In 1980, I was already familiar with what a computer might be capable of doing. I was the proud owner of a TRS 80 that I bought from Radio Shack that very year. Unfortunately, it was a little lacking in speed and very lacking in memory. Programs were saved on cassette tapes and the tape drive was loud and annoying when loading programs. It also came with cartridges with preloaded programs on them. I was able to do some practical work on the computer, a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a checkbook program. However, It eventually became a very expensive, electronic paperweight.
In 1982, I went to Korea, and was assigned to a large motor maintenance facility. It was a fixed station assignment. I had 14 Korean Nationals and 10 soldiers working for me. We supported five companies and two detachments, maintaining over 4,500 pieces of equipment in support of commercial telephone and tactical communications throughout the country.
At the beginning of the assignment, we managed everything with pencil, paper, and manual typewriters. Every operation was governed by an AR, every activity was written in an FM, every procedure was found in an SOP and every transaction had a DA Form associated to it.
I had dispatchers, supply clerks, and inspectors who did most of the paperwork, but I was responsible for the Readiness Report which was an accumulative report that I submitted every seven days. I had to account for every piece of equipment that was reportable. It was not a difficult report, but it was time consuming, especially for the large amount of equipment I was reporting. The only thing that would change on the report was the date and the number of days an item was available or not available. I still had to list all the equipment on the report each time.
I became used to all the manual processes and paperwork associated to accomplishing our mission, but I knew there had to be a better way. On a couple of occasions, I brought my TRS 80 in to see if I could do some sort of automation, but that computer just wasn’t designed for that.
One day, the company supply clerk came to the motor pool and dropped off a couple of new computers. He said everyone is getting these things but we’re not sure when we’ll get any training. My instructions were not to open them or do anything until we were told . . . I didn’t hear that. It was like Christmas Day!!! As soon as he left, I tore open the boxes and set up the computer. All it had was the computer, monitor and keyboard (this was before the mouse), oh, and a dot-matrix printer. The book said to insert the disk marked DOS and turn it on. I fired it up!!! It made some noise and turned on!!! It said Wang on the screen with a little blinky thing after the C:/>_. I’m thinking to myself, okay, do something. It just sat there. Not sure what to do and not ready to open the book, I typed hello – half expecting to carry on a conversation with the thing.
My first syntax error. Then I made the single most important request I ever did in my life. I typed HELP. The screen seemed to spring to life for a split second!
That little tad-bit of information was all I needed to set me off on a whole new career path.
Once I figured out the logic behind the (DOS) operating system, I began looking through the manuals and started reading the instructions the computer came with.
There was a manual and disk for the Operating System and each program that came with the computer. You simply put in the disk and type the main program name, like WP.exe for Word Perfect. The computer came with Word Perfect, Harvard Graphics, Lotus 123, and dBase III – in today’s world, the equivalent to what a majority of computers come with - Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access.
I quickly became an expert on Word Perfect and Harvard Graphics. Lotus 124 eluded me for a while until one day, when trying it out, I accidently hit the / key. That took the world of spreadsheets to a new level. With some help from a friend, I finally learned the intricacies of dBase III and I was set!!!
I used Lotus 123 for reports that required calculations, and Word Perfect for correspondence, SOP’s, and counselling statements. We eventually created a database in DB III that simplified dispatching vehicles. Dispatching time dropped from five hours (all morning), down to two hours. We also used dBase to create the Preventive maintenance schedule for the battalion vehicles. We painstakenly made sure that the information would print correctly on the appropriate DA form, lined up in the documents in the corrected blocks.
From the time the computers were dropped off at the motor pool to a fully functioning system was about four months. Many long nights with gallons of coffee!
I never heard about or went to any training on the computer. Neither did anyone else for that matter. The only other person to get one of the computers set up was my buddy in the S-4. Unfortunately, he got caught and had to pack it back up. That was good for me because he would come to the motor pool to get on a computer and help me.
The big day came when I went to a Quarterly Command Briefing at the battalion. In the corner of the conference room sat one of the new computers. It was going to be the topic of discussion at some point during the briefing. Until the subject came up, each one of the section leaders made their presentation to the battalion commander using an old fashion overhead projector and handwritten slides. My captain’s slides were no different, except for the motor pool slides I provided made and printed from Harvard Graphics. The commander complimented the captain on the last few slides and asked where he got them. He said from my Motor Sergeant. The commander asked me where I got them. I told him I made them on my motor pool computer. At that point, my captain berated me in front of everybody saying, which he did not have permission to use. The commander on the other hand was pleased that at least someone was getting some use out of them. Then he challenged all his section leaders to have computer generated presentation the next quarterly briefing. There was some grumbling from the group, but I said, that the computer is not that complicated. The commander told me to demonstrate, and I fired up the computer in the corner and started Harvard Graphics for them.
The next thing I know, I’m responsible for creating a training plan and lessons on how to use these computers, The conference room would become a computer lab with 15 workstations where I could have 15 students at a time.
Since then, My life is computers and all other forms of technology! But, I'm not a nerd.