One Slick Solution and Unexpected Consequences

Quite a few years ago my first job in the military was driving a tracked vehicle, a variant of the well known M113. Drivers drive of course, but they also own the routine maintenance of the vehicle, a process that starts with daily and weekly checks from a checklist – the equivalent of kicking the tires and checking the oil.

The M113 had two batteries, car sized or a bit bigger, mounted on a sliding tray with a handle that locked it closed. On this particular vehicle sliding the tray out was an exercise in leverage, and closing it involved leaning back and using my feet to push it closed. Checking the batteries was thus a pain. I put it up with it for a while, as I suspect quite a few had before me, until a combination of boredom and aggravation combined to have me take the whole thing apart and fix it. Fixing it was mostly cleaning out years of dirt and old grease and fixing a few bends, then applying a new coat of grease. When I was done it slid back and forth with no effort, just like a filing cabinet in the office. A couple of hours of dirty work invested, in return those routine checks got done every week and in a lot less time. The NCO I worked for was mildly impressed that I did something on my own (and I think because everyone else had just put up with it). In hindsight it started defining my brand long before I thought in such terms.

The story doesn’t quite end there though. Some time later we were in a convoy to a training location,driving on a public highway. Driving a M113 isn’t quite like driving a car,there are two sticks that activate the brakes on the left and reside tracks, you steer by tugging on one stick or the other to slow that side down and cause the vehicle to turn. Stopping requires pulling back on both at the same time with more or less equal effort to stop in a straight line. The driver has a helmet with an intercom built in, goggles, and drives with their face out in the 30 mph wind stream. Fun sometimes, tedious at others.

This particular day was tedious, a two or three hour drive, when I hear the boss yelling on the intercom about something wrong. Not mad yelling, more a something-is-wrong yelling, so I panic stop right there. Vehicles swerved around me and kept going while I turned to find out what was wrong. Turns out the battery tray, being well lubed, had opened due to the vibration and slid open. By itself it wouldn’t matter, but then one of our aluminum cleaning poles fell across the batteries and starting arcing in spectacular fashion. That triggered mad screams from the third member of the team who had been snugly asleep in a sleeping bag in the back. I got yelled at a little for stopping so quickly (what was I supposed to do?), we closed the battery tray, and on we went.

A minor adventure in the scheme of things. One with no grand lessons, yet somehow there were grand lessons. Strange how life shapes us in unexpected ways.

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