Last year, about this same time, I was introduced to a service known as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet or NMCI. Peace I have never known since. The Marine Corps' mission is “First to Fight.” However, under the NMCI tyranny, the Marine Corps' mission has been reduced to “Fight to print.” NMCI is not only a hindrance to this mission; it is the most poorly run organization I have ever seen.
As an enlisted, prior service, Marine, I had the “First-to-Fight” philosophy indoctrinated and infused into my very soul. By design, the Marine Corps is the smallest branch of the Uniformed Services. It enables them to be anywhere in the world, ready to fight, within 24 hours. When I was sent to Personnel Administration School, this mentality was reinforced into something as simple as filling out a form. We spent week after week meticulously learning block by block of form after form. Every word, date, and even punctuation mark was assessed for correct syntax and placement. This level of “analness” ensured that the form would reach its target, the very first time, without further delays due to administrative error. In an indirect way proper punctuation saved lives.
Presently, I continue to serve the Marine Corps as a federal employee for the Department of Defense as a Budget Technician. There are many responsibilities placed upon my shoulders to include the extensive keeping of financial records for auditing purposes. In my office, there stands two, six-foot tall, three-feet wide shelving filled to capacity with a wealth of white, three-inch binders. Within these binders are hundreds of thousands of pages and pages of source documentation of what was paid for by whom in the past six years and three months. The preponderance of pages are products of a reputable piece of office equipment known as a printer.
When I first started my job nine months ago, I was given an HP 2500L. It was a beastly looking thing, clunky and slow. I would often print to the Network Printer across the hallway when I had several jobs that needed to be printed at once. The plus was that mine printed in color, and I soon became accustomed to having this trusty printer by my side. Retrospectively I ask, why do things seem to break at the most crucial moment? When an honest worker’s car battery dies, it is not when he is coming home from work, but when he has to go to work the next morning that the darn thing decides to give out. My printer was no exception to this rule. It was as if by whim, my printer started jamming more than a Harlem Globetrotter.
Fortunately for me, we have a printer repairman on base. Aside from the inconvenience of removing all the cables, carrying the printer to my car, putting it in the car, and hauling this contraption over to his office, I knew that I would be well taken care of. Back in my office I waited. Much to my satisfaction, I received a call later that day from the repairman who told me I could pick up the printer as he had fixed the problem. So I drove the mile and a half to his office, hefted the printer back to my car, drove back to my office, and plugged everything back in. It was here that I become impressed with my repairman’s technical proficiency as I discovered that he had skillfully reconfigured the print test page option to execute a jam with paper function instead. In my admiration, the flashing red light blinked defiantly at me.
Now this is no ordinary case of an amateur who does not know how to un-jam a printer. I made several expert attempts to resolve my situation both before and after the repairman had serviced it. This only served to rouse my soul with anguish. Once again I made my pilgrimage back to the Holy Repair Office, where death hath no claim upon office equipment, and offered up my prayers upon the wailing wall of want. A hush came over the room as the Printer Prophet approached me with his wisdom, “It will be cheaper to buy a new printer than to fix the one you have. You must forsake and forget your trusted companion and look onward for a new printer.”
“I’ll need a loaner,” I said discontentedly as I bid adieu to the carcass. Moments later, I was issued an HP 1320N, and I happily carried this newer, and smaller, model back to my office. Oh, how I wish things could have ended there! The HP 1320N was much faster than the 2500L. At 22 pages per minute I was more productive than ever. It was like driving a Porsche after having a Pinto for so long. Sure, it didn’t print color, but on the occasion that I needed such there was a color network printer down the hall. Besides, with a quick approval from NMCI, I could place the order for a new high-speed color printer. In a week or so life should have returned to normal. One month later, the approval continued to evade me. Periodically, I made inquiries upon the status with no replies. I did not fret too much nonetheless as I had the loaner. Suddenly, the all too familiar sound of a printer jam returned to haunt my weary working days and soon my loaner was another “goner.”
It took several months for the approval to go through, an ordeal that would rival many books of the Bible in size were I to describe it. Suffice it to say that my request was signed. No, not just signed by any common employee from NMCI. It was signed by Mr. NMCI himself (at least as far as we, on base, were concerned). After all, it was the least he could do, right? It was that same day I placed the order! The customer service representative informed me that my brand new HP 4250 would be delivered in a week. Life was good! Life was worth living again and oh, how I wish it could just leave it at that.
With glee I opened the delivered box and—ahh, the smell of new plastic and the sound of squeaky Styrofoam. Like a child on Christmas morning I pulled the printer out of the box and eagerly attached it to my computer. Windows’ Plug-and-Play recognized my printer instantly and began automatically installing the drivers when on my screen flashed “You are not authorized to install new hardware on this computer. Please contact your local Administrator.” Computerus interruptus, I was almost there! I tried again. The same message flashed upon my screen. In vain I tried several more attempts. Like an addicted gambler at an impious slot-machine, I would pray that God would miraculously let each attempt be the one exception. I soon came to my senselessness and called the NMCI “Help-less” Desk.
The less than talented technician was unsuccessful in resolving my problem. “This will have to be forwarded to your local NMCI representative,” he stated apathetically. This was unacceptable. I had obeyed the message on my screen; I called! I realized square one status and the light at the end of my tunnel grew dim. Frustrated, I complied. Days later, I received an e-mail from one of the local NMCI technicians. He stated that my printer was not on the NMCI pre-approved list and that I would have to get another printer. “What do you mean it’s not on the list? Your boss signed the approval himself,” I said furiously, as I scanned my office for the very document with this man’s signature and all the supplemental paper work. My cluster bomb of an e-mail went straight to the technician and everyone else I could think of. I explicitly described the injustice that had occurred. So well worded was my message that surely I would emerge victorious! No, not only was I defeated, but my printer became the red-headed step-child of office equipment.
Why did defeat come so suddenly? Days before, when I had opened the box and removed the pristine printer from its packaging, I had subsequently tossed the box and undesirables into the trash outside. The trash man since then did his job, which I found to be a novelty. Having contacted the vendor in attempt to return the printer, I learned that not only is the box required for returns, if it was opened, they would not accept it. The only exception to this was if the printer was “Dead on Arrival.” Here I was stuck with a printer that no one wanted and I could not return.
This was my struggle. The Marine Corps signed a contract with NMCI to improve security. The first stages of this were to have NMCI technicians come and re-image everyone’s hard drive, better known as the NMCI roll-over. What was next, we would joke around the office, playing dead? With lacerated pride I looked at my impotent printer and learned my lesson well. They weren’t playing.