(Name changes in effect for identity security) They call me Braithwaite. I’m a special operations man by trade, or at least I fancy myself one. I left the Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and the Army in January of 2001 to work a job in Las Vegas as a contractor for the Department of Energy (DOE), executing high-risk projects at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Due to my background, all Department of Defense (DoD) projects coming to the NTS came to me. Since only Tier One DoD units could afford to use the exorbitantly expensive NTS, I had the pleasure of the company of the great American warriors I had only recently left behind.

Humor me while I walk you through a quick familiarization of the NTS: This is where the vast majority of nuclear underground and aboveground test shots were conducted in the U.S.—roughly a dozen were detonated above ground, and nearly 1000 were detonated underground. Once the nuclear test moratorium set in, all nuclear test infrastructure just froze in place. Representation of the seven national laboratories of the nation remain active there to this day.

The NTS is roughly the size of Rhode Island, boasting vast expanses of open wasteland in the south, and high desert mountainous regions up north—remarkable replications of the rugged regions of Afghanistan. Tier One loved the terrain, and routinely came to NTS to shake out weapons and tactics prior to deploying to the two Middle Eastern theaters.

To work as a civilian contractor for a government agency is like no other experience I have ever endured. It is difficult to even explain, as I simply know of nothing to compare it to. It’s so insanely fornicated-up that the mind simply can’t hold it all at once. To try and take the concept of operations of a Tier One live-fire combat-training venue and sell it first to my own company, and then to the DOE, was like trying to stack greased ball bearings in the back seat of a Pakistani taxi.

The DOE’s adversity to risk, translated by my company’s senior management, which was too smart to think its way out of a paper bag, turned the work environment from an accident-free work zone into a work-free safety zone. Folks, the answer to the ultimate elimination of accidents in the work place is rules and regulations, policies and procedures: the ridiculous Rs and the pusillanimous Ps. Enough RRPPs, and you can preclude all possibility of any work being accomplished. We had so many of those RRPPs, you could put in 40 hours per week just obeying rules while accomplishing nothing else.

I witnessed: company employees who were caretakers for pieces of real estate, old abandoned buildings, and other facilities. Their sole responsibility all year long was to go out and inspect their pieces of real estate, guard them like a kid with a pile of marbles, and keep all NTS projects away from their real estate. Projects mean problems, and problems mean work…and they would have none of that at the NTS.

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“Why can’t my Tier One project use your abandoned building for project support?”

“Well, because somebody else might want to use it, like the National Labs, and your military guys might shoot bazookas or throw hand grenades at it.”

“Really, why do you think they would do that? Do you think they are freakin’ insane desert zealots from a ‘Mad Max’ movie? You know, to a New Yorker like you, a bazooka is some kind of weird bubble gum.”

“Well, I just don’t want to take any chances with your guys.”

And so there stood I, shaking like a caffeinated Parkinson’s patient.

These people’s empty buildings sucked up company revenue. My projects brought in company revenue, and yet I had to beg my company to please take my money.

I’m a risk-taking man, or at least I fancy myself one. On some Tier One projects, I spent weeks and weekends shuttling munitions and weapons from bunker to bunker just to keep the company explosives expert from finding them and bringing my project to ceasefire with a costly and utterly nonsensical hazardous materials audit. Keep it moving, I say. Keep “The Man” guessing. It was a game of chess, pure and perfect strategy. Bishop takes pawn, Braithwaite takes munitions…check and mate.

I witnessed: company employees who charged their time and spent their days at the NTS spying on other employees, reporting on their transgressions in hope of earning the coveted company STAR award, a $25 (that’s right, twenty-five freakin’ dollars) coupon valid only in the company gift shop. You could score a coffee mug, tote bag, ball cap, big-gulp cup, or T-shirt, all with the company name and logo on it. Score!

I am a drone advocate, or so I fancy myself. I accepted all research and development (R&D) projects on any unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)—drones. Give me electric powered, heavy-fuel powered, hand launched and quadcopters, all the way up to rocket-powered, supersonic drones.

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Primary_UAV_new
Top: This supersonic jet-powered drone used two rocket-assisted take off (RATO) Zuni rockets to propel it from 0 to 300 MPH in just over one second, then jettisoned.

I witnessed: a company employee, Pete Toolhead, demand that I demonstrate how I could guarantee one of my drones wouldn’t crash into his building. I “demonstrated” that I didn’t owe him that nonsense any more than Southwest Airlines owed him a guarantee that one of their airbuses wouldn’t auger into his worthless shed.

I witnessed: my first rocket-powered supersonic drone, at launch, make an arching left roll, slam into the paved road in front of me, cartwheel into the desert, and burn to a catastrophic loss. My company environmental office ordered me to have the fuel spill at the crash site cleaned. My company estimated $8,000 to shave the surface dirt at the crash site and dump it in the NTS landfill. My company actually charged my project $17,000 (more than twice the estimated cost) to perform the work. My project was nearly bankrupt.

I witnessed: my second rocket-powered supersonic drone, at launch, make an arching left roll, slam into the paved road in front of me, cartwheel into the desert, and burn to a catastrophic loss roughly 100 meters from the first crash site. That weekend, Braithwaite and a couple of project bros drove out to the crash site with some shovels and pickup truck. They shaved the surface dirt, piled it into the truck, and dumped it. Price tag: ~ $400.

I witnessed: my third and fourth rocket-powered supersonic drones crash up north in the rugged high grounds of the test site. The terrain was so arduous that I had to charter a local Vegas tourist helicopter company to come and sling-load the wrecked drones back to the project support site. Unfortunately the weight of the fully fueled drones and high altitude were just too much for the helo to lift. Fortunately, both drones sprang a leak and dumped all their fuel onto the ground, making them just light enough to lift. Once that fuel seeps into the water table in 40 years…will they be able to reach me for comment? I calculate that Cesium 137 shall sooner drop a half-life.

I witnessed: the operations manager for the rocket-powered supersonic drone project speeding toward the launch site late, slam into a barricade, and lose control of his rental pickup truck, which went decisively airborne and cartwheeled into the desert. The impact fired all airbags and bent the truck’s chassis like a banana. When it rains, it pours, methinks. It was a matter of record that the operations manager’s truck logged more airtime than any of my rocket-powered supersonic drones had to that point.

The Nye County Police asked me to remain at that accident site for an interview. As I waited, my fifth rocket-powered drone shrieked overhead, only to make a slow and graceful descent to Mother Earth, stopped suddenly by Pete Toolhead’s abandoned building. Well, at least I didn’t consider that flight a total waste. The environmental office wanted to inspect the truck crash site for hydrocarbon spills, which were plentiful. I couldn’t be reached for comment.

I witnessed: the CEO of the company that owned the rocket-powered supersonic drone project race straight through a lefthand turn on his Ninja rocket-powered motorcycle. An analysis of the tire marks in the soft desert soil revealed that he had gone airborne twice before coming to a halt up against a berm. Calculations indicate that he too had logged more time airborne than his drones, but not as much as the operations manager’s truck. That record, to this day, still stands.

The environmental office demanded to inspect the CEO’s Ninja crash site for hydrocarbon spills, which were abundant. I did what any upstanding company employee would do: I jumped in my truck and raced far off near the very northern edge of the test site, near Area 51, where all other white men feared to tread, and hid like a little rat. I built a simple shack and lived off the land like Daniel freakin’ Boone. I simply waited them out. It always worked, because I’m a patient man. Or at least I fancy myself one.

I thought I knew of no bigger creep than an employee who snitched on another employee. I was wrong. In fact the bigger creep was the employee who snitched on himself. Case in point: Pete Toolhead bumped a post while backing up his company vehicle on a Saturday when nobody was around. There was no damage to Toolhead’s vehicle, or to the post that Toolhead bumped. Toolhead nonetheless turned himself in the coming Monday. For his outstanding integrity, the company sent Toolhead home for a week—without pay.

But company management was right on top of things and brainstormed a quick DOE ass-sucking solution. Because of Toolhead, the entire company had to go get a pink sticker from the motor pool. The stickers were roughly the size of a quarter, and we had to stick one on our bumper. Every time we looked at the pink stickers we were supposed to think of safety. Now, I’m a cerebral man (or at least…you know), and I quickly conjured up several fatal flaws with that plan:

  1. What if I didn’t look at the pink dot before backing up?
  2. What if I approached my vehicle from the front instead of the back and never saw the dot?
  3. What if I thought of water safety instead of driving safety when I looked at the dot?
  4. What if my aunt had a mustache and was really my uncle?

Toolhead was sad one day because nobody would drive him to the NTS to inspect his abandoned building. I felt sorry for him, really, but I had no time to take him on the 3.5-hour turnaround drive. Aw, what the heck, get in Toolhead! I slapped my radar buster on the dash and off we roared to inspect Toolhead’s shanty. For my insolence, Toolhead reported me to the company for violating the company policy banning radar detectors on the NTS.

Now, ladies and gentlemen of SOFREP, somewhere on the NTS, way up north where other white men fear to tread, there is a hole in the desert. It’s a deep, sandy hole, tightly packed with desert sage and tuft. It is in that hole, my friends, that the five-year facility inspection log of Pete Toolhead’s building is buried. Speedy recovery, Pete!

I’m a kind man, at least I fancy myself one. Until I’m not a kind man anymore.

Geo sends