Last year, about this same time, I was introduced to a product known as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet or NMCI. Peace I have never known since. The Marine Corps mission is “First to Fight.” NMCI is not only a hindrance to this mission it is the most poorly run organization I have ever seen. Under the tyranny of NMCI, the Marine Corps mission has been reduced to “Fight to Print.”
As an enlisted, prior service, Marine, I had the “First-to-Fight” philosophy indoctrinated and infused into my very soul. The Marine Corps is the smallest branch of the Uniformed Services by design. 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 “anal-ness” ensured that the form would reach its target, the very first time, without further delays due to administrative error. It would not be grossly inaccurate to say that in an indirect way proper punctuation saved lives.
Presently, I continue to serve the Marine Corps as a civilian as a Budget Technician for the Department of Defense. 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 shelves filled to capacity with a plethora of white, three-inch binders. Within these binders are hundreds of thousands of pages of what was paid for in the past six years and three months, children of a well known 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 it printed in color, and I soon became accustomed to having this printer by my side. Why is it that things seem to break at the most crucial moment? When the honest working man’s car battery goes dead, it’s not when he is coming home from work, but when he has to go to work the next morning, that the damn 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. That very same day the repairman called me up and told me to come pick up the printer as he had fixed the problem. Once again, I drove the mile and a half to his office and hefted the printer to my car and back into my office. Now I am certain that the button that I pushed read “Print test page,” and not “Jam printer with paper,” but sure enough, the flashing red light blinked mockingly 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 proved to kindle my new found hell. Once again I made my pilgrimage back to the Holy repair office where death had no claim upon the office equipment and offered up my prayers to the Computer Angels. “It will be cheaper to buy a new printer than to fix the one you have.” The Printer Prophet had spoken! There was nothing to do but forsake and forget my trusted companion and look onward for a new printer.
“I’ll need a loaner,” I said as I set the carcass down. 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. Sure, it didn’t print color, but on the occasion that I needed such there was a color network printer down the hall. Besides, all I needed was approval from NMCI and I could place the order for my new printer. In a week life would return to normal. Weeks went by without approval. Occasionally, I made inquiries upon the status with no replies. I did not fret too much though. I had the loaner. Suddenly, the all too familiar sound of a printer jam returned to haunt my weary work 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. 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! Oh, how I wish it could have ended there!
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. On my screen flashed “You are not authorized to install new hardware on this computer. Please contact your local Administrator.” “Damn,” I thought, “I’m so close!” 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 senses. I had to call the NMCI “Help-less” Desk.
Years ago Bill Gates introduced a marvelous feature known as plug-and-play through his product Microsoft windows. With this feature, one could effortlessly plug-in one of the tens of thousands of pre-registered devices for which Microsoft had device drivers for. There was no floppy disk or CD to worry about, no progress indicator window. All this was automatically taken care of with the plug and play feature. NMCI has created a barrier to this feature by requiring you to call the HELP DESK and request the device to be installed.
The not-so-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 obeyed the message. Yet somehow, I was back at square one. 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?” I thought. Your boss signed the approval himself. Furious, I scanned the very document with this man’s signature and all supplemental paper work. I e-mailed it back to the technician and everyone else I could think of. I explicitly described the injustice that had occurred. I thought, so well worded was my e-mail that surely I would win this squabble. Not only was I defeated, but my printer became the red-headed step-child of office equipment.
Days ago 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. 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 had 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. To them, this was known as an NMCI roll-over. What was next playing dead? Here I stood defeated with lacerated pride. I had learned a lesson. We weren’t playing.