At the end of the 1980s, I was stationed in the Netherlands with the US Army. Before going there, I didn’t even know we had troops in that country. It was a plum assignment. My ostensible job was Military Policeman, but my actual duties varied widely. At that time the Army in Europe was struggling with automating office tasks and paperwork. Our office ran a network of 286s on DOS. We later got a Unix server, but it made little difference in our experience as users.
Meanwhile, my family had joined me on this very family-friendly tour. The Dutch TV broadcasting carried a lot of UK and Australian programming. The Dutch subtitles helped us familiarize better with the local language, but frankly the majority of those we met spoke English as one of their half-dozen tongues. A major recurring advertising campaign, often in English, was for OS/2. This was the first graphical computer OS I had seen. Not in the military, though, it was used by a couple of local businesses.
At one point, while living in Texas and working on the infancy of my computer ministry, I had a friend who was an avid fan of OS/2. I thought it had died, given the official announcements from IBM. However, he was a certified technician for what was then the Merlin release, and a tireless promoter. Apparently IBM eventually found an interested buyer who was banking on the still substantial community of users to fund future enhancements.
A couple of years ago, I decided to see if the new holders of the license, Serenity Systems, were interested in me writing a review of their product. They were. Turns out they had a solid 1.2 release in wide use, and a 2.0 beta. They gave me a free one year license. I tested it and wrote about it. If you bother to check, you’ll see it was not much to write about, since I couldn’t find a suitable machine for it. I came close with an ancient Toshiba laptop, but it just wasn’t functional.
I felt bad about it, but I hardly felt right in begging them for a computer, too. Where would be the adventure? Might just as well have them write the review themselves. So I figured that was the end of it. A couple of times I came close to testing it on a couple of machines donated for the ministry, but never got around to it.
Yesterday Mensys (the primary vendor of the product) contacted me again and with a license for their latest release. I was stunned. So I am downloading the ISOs and will be trying it soon on my aging Dell Inspiron 4100 laptop. From my initial research, I have reason to believe it’s worth a shot. Naturally, it should also result in a fresh review of the product at Open for Business. However, the raw experience will be written up here, along with any interesting discoveries.
Their first destination was the headquarters compound. A full city block with very high fencing, resembling more a prison. It took awhile to clear the gate, with each man presenting his ID card and bundle of official documents. The truck and baggage were searched extensively, and their teenage guard was left to entertain himself across the street in a building reserved for nationals on retainer like himself. They never saw him again.
Their HTS officer led them through one building, across a courtyard and into another. A long climb up what had surely been a massive block of apartments to somewhere near the top floor, they were led to a briefing room. The HTS pointed out the coffee machine next to a refrigerator from which they could take one soft drink of choice. The men were thoroughly relaxed when a military officer entered from another door.
These days officer insignia were reduced to the point badges were issued for internal use. This man’s plastic card indicated he was a military lawyer, a JAG officer. On the one hand, he maintained a careful mask of cold professionalism. On the other hand, he was remarkably candid, something they were to see quite seldom for the duration of their time there. The man placed a briefing notebook on the table, opened, and never glanced at it once.
The six men learned the local commander was a Brigadier General. His primary job was not actually commanding, but coordinating with subordinate commanders and a host of allied military and civilian contractors. The Human Terrain Program was essentially an attempt to harness highly trained social science specialists to improve relations with the locals, and to provide a more humane brand of intelligence gathering. It was highly popular with Congress and the DoD, and was ramping up theater-wide. However, the quality of personnel and operations was quite uneven, and the program already bore a record heavy with disasters small and large. While the general would support the local contingent in accordance with budgeting and written directives from higher up the chain, the latter were flexible enough for him to take measures to protect everything else under his authority.
The plan was to isolate the entire local operation as much as possible. The whole thing was assigned its own separate facility. The men were allowed to use military health and welfare facilities, but otherwise restricted to their assigned duty post. No one could stop them from wandering the local community, but it was highly discouraged until they were more familiar with the culture, language, and so forth. The community around their post was particularly risky. These six would see lots of HTS personnel and some local hires, but otherwise the whole point was to keep them “independent.” While the various HTS officers would frequently work alongside field units, they were highly discourage from pretending they were military. Then the JAG pointedly told them they were not to been seen wearing their issued coveralls at any time in the future.
Krumm was quick. “Sir, we are eager to comply with that order. Do you suppose there might be a shower facility here we could use to expedite things?”
The JAG almost smiled, and for just a moment, his tone was faintly personal. “I recommend the gym showers. You’ll find the entrance just a few yards from where your truck is parked.”
“Thank you, sir.” The others echoed that sentiment.
Resuming his coldly professional air, the JAG ran through a few other issues. Suddenly, in one single motion he stood and closed the notebook in front of him. He rattled off what was obviously a memorized official spiel as he walked toward the door he had entered. Krumm later loosely translated the spiel for Ripley’s amusement: “Welcome to this Hell Hole. Stay out of trouble.”
They had just a few moments’ leisure to congratulate Krumm for thinking of something so obvious which was quite likely to be neglected by their hosts. The door opened again, but somewhat slowly. The person who entered was wearing something clearly meant to resemble a uniform of some sort, but equally clearly not anything recognizable as military. It wrapped rather poorly a very corpulent figure. The men agreed later none of them was too sure what gender this person was at first. The hair was short, but somewhat stylish. There was a faint whiff of white facial hair just visible when caught in profile through the overhead lights. The skin color was somewhat tannish, highly wrinkled, and the person moved with some difficulty.
The badge alone identified this as a female, with a tiny “F” down among the other bureaucratic abbreviations in one corner of the card, which carried other essential biographical details in case the body was found in the aftermath of an IED or other highly destructive demise. She had inside a plastic bag a set of similar badges which they all laboriously reviewed with her before donning them. They were told in three different ways to always keep them on their persons, but to actually wear them only while inside an official facility.
She wasted some more time restating the nature of the HTS Program. Finally she began outlining their various assignments. She read each job description slowly, then promptly contradicted portions of them by way of explanation. At long last, she told them initially they would be sleeping in their newly secured office building. Cots and other life support necessities were supposed to there already. Krumm stole a meaningful glance at the others. She rambled on for awhile, then something on her belt buzzed loudly. As she pulled the odd looking cellphone from her belt and began talking into it, she absently waved the men goodbye and wandered out of the briefing room. She left the door standing open.
For a moment they sat in puzzled silence. Krumm suggested they make haste to take advantage of their orders to change clothes. Somehow, he managed to find the way back to their truck. They quickly identified the gym and grabbed the necessities for showers. They would have dawdled over the first splash of water they had felt on their skins in almost a week, but Krumm warned them his instincts suggested they hurry. They were just returning to repack their gear when the HTS who had brought them showed up. Before he could fire up his rant about having to hunt them down, Krumm stated a certain JAG officer had ordered them to change their clothes. The HTS deflated and stood slack-jawed just a moment. Then he curtly ordered them to board and strode to the cab of the truck.
They barely got seated when it lurched forward.