Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Tag: excel

How I got a medal from the Army for writing code

In 2005 my National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) in the Army was 92A, which is basically a logistics and supplies specialist. My job was to order parts for mechanics, pick them up, return old parts, manage HAZMAT, dispatch/return vehicles from missions, and handle licenses. I also did a few other things that I don’t remember right now. Anyway, at the time, the heart of this system was a tool called ULLS-G (Unit Level Logistics System – Ground). I say “at the time”, because shortly after we came back, ULLS-G was replaced by SAMS-E (Standard Army Maintenance System – Enhanced), which incidentally uses Oracle as a back-end database. Compared to SAMS-E, ULLS-G was a dinosaur. I had used it quite a bit, of course, having been in the Army for about 4 years by the time I was deployed. It was a complete pain to use it. ULLS-G was a DOS application (yes, MS-DOS) and most of the computers I used it on at the armory were only running DOS (this was circa early 2000’s so it wasn’t too uncommon to still see DOS systems around). By the time I was deployed most computers were running WinXP/2K or something like that, and so you could run ULLS-G in “MS-DOS compatibility mode”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Over Here – Day 114

I guess this would be my first post from Iraq. I am in Baghdad right now, but I can’t get more specific than that. If I told you, I would have to kill you. God… I’ve always wanted to say that! Right, so I’ve been here from the 6th of this month. We left our camp in Kuwait and drove for about an hour to the airstrip. On the way, we went through the desert (no way!) and saw wreckage from the first war. It was pretty neat. After we got to the airstrip, we unloaded all our stuff, and then loaded it into a C-130. It was my first trip ever, in a C-130. I guess now when we sing cadences of going on a C-130, I will be saying the truth now. Like almost anything in the Army, the C-130 is not made for comfort. It is completely utilitarian and only serves to transport troops without any regard for comfort or aesthetics. In fact, it almost seems that the seating was added there as an afterthought. The flight was very cramped, and very loud. To get an idea of the experience, squeeze yourself and five people into a garbage can, and then have someone bang on the outside for one and a half hours. We touched down at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport, or “bye-op” as it is known and pronounced here) and proceeded to unload our stuff and then load it into the back of a truck. My first view of Baghdad was the airport and the bombed out bunkers at the airport. It was rapidly getting dark, and so I couldn’t see much on the way to the barracks. We had no idea if we were “inside the wire” (in a safe-zone) or not, and so we were saying how much it would suck to get hit by an IED. Typical Military Black Humour. Once we reached our barracks, we got the keys to our rooms. I was only going to be there for one night since I would be leaving with 2nd platoon to another FOB (Forward Operating Base) the next morning.

The next morning the unit at the other FOB came to escort us over to our new location. We travelled through the red-zone to our destination in the IZ (International Zone). It is hard to describe the feeling of being in a combat-zone and of being in imminent danger. I didn’t feel scared, but only highly focused and alert. I mean, this was the real thing. I might have seen movies before about being in a war, but now I was in one for real. Our journey was pretty uneventful, but exciting. In Iraq, the military pretty much owns the road. A good analogy would be ambulances and fire trucks back home. You know how we move out of the way when we hear a siren? It’s pretty much like that here. The civilian vehicles move out of way when the convoy passes through the road. The gunners wave the cars out of the way from their turret. It’s pretty funny at times – some Iraqis don’t move at all, and then suddenly they notice the convoy almost on them, and you see them swerve out of the way. We are actually authorized to push cars out of the way if need be. You might think that’s not a “nice” thing to do, but niceness has nothing to do with it – it is a question of survival. We get hit by VBIED’s (“vee-beds”, Vehicle Borne IED’s) and IED’s, so slowing down only increases our chances of getting hit and also increases the damage, which is why we stop for nothing. If need be, we even cut across curbs and go on the opposite side of the road, against the flow of traffic.

We finally got to our new location and found out that there wasn’t really any room for us. So there were 28 of us cramped into a little bay. I was a little disappointed, but I figured I could hold out for a couple of weeks. Being in the IZ was interesting. I got to drive around and see a lot of landmarks, like the Ba’ath Party Headquarters, the Crossed Sabres, the Al-Rashid Hotel, and the American Embassy in Baghdad. The IZ is a huge fortified zone, and I guess it would be the safest place in Baghdad. It was a pretty neat place to be stationed in, but unfortunately it wasn’t for us. In typical Army fashion, our mission changed and we had to come back to our original base to join the rest of the company. However, the day before we left, we got to do some weapons qualification. I got to fire the M2 and the M249 and qualified well on both of the weapons system. Oh yeah, while we were at the range, we saw a mortar hit in the distance. But that’s part of the usual flow of things here. On the way back from the range, I got to drive. It was pretty exciting. We were going along at a really fast clip, and had to cut the curb and jump over the median a few times and go against the flow of traffic. Definitely an experience.

The next day, we convoyed back to our original location and joined the rest of the company. I was also detached from 2nd platoon and re-attached to Headquarters. I was happy to be back with my old friends, but I have to say that being in a line platoon was pretty exciting and that I did enjoy the experience immensely. In addition, I was with the best line platoon in our company – they have a bunch of good soldiers, and learnt a lot of stuff from them. After I came back, I found out that I had a room, but no furniture. In fact, it’s been like that for about four or five days now. I have been sleeping on the floor, with my sleeping bag. There were some cots for me to use, but they were full of dust and dirt, missing poles, and didn’t seem very stable. But the floor isn’t that bad. Anyway, I alerted my leadership to the shortages and so now I’m just waiting to get my furniture. But it still sucks and I’m a little annoyed. I’ve been living out of my duffel bag for about 3 weeks now. Oh well – it’s what we’re trained to do anyway.

Right now I’m doing what I’m normally supposed to do; working in the motor pool. It’s not too bad, since I’m with my friends, but it’s not exactly the most exciting job either, especially when you’ve been out driving like a maniac on the streets of Baghdad. But it’s safe, and that makes my friends and family happy. I also have a free reign of the operations in the motor pool and so I can streamline and structure the operation the way I want. The Army’s current logistics software, called ULLS-G, written sometime before the extinction of the dinosaurs, is about as smart as a retarded house-plant. So I’ve taken the liberty of automating different processes. I’ve been able to use SDI (another tool made by the Army, but this one is actually pretty neat) program to talk to the database and dump the data into text files. After that, all I need is some Perl (of course!) magic to transform it into an Excel Spreadsheet (using the Spreadsheet::WriteExcel module). My section chief was pretty impressed with what I was able to do. Now I just need to find a way to actually write to the SAGE database files. The data is either encrypted or packaged into some binary format and so I can’t seem to access it. If I could, I could make changes really quickly instead of using the brain-dead ULLS-G interface. I’m not sure if anyone out there knows the file-structure of a SAGE database file, but if you do, please let me know.

Oh, and by the way, since I moved back to my original FOB, my address has changed back to what it was originally. So here it is again:

Vivin Paliath
504th MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s about it for now. Here are some more pictures, and a video. I have the video for download using BitTorrent. I don’t want to offer a direct link because my server only has so much bandwidth, and I don’t want to clog it all up. If you want to download the file, download the BitTorrent client from the link I just provided. The client is a small download, and trust me, it will be faster than just download the file directly. I won’t tell you what the video is, so you’ll just have to watch it. I made it myself, and I hope you like it! I’ll post more videos here as I take them.

Loading Up
Loading our stuff into the trailers, in Kuwait.

In C130
Inside the C130.

Me inside the C130
That’s me, inside the C130.

The C130 Hercules.

Baath House
The Ba’ath House.

Crossed Sabres
The Crossed Sabres.

This is the pedestal that Saddam’s statue used to be on.

This is where Saddam used to stand, brandishing his rifle.

An Iraqi kid and I
This kid was trying to sell us DVD’s.

Post Mortar Attack
This was right after a mortar hit a little ways from us.

50 cal rounds
That’s me with some 50 cal rounds.

Update: I have fixed the redirection and caching problem. To ensure that you are able to access the latest entry in my blog, please clear your caches now. My page instructs your browser not to cache, and so whenever you access my website, you will be brought to the latest journal entry.

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove
%d bloggers like this: