmer (3C0X2), there are a couple major problems with being in a highly technical area in the military, even if you are in a good unit that works with the technical fields.

    One of the first issues that pops in to mind is culture, as at the end of the day, you are still military personnel and are expected to behave a certain way. For the most part this isn't as big of a personnel problem as you might think, as long as people know what they are getting into when they enlist, they typically don't have any problems. However, the bigger issue arises in part because the military likes to rotate people around to different bases and this can result in the loss of a knowledge base in a unit. So unless there are competent civilian employees (i.e. GS series, not contractors) that will be around for awhile, as people are transferred in and out of a unit, there is an overall loss of knowledge and productivity as people learn what they need know about the system they will be working on. For some of the larger applications it can take upwards of six months to a year to know everything about the application - and that is assuming that you know what you are doing as a programmer before you get there.

    This leads to the second problem, namely, the majority of programmers in the USAF where young people that enlisted right out of high school. This means that a great deal of them either didn't know what they were doing when they arrived at tech school - which means that you have to spend more time teaching the basics - or they where self taught and had bad habits they needed to unlearn. This means that as a whole, the USAF was spending a lot of time and money training someone to be a programmer, but by the time they knew enough to do their job well, they were at the end of their enlistment and you don't know if someone is going to reenlist or not.

    This brings us back to the military culture again as the USAF would likely be better off is getting into the AFSC required you to have advanced training of some sort outside of the military, but if that was the case then they would make you an officer and if that where the case, odds are you wouldn't be writing software. Due to this I always wondered if it might be a better idea to just bring back the warrant officer in the USAF and make the AFSC fall under that. Highly unlikely that such a suggestion would even be discussed at the higher levels though.

    So the bottom line, in the USAF programmers and other technical fields, always took a bit of a back seat to the more "bombs on target" and medicine oriented fields and as far as I could tell when I was in and there was always a bit of an issue with retaining people with good technical talent when they came up for reenlistment. A couple ideas where kicked around in regards to how to solve these issues, but when I was in it seemed like the USAF was solving the problem by hiring more civilian contractors to do the jobs.
  • by cat_jesus (525334) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:08PM (#27183727)
    Of course this was back in the cold war but my understanding is that my experience is still rather common.

    Technical people are not given commissions. If they are, they are usually expected to take on a supervisory role only. During my 4 year stint as an Army programmer I met an MIT CompSci grad who got a commission and was never given a technical assignment. He was the XO for our data processing unit but that is only an administrative position. He was rightly pissed during his enlistment. It was a complete waste of his talent.

    I also knew a guy who had a masters from Yale who became a programmer. They offered him a commission but he turned it down when he found our that he would not be doing programming work. He took the training, let the army pay off his considerable student loan and left with 4 years of experience under his belt and a masters degree.

    Keeping programmers past their enlistment period was so hard that they changed the minimum enlistment period to 6 years. In my opinion they should have at the very least made highly technical positions warrant officer positions so they get more pay, more respect and with that, longer retention.

    But the problem with the army is their heirarchical thinking. An enlisted position has very little chance of becoming anything more. If you do real work, you are considered less than an officer who largely does pretend work.
  • "Wired for War" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Friday March 13, 2009 @02:54PM (#27184373) Homepage

    Read Singer's Wired for War [pwsinger.com]. That's about military robots, and covers some of the issues that arise as the computers start taking over weapons.

    Pilots of remotely piloted vehicles occupy a strange place in the Air Force. Most of them are based in the US, controlling vehicles in Iraq. They're stuck in a fighter-jock culture. The RPV pilots, though, are the ones doing damage to the enemy. They're flying combat missions. The fighter jocks are mostly zooming around, but don't have anything to shoot at.

    There's a messy command authority problem with RPV pilots. Do they belong to the base commander where they're physically located? The unit that launches the aircraft, often far from the combat zone? Or the unit that's actually in the combat zone?

    Then there's the problem of who flies the things. The USAF used to task fighter pilots to fly RPVs. They hated it. Worse, it turned out enlisted men trained to operate RPVs did at least as well as the fighter jocks. The USAF is facing the possibility that the fighter jocks may become irrelevant.

    It's happened before, with aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy, until early in WWII, was dominated by the "battleship admirals". There was heavy opposition to aircraft carriers. Congress finally stepped in and, over Navy objections, made it law that the captain of an aircraft carrier must be an aviator. Today, the battleships are history, and the Navy is dominated by aircraft carrier types.

  • by Monolith1 (1481423) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:20PM (#27185623)
    Between 1992 and 2005, my experience was the RAAF treated their nerds exactly like general society treated their nerds. It was fine to be a technical genius but only you were "cool" and in the "in crowd". Otherwise you were ostracised, just like civilian life. Unless you were hidden away underground in some concrete hole with a bunch of other like minded individuals. Generally though these people were often referred to as "REMF's" (rear eschillon mother fkrs) and "blunts" (non pointy end) type people. Often in these environments, the security and "secret squirrel" IT was so structured and controlled that there was little opportunity for creativity. There were enough people to compensate for the inefficiencies in the existing IT solutions. When it came to promotion and career prospects, the RAAF always tended to look after their "warriors". Even if it was an orderly room, admin type, staff member who sat in several air conditioned offices in several hot countries, shuffled papers and got a chest full of medals. IMHO with so much action over the last 10 years, military units around the world will continue be run by "tough", decorated warriors for a while yet, and generally they treat nerds as tools to be kept in their bottom drawer. Maybe its changed drastically in the last 4 years... actually, probably not.

Whoever dies with the most toys wins.

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