I’m returning to the Pentagon because I’m tired of hearing ‘You’re on mute’

I’ve embraced the Fobbit lifestyle for too long.

Beloved readers: I am writing to you from Forward Operating Base Schogol – also known as my apartment – from where I have tried to report on the activities of the Pentagon for nearly a year.

But after 11 months of my separation from the building where the magic happens, it’s become painfully clear that I need to drag my sorry-looking mug back to the Pentagon because I physically cannot sit through one more Zoom meeting or conference call.

First of all, you have to understand how pitiful I am with technology. My Saint-like boss has been extremely patient with me as I have slowly learned the basics of how modern machines work. After three years of trial and error, I have succeeded in adding almost three Google calendars to my email.

Just the other day, I learned that on Macs, you have to put two fingers on the touchpad to scroll down. How did I go through nearly 42 years of life and not know this? (It was only 10 years ago that a wise colleague told me that there is an arrow next to the gas gauge that tells you what side of the car the gas tank is on. My life has never been the same since.)

But as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic nears its second year, I am burned out from talking to defense officials by using Google Meet, Zoom, and other applications that have forever burned the phrase “You’re on mute” into the deepest reaches of my subconscious.

Right now, you might be asking: What about calling people on the telephone? If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it is that conference calls are the most dreaded form of communication.

Until Friday, the Defense Department had been unable to master the technology of turning on listen-only mode during conference calls.

Over the past year, I’ve strained to listen through briefings over the sounds of hold music, ringing telephones, and a heavy breather who prompted me to begin my question with: “For the love of God, whoever is breathing into the phone, please put your phone on mute.”

Military public affairs officers struggled valiantly to make these calls work, but they were up against impossible odds. The Pentagon – the home of the most technologically advanced military in the history of the world – is wired as if it is still 1974.

As such, some briefers sounded like the “Wah, wah, wah” sounds that adults make in Charlie Brown cartoons, or like the loudspeaker blasting propaganda at the drive-in prison camp in the movie “Red Dawn.”

But thePentagon finally took reporters’ questions by Zoom on Friday. The Defense Department is one step closer to matching the People’s Republic of China in the Great Apps Competition.

Even though it may be technically possible to keep covering the Pentagon remotely, I’ve been away from the building for far too long. I miss the charm of bumping into the guy wearing the InfoWars facemask as he leaves the restroom nearest to my cubicle.

People in the Pentagon are also a very parochial bunch. Either you come to the building every day or you’re an outsider who only comes to church on Christmas and Easter.

I’m afraid that I’ve fallen into the latter category. Instead of walking the halls of the Five-Sided Fun House, I’ve grown too accustomed to life inside the wire. My God, I’ve embraced the Fobbit lifestyle.

Next, I’ll figure out how to get a Bronze Star for spending a year in a TOC.

In short, I will now start filing dispatches from inside the Great Cathedral To Indecision And Endless Meetings. Pandemic be damned: Someone has to find out where the Pentagon is hiding the aliens. (They’re not in the Fighter Pilots Bar. I looked.)

Featured image: The Pentagon Press Briefing Room at the the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., July 7, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Jeff Schogol
Jeff Schogol

is the senior Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years. You can email him at schogol@taskandpurpose.com, direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter, or reach him on WhatsApp and Signal at 703-909-6488. Contact the author here.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information