I wasn’t trying to cause any trouble when I named my classified Department of Energy program “Backfire” — honestly, I wasn’t! But in the end, it rather seemed like I somehow doomed the project to destruction by naming it so. My naming convention thought process went like this: the project was to evaluate three private-sector technologies that claimed they could trace the trajectory of small arms and mortar fire back to the point of origin: an evolution of the counter-battery or counter-mortar radar technology.

So, tracing the FIRE BACK to where it came from — BACKFIRE!

In the day, there was also the Boomerang system, which was an acoustic system for tracing back sniper fire to its origin. It was explained to me thusly: the “problem” with Boomerang was that you already had one man dead in order to trace back the trajectory. I defined it not as a “problem” but a fact of life — you weren’t ever going to trace back a bullet that hasn’t been fired yet unless you factor in the Minority Report concept.

“Backfire,” one of my peers remarked one day, “yeah, I don’t like that sound of that!”

“Yeah? Well, how about I give YOU this project, and then you can change the name to flowers and kittens?”

“Oh… nooooo… no, no, no, no, no, no — NOOO!”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’?”

How I Ended Up With the Project

The way I ended up with the project is interesting. I was added to its staff of managers because of my experience with the weapons involved: the Auvtomat Kalishnakova 1947 (AK-47): I had dumped thousands of rounds of ammunition from the platform in both love and hate — I loved shooting the weapon and hated to turn back in ammunition.

The indirect fire mortar system. Well now, that was my first ever job in the military; I could set up, fire, adjust fire, and tear down a mortar system all by myself.

In the first week of the project, the project manager passed around a roster of all of the people in the company who were to be involved in the project, so we could check the spellings of our names and make sure our telephone numbers were all correct! There were some 25 persons on that list. “My God,” thought I, “the most difficult thing to manage on this project is going to be — ourselves!”

Mercury in Retrograde

As it turned out, the project manager promptly dropped the project and ran screaming like a girl in the general direction of Mercury in retrograde. The next person in the electric chair was me. I liked being in the electric chair, though — it kept my coffee warm. Quite literally, the first thing I did for the good of the project (as I saw it) was to tear up that list of 25 “facilitators” into tiny pieces, soak the pieces in warm water, load the ensuing mush into a straw, and shoot it across the room at my wall clock. When I could no longer read my clock face, it was time to get it on!!

My first chat with the customer went swimmingly. My point of contact, Chad, was delighted when I finished most of the sentences. He promptly set up a telecon with all his people to establish the relationship between his people and me, the Nevada Test Site. I remember calling into that meeting, and before I had a chance to announce myself, I heard this exchange between Chad and a couple of his peeps:

“Christ, Chad… really? Another pointless waste of time meeting with those flaming-yellow idiots from Nevada? Can I just snort Ricin instead, please?”

“No man, I’m telling you; you haven’t heard from this guy yet. You need to listen to this guy; he is different — his guy is a badass with answers!”

“Hi, this is George Hand entering the meeting from the Nevada Test Site — Chad, are you there, brother?”

By the end of the meeting, I heard balloons popping and champagne bottles being uncorked — I’d say it went well. Chad asked what had happened to the list of 25 facilitators he had been dealing with prior. I explained to him that those were not facilitators as he understood the definition of the word facilitator; rather, they were a gaggle of shameless tattletales, and we didn’t want them because they were just… stupid.

“Whatever it is that you find yourself doing at the Nevada Test Site, Chad, any one of those people are there to do everything in the limits of their power to make you just stop, and with 25 of them, we don’t stand a chance. And they will also charge you top-dollar for their time spent destroying your project.”

“Gawd, Geo… how do you guys bring revenue to the Test Site like that?”

“Thank you, Chad, right??”

A Tad Arrogant

It sounds like I was an arrogant asshole at the helm of this project. I actually get why some bros and sis’ might interpret it that way, as during the entirety of the project… I was an arrogant asshole. I had two huge things in my favor that were protecting me and my project: Distance and Fear — the DF factor, the same factor I used to govern most of my project executions at the Nevada Test Site (NTS).

Fear was usually already an element inherent to such projects; that is, the projects were high-risk, dangerous, and sporting a decent probability of the project manager losing his job. There were always those Boogieman projects, as I called them, of which everyone was afraid of. I grabbed them up, cost-estimated for them, got paid by them, and disappeared down range (NTS) so far that nobody wanted to drive out to mess with me — Distance!

A map of the NTS showing the location of my Range 19 in the north with respect to the Mercury Cantonment area to the south.

The Importance of Distance

The value of being so far away and having no tattletales on my projects was that I could let my customers do anything they wanted. If something went to southern hell, I had time and distance to conduct damage control — the DF factor, baby!

Wow, the day an entire aircraft augering in and went up in a hu-hideous-hangus fireball was a suck day. The report of the explosion rattled windows in some of what they called “the forward areas.” Yeah sure! I was so far forward of their “forward areas” that they were the back areas to me:

“Hand, there were reports to Bird Dog (Range Control) of a large explosion emanating from up north where your project is executing.”

“Yeah uh… we heard it too — must have been those homos on Tonopah Test Range to the west.”

“Tonopah doesn’t detonate ordnance.”

“Yeah, so… must have been those homos at Nellis Bombing Range to the north.”

Nellis wasn’t flying range operations today.”

“Well gosh, golly-gee then… it must have been the ghost of freakin’ Krakatoa channeling through the Test Site — now why don’t you emanate your ass out of my office.

And so it went

(continued in part II).

By Almighty God and with honor,
geo sends