The Colonel's Solution

by Phil Rowe
"Let's see now," the Colonel said. "You mean we've got a bad batch of ammunition links, and the 20mm tail gun jams when these links are used. Right?"

The maintenance review team sat around the conference room. Each week the Colonel would chair this review of the maintenance and equipment problems for the Bomb Wing. The panel was comprised of senior non-commissioned officers (NCO's), and several officers from the various maintenance and supply outfits on the base. Decisions and recommendations from the panel would bear upon the overall performance of the Wing as a whole.

"Yes sir, Colonel," responded, Master Sergeant Adams, the senior NCO from the armament unit responsible for bombs and ammunition carried aboard the bombers. "It seems that the ammo belts jam when the new batch of links reaches the cross-over feed from the two boxes supplying the tail guns. We never had this problem with those old links." Adams put samples of both kinds out on the table.

"And how many of these new links have we in stock, Sergeant?"

"Sir, we've got thousands of 'em. At our normal consumption rate, I guess we've got a six month's supply," Adams responded.

"Can we ship them back to the depot and then the manufacturer? And what will we do in the meantime, until replacements come in?"

"Sir, that's the problem. We haven't got enough of the old ones to take care of the gunnery practice missions scheduled for this quarter. And what's worse," Adams continued, "we've got several alert airplanes loaded with the new links already. It'll take six months to get replacements here."

The Colonel's brow wrinkled. He scratched his head and asked, "Any ideas, gents? What do you experts recommend?"

No one made any suggestions, most everyone else deferring to Sergeant Adams.

"Well, Adams? What do the munitions folks suggest?"

"It's a real problem, Colonel. We've got half of the alert birds loaded with ammo linked, the bad ones, and we certainly won't do very well on training flights. I think we've got enough of the old, the good links, to reload the alert birds. But that means we don't have enough to support the training missions." Adams was clearly worried, for he knew that the Wing's efficiency rating included how well the gunnery practice missions went.

"Well then," the Colonel declared. "I'd say that we have but one option. Let's alternate links. Use alternating new and old links when you load the ammunition belts into the boxes. Yes, that's it. That'll fix the problem. Any questions? And start now on those alert birds. Clear?"

The collection of senior NCO's couldn't believe what they'd heard. Even if such a solution was indeed the way out of the problem, did the Colonel realize that meant downloading 4000 rounds of ammo from each of the 12 alert airplanes and re-linking each and every round. Those sergeants just sat there shaking their heads. Never had they heard such dumb advice, not even from second lieutenants.

Sergeant Adams just couldn't sit still for that lame-brained idea. He knew that the first bad link passing through the ammo box cross-over would jam everything. There'd still be about 2000 rounds remaining that couldn't be fired.

"Sir, I'd like to respectfully disagree with that loading approach. It won't prevent bad links from jamming the system at cross-over."

The Colonel was miffed that his idea, which he thought to be perfectly logical, was not fully endorsed. "Well, Sergeant Adams? Have you got a better idea?"

"Sir," Adams responded in his most diplomatic tone of voice, "I'd like to suggest a little different approach."

"Well? Let's have it?" the Colonel urged, in a tone clearly reflecting a challenge and not appreciative of Adams' rejection of his own solution.

"Colonel," Adams began. "Our first priority is to make sure all alert aircraft have the working links, the old ones. Do you agree?"

The Colonel nodded. How could he argue with that?

Adams continued, "Okay then. And let's recognize that those new links work well enough until the cross-over point is reached. We can clearly use them for half-loads and accomplish part of the gunnery training missions with but 2000 rounds. Understand, sir?"

"Yes, yes, I understand sergeant. Continue."

"If I understand the practice and training flight scoring system correctly," Adams responded with confidence growing in his presentation. "There's nothing in the scoring system that says how many rounds we have to fire per mission. All we have to do is have the flight crews demonstrate that the gunnery system works and that they have fired a certain percentage of what was loaded. So let's just load 2000 rounds, using the bew links, and send them on their way. They've got a good chance of getting 100% of the loaded rounds, the 2000 and not 4000. Do you agree with what I'm suggesting, sir?"

The others around the table smiled, fully recognizing that Adams not only had a workable solution but that he knew how the scoring system could be worked. But the Colonel was puzzled. He still didn't get it. Oh, he appreciated that the alert birds had to have all good links, but he couldn't grasp the significance of Adams' interpretation of the training requirements.

"Sorry, sergeant. I still believe the only solution is to alternate good links with bad ones. That way we get to use up the defective links and have half a chance that we'll be able to complete the training gunnery missions. If you want to use just a half load, to conserve the good links, well I can go along with that."

"But, sir," Adams began to respond. He was cut off by the Colonel.

"That final, sergeant. I've told you what we're going to do. Now just have your troops make sure that the alert birds have all good links and then mix the old and new ones on the training missions. Next topic, gentlemen."

I guess it's little wonder that the Colonel had the nickname, never spoken to his face of course, of "WEFT". That stood for "wrong every frappin' (?) time". Unfortunately, for you dear taxpayer, this really happened.